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The upside to a recession

May 15, 2019

recessionWhen we talk about a recession, we don’t usually tell happy tales. We talk about struggles, cutbacks, and loss. If you were old enough to be in the workforce, own a home or business in that 2007-2010 season, you remember the challenges that we all faced, personally or professionally.

But from a marketing perspective, I think there are a few outcomes from that recession that we should actually be grateful for, as we look back on that time period. I’m not saying I’d like to go through it again anytime soon, but I do appreciate the discipline and learnings it offered us.

You had to be good to survive: In many industries, there was a glut of competition prior to the recession. People, products, and businesses could be mediocre and still survive. When the recession hit, it culled out those who were not offering services or products of high quality. If you were left standing it meant you were delivering something of genuine value.

The recession spotlighted trends we needed to be cognizant of moving forward: When every dollar is a precious one, people spend much more judiciously. It was a forced R&D era for many of us as we tried new offerings and stopped promoting the things that no one seemed interested in buying. Business owners and leaders got a clear understanding of how the marketplace perceived them and what they had to sell.

We learned how to demonstrate our value: There was no option – we had to sell based on value. Getting someone to even listen to your sales pitch meant you had to be proving an ROI or you weren’t going to get past hello. If we couldn’t clearly communicate how what we sold was going to enhance the buyer’s work or life, it didn’t get bought.

We valued and rewarded loyalty: The recession reminded us just how valuable our existing client base was to our business and our spirits. It was easy to get discouraged and worried back then, so when a client came back with their trust and their wallet – it not only helped pay the mortgage but it was affirming in a time when everything seemed so hard.

We got back to basics and realized the importance of them: When you are scrambling for sales, trying not to avoid having to lay people off and counting every penny, you scale back to the basics. This wasn’t just in terms of how we spent our marketing dollars but in how we ran our businesses in general. Marketing tactics like word of mouth were critical to our survival. To earn that word of mouth, we invested more deeply in our clients and solving their problems.

We lost our complacency and got innovative: When your back is against the wall, you get creative. Many companies, as they got very honest with themselves about their lackluster sales, re-invented some aspect of their offering. Our products and services improved as we fought to stay alive and earn and keep our customers’ attention and loyalty.

Our people got better: One of the best outcomes of the recession was that we had time to invest in our team. When sales were lean, we still had to keep everyone productive. Many organizations invigorated their internal culture to embrace more peer-to-peer learning and teaching.

The recession forced us to improve our offerings, our communications, and our team. The real question is, have you sustained those practices or has our recent economic good fortune allowed you to get a little out of shape again? Recessions are cyclical, and many believe we’re due for another soon. What could you do now to get ready?

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Load up your bookshelf

May 8, 2019

bookshelfI’ve been working in marketing and advertising since the mid-80s. When I started my career, I thought I had a lot to learn. It was nothing compared to what we all need to learn today. Technology is driving the rate of change, and even though it’s hard to believe, it’s going to get nothing but faster. No matter how long we’ve been in the business – if we want to stay relevant and effective, we have to commit to continual learning and experimenting. So, get ready to load up your bookshelf.

Given that we all have a long weekend coming up with Memorial Day, I thought it might be a good time for me to make some reading suggestions so you can load up your bookshelf, Kindle or Audible account, depending on how you like to read. No matter how loaded your calendar is over the long weekend, you can probably get a good jump on one or two of these.

Some of these suggestions are hot off the press, and others have earned their classic status over time. I’ve tried to give you a good blend of focus areas, points of view and authors.

Location is Still Everything by David Bell

This book is very research-based and looks at how location influences our buying decisions online and in our local market. It’s a much better read than it sounds because the data is demonstrated and explained through some wonderful storytelling.

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

This golden oldie is remarkably on point today, twenty plus years after it was published. Godin preaches the idea of adding and offering value to earn trust, as opposed to post-sale. The concepts are ridiculously simple to grasp, and yet very few businesses can get out of their own way enough to implement them consistently.

Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose

This book was published about a year or so ago and suggests that marketing can actually be a source of revenue versus an expense. There’s a catch to that equation of course, but this book creates a vision of what is possible and if they’re right, what is the inevitable future of marketing.

Crisis Ready by Melissa Agnes

Melissa Agnes draws from her experience in helping global brands, government organizations, and world leaders prevent and overcome a range of real-world, high-impact crises. No matter the size, type, or industry of your business, Crisis Ready will provide your team with insight into how to get prepped for a crisis and know how to handle it if/when it comes.

Talk Triggers by Jay Baer & Daniel Lemin

This book came out last October and this is a not to be missed read. Jay and Daniel have written a step-by-step tutorial on how to leverage word of mouth, ratings, and reviews to earn new customers and secure the ones you already have.

I Love You More Than My Dog by Jeanne Bliss

Bliss led the customer services teams at Land’s End, Allstate, and Coldwell Banker and in this book, she defines the five decisions that drive extreme customer loyalty that transcends good times and bad. Bliss is a master storyteller which makes this a fun and quick read.

If we want to be effective marketers, we can’t afford to stop learning. If reading isn’t your thing, then head to YouTube. Most of these authors also have their own YouTube channel and you can still benefit from their insights. But remember, just like Harry Potter, the movie can never cover everything that the book does. If you genuinely want to keep your saw sharp, crack open a book over the Memorial Day weekend and work your way through this list.

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Is your content following the trend?

May 1, 2019

contentMost businesses have accepted or even embraced the idea that without creating content, your website can’t hope to compete for search engine rankings, high visitor counts, or much engagement. There are just too many sites out there fighting for the same eyeballs that you want.

If you don’t put something appealing and fresh in front of them, you’re going to be out of luck.

BuzzSumo did a study of over 100 million posts and came up with some very revealing data. I thought we’d take a look at a couple of the more interesting insights and diagnose what they might mean for how we should shape our content strategy.

Data point #1: Social sharing of content has been cut in half since 2015.

I believe many brands stopped sharing their content because they weren’t getting much engagement. While everyone is hungry for likes, comments, and shares, keep in mind that only a fraction of material is going to be unique enough to earn that level of activity.

We need to remember that over 85% of all social shares are done on the “dark web.” That’s not as sinister as it sounds. It just means that most of us share content person to person, in private messages or text messages as opposed to on our public newsfeeds, etc. When you’re calculating the engagement level of your efforts, don’t forget to create a metric or multiplier to factor in that reality.

If you aren’t consistently sharing your content, you need to ask yourself why. I’m going to guess that one of three things might be happening:

  • The content isn’t worthy of the time it would take to share regularly
  • You haven’t structured your department, workload, or day to include time to do the work of sharing
  • You haven’t leveraged the technology and tools available to make your sharing easier and more consistent

You would be better off producing less content if that meant it was of a higher quality and you were more motivated to share it. Content without distribution is a little like putting on a fancy dress to watch TV at home alone. No one is going to know, so why bother?

Data Point #2: There has been a growth in content sharing on LinkedIn, and many publishers are seeing steady increases in content engagement on the platform albeit from a relatively small base.

Two facts of note in that sentence. People are sharing more content on LinkedIn, and they are getting more engagement. The very thing everyone is looking for when it comes to defining value for their efforts.

I think LinkedIn is probably one of the most under-used social channels out there. Yes, odds are your “fan base” is smaller there. But odds are also good, if you live in the B-to-B space, that almost everyone you’re connected to is a potential prospect, referral source or partner.

I see more engagement on LinkedIn posts than any other channel. If your content is strong and unique to you, LinkedIn may be the perfect place for you to step up your game.

The other upside of using LinkedIn with more frequency is that you have far less competition there. While the study shows that there’s a growth in sharing, it still pales in comparison to the other big channels.

