Influential versus influencer

Over the past few years, the rise of influencer marketing has changed the landscape of endorsement or testimonial advertising. Twenty-plus years ago, celebrities endorsed products and services, but it was usually in a TV spot or print ad, and we immediately understood that they were being paid for that endorsement.

Today, YouTube or Instagram “celebrities” weave their endorsements into their lifestyle photos, and even if they mark their video or post with one of the approved hashtags, things get a little murky. Many influencers make millions in exchange for conspicuously using their supporters’ products.

There are a few challenges with today’s version of influencer marketing.

  • It’s out of the price range of most brands. If you want the endorsement of one of the top-performing influencers, you’re looking at a seven-figure budget.
  • There’s liability in the association. Most of these influencers are young, and they have access to a ridiculous amount of money. That combination often leads to very bad and very public mistakes that often splash upon their sponsors.
  • Most professional influencers endorse many products and services. So you’ll never be their sole focus.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking about influencer marketing for your company, product or service. You just need to broaden your viewpoint.

Somewhere along the way, many marketers forgot the objective of working with an influencer. It’s not just about getting Instagram or YouTube celebrities to post about them. The real goal is to influence an audience to increase their interest in your brand and, ideally, become a customer. That is what smart marketers hope to accomplish.

Given that goal, let’s think about who a potential customer would trust enough to make a purchase based on their recommendation.

Most of us are more likely to listen to someone we know or trust — family, friends, co-workers or other people in our world. This is word-of-mouth marketing at its finest. But WOM is just another form of influence marketing. We are easily influenced by those we know in real life.

Beyond that, we trust people whom we have deemed an expert because they consistently produce information that we find valuable. Think of your favorite YouTube amateur chef or an author whose nonfiction book became your guide and who still creates content you enjoy.

As we listen to the podcasts or read the books produced by these subject matter experts, we come to know and trust them. They weave bits of their life story into their content, and pretty soon we know if they have any kids or love Hershey’s Kisses. They feel very familiar to us.

One of the other reasons we trust them is that they don’t make their income by being internet-famous. They’re experts at their craft, and as a part of their own marketing, they’ve built an audience that appreciates their expertise.

And it’s audiences like that where you can flex your influence marketing muscle. There are experts out there who have built an audience that directly aligns with your marketing goals. These experts are influential, but they aren’t influencers in the current definition of the word.

There are some significant advantages to spending your influencer dollars with these subject matter experts who often fly under the radar because they don’t aspire to wear the influencer label.

In next week’s column, we’ll explore some ways you can ferret out these micro-influencers who have already gathered the exact audience you hope to connect with and have already built a trusted relationship with them. We’ll explore how you can partner with them to benefit your brand, their audience and even the influencers themselves!


This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.