Another important attribute of LinkedIn is that people tend to read longer posts and articles. It’s less about the pictures, memes and other social media shortcuts. If you’re producing excellent content, it may get more of your audience’s attention and respect on LinkedIn.

We’ve only covered two of the insights from this research. Print off the full report and walk through it with your team, challenging your status quo as you do.

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Surprise!

April 24, 2019

surpriseOne of the truths about marketing is that our work often hints at or takes advantages of cultural trends that are on the rise. I love that we get to leverage emerging shifts and mine them for the truths they contain. They’re like a little surprise waiting for us around the corner.

But to do that – we have to recognize and explore those trends.

One that I’ve been tracking for a bit is the idea of letting someone else make buying decisions for you. For a long time, we’ve known that giving a customer too many choices often leads to paralysis and no decision at all. There’s a reason why it’s often suggested that you give a client no more than three choices. But are the customers ready to have no choice?

An interesting new type of travel agency is cropping up and making the news. Imagine answering a few questions about where you’ve recently traveled, the kinds of things you like to do, and then paying for a trip without having any idea where you’re about to go.

Websites like Pack Up + Go, Magical Mystery Tours and The Vacation Hunt are offering this sort of service. They will plan domestic, international or an all-inclusive trips for you. You get an envelope you’re supposed to open at the airport (if you’re flying) or as you get into the car. Voila – that’s where you’re headed for vacation.

Want to hit the high seas? This isn’t just an US-based trend. In Great Britain, The Secret Sailaway will sail to six cities over about two weeks but, that’s right, you book the trip and have no idea where you’re going.

From the little bit of leg work I was able to do, it seems like these mystery travel companies have been around for a year or two. Sailaway just had its maiden voyage in March of 2018. If this does become a full-fledged trend, we’re on the early edge of it.

This specific trend may or may not grow to something significant. But what if it does? Could it change the way you offer your product or services?

That’s what I find most intriguing about trend tracking. Once you start to spot an emerging trend, you can’t help but try to apply it to your world. They’re certainly not all going to impact your work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sharpen our skills at trend spotting.

Rohit Bhargava, author of Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas and Predict the Future talks about the three traits it takes to be good at recognizing what is shaping up to be a potential trend.

Curate: This is about gathering information and ideas from many sources and looking for the threads that connect those ideas and bits of information. He advocates archiving these fragments using a digital tool like Pocket or Dropbox, so you can step back and look at the bigger picture over time.

Be Curious: Rohit warns that staying curious is getting more difficult every day. With artificial intelligence and algorithms deciding what we see/read, we have to force diversity into our information consumption. He suggests buying books, magazines and consciously choosing to watch programs that aren’t your normal fare and don’t appeal to your interests.

Be Fickle: Don’t get too enamored with any emerging idea. Try to stay neutral so you don’t influence your observations. As a trend spotter, our role is to observe and report without bias. Otherwise, we might dismiss something important.

Given the speed of change in your world today, it pays to have some idea of where tomorrow will land. As Wayne Gretzky suggested, we have to skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.

 

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How do you recognize transparency?

April 17, 2019

transparencyTransparency seems to be everywhere in the media lately so it has been only fitting that we have been discussing it.  We’ve been studying “mea culpa” ad campaigns and how the marketplace’s expectations around transparency play a role in that. We scratched the surface of how that same expectation influences buying decisions – both from a consumer and an employee point of view.

To round out the discussion, I’d like to wrap up by identifying how transparent organizations behave so you can not only determine your own level of transparency, but you can also make sure your key audiences recognize your efforts.

They have, share and live their mission and vision statements: I’m not talking about the seven-paragraph, jargon-filled, committee-written and approved mission and vision plan. I’m talking about a battle cry – a single sentence or a short series of phrases that defines who you are as a company, what you value and how those values shape your choices and behavior.

Every employee, and ideally, your customers should know what it is and be able to recite it. More important, they can give examples from their own experience of how you actually live it.

They speak plainly and truthfully: When a transparent company screws up, they own it. They don’t hide it behind legal trickery, fancy language, or hide. They out themselves and they focus not only on what happened but why it happened, and why it won’t happen again.

They’re accessible and open to questions and concerns: Whether it’s a monthly employee meeting with open Q&A or an active Twitter account that fields questions from consumers – a transparent company is present and ready to listen. They don’t always agree or say yes, but they respect people enough to give them a voice.

They take the first step: Transparent companies don’t wait to be asked. They know what people want to know concerning pricing, quality, and guarantees. Rather than waiting to be called out, they offer up the information before anyone can even think to ask.

They are the same in every venue: When you lead with your brand (another way of thinking about transparency), you’re the authentic you. Sometimes that’s playful you, showing employees enjoying an informal beer o’clock gathering. Sometimes that’s helpful you, sharing a blog post about how to best use your product. But it also means being candid you when you mess up.

It’s not about being one-dimensional, which is another word for being manipulative by putting on a front. It’s about being all of you and not trying to hide any of it.

They’re willing to make someone mad, leave, or stop being a customer: Being transparent as an organization isn’t about being a people pleaser or trying to make everyone happy. It’s about knowing yourself as an organization and being very clear and upfront about that, knowing that it will attract some and repel others. This is about wearing your organizational heart on your sleeve and letting your audiences decide for themselves if they love you or not.

Just a reminder – a genuinely transparent company behaves this way internally and externally. Again, there’s no faking it. You accept and celebrate who you are organizationally, keep trying to get better, and own up to the mistakes along the way.

This is one of those easy to say you do it, but hard to live it sort of things. You’re not going to get it 100% right. But own that and keeping living your goal to get better out loud so your employees, customers and potential customers can see you’re trying.

That’s what they really want. They don’t expect perfection, but they’re hungry to find organizations who are genuinely willing to try.

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The hidden benefit of transparency

April 10, 2019

transparencyLately, we have been focusing on the “mea culpa” ads that we’re seeing all over the media. Wells Fargo, Facebook, and Uber are some of the big brands that have actively run apology campaigns.

The absolute expectation of total transparency is one of the factors driving the need for these campaigns, but that expectation falls pretty heavily on all of us, whether you are a local business or a big international brand. According to recent studies, up to 94 percent of consumers surveyed indicated that they were more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers transparency, while 73 percent said they were willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency.

And, by the way, that’s transparency inside and outside your walls. Consumers expect you to be just as forthcoming with your employees as they do for themselves. Here’s the upside of that, beyond that you want to be honest and trustworthy – it’s an excellent recruitment and retention tool when it comes to building and growing your team.

If you are like most organizations, your biggest worry is your employee base. With the unemployment rate as low as it is, finding qualified candidates who are looking for work is difficult. Even if you can find someone who is a good fit, their salary demands are often astronomical, compared to what you are already paying inside your company. Those prospective employees know they’re a scarce resource and they are applying the law of supply and demand to their pricing model. If you want them, you’re going to pay a premium for them.

As if that’s not a big enough challenge, you are also being ravaged by poachers who are plucking your best people from you. They are offering them huge raises, better benefits, more flexibility and in some cases, signing bonuses like star athletes get.

Why am I talking about employment issues in a marketing post? Because this scarcity is affecting your bottom line. We have some clients who are putting the brakes on driving new sales because they don’t believe they can service the increase in customer needs. That’s crazy! You know there are people/companies out there that you can help and yet you don’t invite them in because of a staffing challenge.

But here’s where being a transparent company has its added value. It’s one of the critical factors that make someone want to come work at a specific business or gets them to stay, even when they get another job offer that would pay them a higher wage or offers them other perks.

The job search site Indeed recently did a study that showed that Insight into company’s reputation and trustworthiness (translation – transparency) is essential for 95% of job seekers—and Gen Z won’t do without it. In the good old days, if you wanted the truth on what it was like to work at a specific company, you had to know someone on the inside.

But now that job candidates can crowdsource this information through online reviews, watch your social channels and assess your culture long before they apply – you need to actually walk your talk.

Indeed said when disclosing their study’s results, “Those who have grown up in this era of transparency are most determined to research a company’s reputation when looking for a job. Of millennials, 71% said this was “extremely important,” compared to 55% of baby boomers. Even then, a clear majority of boomers agree that this is essential information.”

Next time, I’ll outline some ways that you can spotlight your transparency both for your team and your customer base. Being transparent without getting credit for making that choice is an expensive marketing and employee recruitment mistake you don’t have to make.

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How to say I’m sorry

April 3, 2019

sorryPreviously, we examined the reasons why more brands are feeling the need to say they are sorry in a very public and expensive fashion these days. I want to take a minute and dissect one brand’s attempt to offer a “mea culpa” that will resonate with their audience and smooth over the wave of negative public sentiment.

Wells Fargo does a lot of good in the communities they serve. In 2016, they donated over 9 million dollars to nonprofits, schools and community organizations in Iowa alone. In that same year, their Iowa-based employees volunteered for over 178,000 hours.

But even all of that goodness couldn’t protect them from the flood of media attention they received when it was revealed that some Wells employees were opening accounts for existing customers without their knowledge so the employee could win sales incentives. Wells Fargo was fined $185 million dollars when the regulators uncovered this transgression. Unfortunately, shortly after the first issue was revealed, CEO Tim Sloan had to acknowledge that the company had charged nearly 600,000 customers for auto insurance they didn’t need and a few other fee missteps.

It’s easy to see why the public’s confidence in Wells Fargo is a bit shaken and why the financial institution decided they needed to address it.

In response to all of the negative news, Wells Fargo launched a new advertising campaign, which is clearly an attempt to turn the tide of public sentiment.

The TV spot’s voiceover says:

We know the value of trust. We were built on it. Back when the country went west for gold, we were the ones who carried it back east. By steam, by horse, by iron horse. Over the years, we built on that trust. We always found the way.

Until we lost it.

But that isn’t where the story ends. It’s where it starts again. With a complete recommitment to you. Fixing what went wrong, making things right and ending product sales goals for branch bankers.

So, we can focus on your satisfaction. We’re holding ourselves accountable to find and fix issues proactively. Because earning back your trust is our greatest priority.

It’s a new day at Wells Fargo, but it’s a lot like our first day. Wells Fargo. Established in 1852. Re-established in 2018.

Let’s look at this spot and identify some best practices. First, let’s recognize what they did well.

Don’t deny or try to explain anything. No one wants the excuses or “yeah buts.” The spot recognizes that they made some mistakes that cost them the trust of their customers.

Define the fix. The public already knows what happened but what they often don’t understand is how you are going to fix the problem, so it never happens again. This spot gets very specific about some of the changes Wells is making as a result of their misstep.

What they missed:

We’re sorry. There’s no substitute for those words. The spot acknowledges what they did wrong and that they are going to fix it. You can feel their embarrassment but not their remorse. That’s a big miss. The bigger the institution, the more critical the actual words “we’re sorry” are.

Let me vent. When a company you love lets you down, you’re angry and hurt. You also have questions. A big miss in this spot is that they don’t provide a way for consumers to address their concerns. At the end of the spot, there’s a URL, but the contact information provided is about setting an appointment with a local banker.

In our 24/7 news environment, more brands of all sizes will have their mistakes exposed and will need to apologize. Doing it well could decide your future, so be mindful of doing it well.

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The era of “we’re sorry” advertising

March 27, 2019

We're SorryThere’s an interesting trend that speaks to a significant change in how brands are evaluated and how quickly they can go from hero to goat. I want to explore the origins of the trend and next time we’ll look at some examples and best practices in response to this new normal and the best way to say “we’re sorry”.

Three factors created the trend that I’m calling the “mea culpa” trend.

  • The 24/7 exposure to news, not only from official news sources but also from our social media connections
  • The transparency that consumers expect from brands
  • The influence of being a good corporate citizen on purchase behavior

Remember when you were a kid and you had to wait until five or six o’clock in the evening to find out what happened that day? And if it was a really big story, the newspaper would write about it the next day or vice versa – you’d read about it in the paper that morning and then see it again during the evening news.

Either way, if you didn’t read the paper or watch the news, you might never know what happened. Sure, a few happenings were such a big deal that it was water cooler conversation at work. But we were not subjected to the same news multiple times a day like we are today thanks to social media and our 24/7 news cycle.

Not only is the news being distributed by new outlets but pretty much by every Tom, Dick, and Harry in our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, not to mention the private forums, chat groups, etc. that we all belong to today.

That constant information flow has made it much more difficult for brands, their leaders and employees to hide any transgressions. Whether a company experiences a gaffe or is actually caught intentionally making decisions that feel or are unethical, we know about it immediately, and we fully expect them to explain themselves. Consumers no longer accept or tolerate the idea that not everything is their business or that organizations have a right to conduct business how they choose and it’s not our place to express an opinion about it.

In fact, not only do we demand transparency and the right to the details, we sit in judgment of those organizations and their choices. We express that opinion by broadcasting and discussing their behavior, and we either show up in droves, or we boycott their products or services. Remember the Chick Fil A hubbub? If you supported the CEO’s stand to support anti-LGBTQ causes financially, you stood in line to buy a chicken sandwich, not only because you were hungry but because you were voting with your dollars. If you disagreed with his stance, you haven’t been to a Chick Fil A since it became public.

Consumers are much more likely to express their support or displeasure with their wallet than ever before. The #GrabYourWallet movement that erupted after some of the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments targeted Ivanka Trump’s brand, and as boycotts erupted, sales plummeted and stores stepped away from her brand. All of that triggered a 32% decline in sales.

The concept of the apology campaign is not new. After the big oil spill, BP launched a media campaign. Toyota did the same thing after their recall in 2010. But they were few and far between. The confluence of the 24/7 news access, the consumer’s expectation of transparency and the quick to judge reaction to businesses who don’t behave in a way they deem acceptable means we will see more of these apology campaigns.

 

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Use your marketing voice

March 20, 2019

voiceVoice is one of the most significant trends we marketers have had to face in a while. Remember when the proliferation of mobile devices changed the way we designed and built websites? Voice is going cause the same upheaval and it’s going to come even faster and be more wide-sweeping than mobile ever was.

If the last decade was our mobile marketing revolution, then the upcoming decade is the era of voice.

The mobile revolution made it possible for brands to reach their audiences wherever they were, gather all kinds of data and then use that data to create near or real-time interactive experiences that felt personalized and intuitive.

That’s nothing compared to what voice is going to do to our daily lives. We talk about the proliferation of smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Hoe, and Apple’s HomePod but we forget we’ve been carrying a voice assistant in our pocket for years.

Almost 80 percent of Americans own a smartphone, where virtual assistants are included by default. Combine that with the fact that over 55% of American homes have a smart speaker and it’s easy to see how voice is going to influence marketing channels and choices.

Voice is expected to drive half of all searches on mobile, and it’s already having a huge impact on retail. Research done by NPD Group, Inc., found that online spending by consumers rose overall after the purchase of an Echo in every category except for travel. We haven’t seen the results of the relatively new partnership between Google and Walmart that will allow customers to “voice shop” via Google Assistant but you know it isn’t going to be minuscule.

We aren’t and won’t be limited to smart speakers or our phones. Soon we’ll all be chatting with our fridges, washers and dryers, our cars, and even our toilets.

Voice assistants of all shapes and sizes are going to have us thinking differently as marketers. Here are some of the more significant ways we’re going to need to re-think marketing:

The featured snippet: When we type our search query, the search engines serve up a list, and we choose the specific link we want to click on. But with voice search, it’s what is called a direct answer. The device answers your voice search with a voice response of one answer. If you’re asking Google, it’s going to serve up the featured snippet. The growth of voice search means that being on page one is no longer the holy grail that it was. The new goal is to be the featured snippet.

A whole new channel – Alexa skills and flash briefings: Brands are creating Alexa skills (because right now the Echo is the dominant leader) to interact with their consumers. Take a look at Purina’s Ask Purina Alexa skill that lets dog owners ask Alexa questions about their pets. This sets Purina up to be the authority in a very profitable and popular space on a broad spectrum of dog-related information. Not only are they helpful but the interaction builds trust and mindshare.

The biggest one? Writing for conversational search as opposed to keyword search. It shifts our focus to natural language and the intended meaning behind the searcher’s specific query. When we’re speaking out loud, we tend to use more words and longer sentences than we do when we type a query. Marketers need to think about how someone would ask the question that should serve up your answer. Those full sentences need to be added to your keyword list.

This is a fast-moving trend so find some sources to keep you informed. While you’re doing that, you should start experimenting with a refreshed search strategy, some Alexa skills and trying to become a featured snippet.

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Today’s version of word of mouth marketing

March 13, 2019

word of mouthPreviously, we talked about influencer marketing, which is a combination of old-school PR and word of mouth, with a technology twist. Today, anyone can create a position of authority, build a community around them and as a result, be an influencer.

There are the influencers we’ve always known, like athletes and actors, but more interesting and more potentially valuable to the average brand are the micro-influencers. These subject matter experts may have relatively small followings (could be as few as 500 or as many as half a million) compared to The Rock or Kourtney Kardashian. But to the people who follow them, their advice, point of view and recommendations carry significant weight.

Most of them are not “celebrities” in the traditional sense. They’re a 14-year old boy who reviews technology for teens, they’re a fitness coach who works with busy moms, or they’re an accountant who helps other accountants build their practice. That’s part of their charm – they feel accessible and ordinary enough that we can relate to them, their choices and their life.

The value of the influencers is not really their follower count. It’s the depth of credibility and connection they have with their audience. It’s very much like when your best friend recommends a movie or restaurant. Because it came from them (word of mouth) – you want to check it out. Today’s channels (podcasting, blogs, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) create that sense of intimacy and confidence between themselves and their audience. So whether they have 500 followers or 500,000 – the key is that their followers actually pay attention and take action, based on their content.

If you’re ready to dip your toe into this marketing tactic, there are some things you should keep in mind to maximize your investment and avoid trouble.

Follow the FTC rules: The FTC views having a celebrity or influencer endorse your product or service as an advertisement, even if no money exchanged hands. Whether you give them a free sample, or you pay them for using your product in a photo – the influencer must disclose that they are being compensated. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy disclaimer. It can be as simple as a hashtag (like #sponsored), or it can be a sentence or two that explains the relationship.

The trick to this is – you’re responsible even though you are not creating the content. You need to make sure the influencer is following the rules by monitoring what they are publishing. If they’re producing a series of blog posts, the disclosure must be on every post, not just the first one.

Be creative with your content: While the FTC views influencer marketing as advertising, it really shouldn’t be constructed to look like an ad. Work with the influencer to make the content interesting and useful, rather than use them posing with your product or endorsing your service. Have them tell a story and have your brand be a character in that story.

Reviews, demonstrations, an on-going series showing your product through some sort of evolution or a giveaway contest are all ways you can increase engagement with the influencer’s audience and encourage them to go from reading about you to wanting to learn more or even sample what you sell.

We are just at the beginning of this trend, and there’s nothing to suggest this is a short-term opportunity. No matter what you sell – this is a new twist on a tried and true tactic that is even better than it was initially. In the old days, a celebrity endorsed a product to everyone. Today, an influencer talks directly to the people you want to connect with and makes that introduction.

 

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