What is influencer marketing and why should I care?

If you run or promote a business, or are in sales or marketing, then you need to know about influencer marketing as it can have an amazing ROI (return on investment) and, at its best, help your brand reach thousands – or even millions – of potential new customers. 

What is an influencer?

A new term for a pre-existing phenomenon. An ‘influencer’ is someone with high visibility who has authority in your industry or with your client base. There are influencers across all industries and geographical areas – heck, you probably follow at least a couple on social media yourself. Influencers have been courted by manufacturers for centuries but while in the 1800s you might be hoping to get a coveted “By Royal Appointment” on your biscuit box, today influencers have most impact through social media where they may have millions of followers. As part of your digital marketing strategy, you should work with influencers as a retweet like “OMG I <3 this new bag” can cause the kind of sales spike that leaves unprepared businesses panicking and well-prepared ones cheering all the way to the bank. 

OK, so what is influencer marketing?

The skill, science, art or strategy involved in getting key products in front of key people who then share them with their followers. Depending on the industry this may be relatively simple, such as doing a mail shot to ping out new make up samples to a few dozen (or few thousand) bloggers, vloggers, TV stars and other social media personalities or it may be more complex, such as when a multinational negotiates a detailed contract with a specific star to be the new ‘face’ of a major brand. What’s clear is that everyone’s doing it, and that it can be a particularly successful digital marketing strategy for small and medium size businesses. It can also be a real hit for companies who might assume that being outside the main lifestyle/luxury/beauty/travel/food brands often seen on Pinterest and Instagram rules them out of web-based influencer marketing strategies such as plumbing supply manufacturers, car mechanics, B2B supply companies and other less ‘glossy’ trades. 

Why influencer marketing is great for small businesses 

In many fields, the key influencers are very ordinary people. While if you’re making eyeliner or high-end designer shoes you might need to go all the way to Hollywood to find the top influencers in your industry, for most of us the key people are much more down to earth. This means that they’re more likely to be interested in working with small businesses, and that the costs of doing business are likely to be lower. If, for example, you’re a hair dresser in Hampshire, you won’t expect women to travel from London (never mind Hollywood) for a trim so there’s no point reaching out to the Kardashians. However, you might find that there are local influencers you could speak to: a local beauty vlogger with a decent following; someone who teaches at the college; perhaps a large locally-focused beauty, hair care or mum’s group; or even the WI. Most of the time these early approaches will only cost you a few minutes, and perhaps, if it goes ahead, a discount e.g. 10% off. 

How influencer marketing works outside the Insta/Pinterest bubble

Many digital marketing teams dismiss influencer marketing as something which only works if there are people in your field who have millions of followers. But we firmly believe that the method is worth investigating even if your products aren’t usually shared in glossy photos accompanied by a latte and the line #perfectday. As an example, most businesses recognise the value of space at a trade show or in an industry related magazine, whether that’s a direct to consumer niche title like “Performance BMW Magazine”, a trade paper or an academic publication. Today, most of these channels have online equivalents on social media and these have value, too. 

Getting started with influencer marketing

The obvious first step is to make a list of the key personalities in your field – people who command respect, whose opinions hold weight, and who have access to your customers and potential customers. Brainstorm and don’t limit your initial list in any way – go big and then select who to contact later on. The online influencers in your industry may or may not be the same people who hold key positions in terms of old media and event marketing so it’s essential to include anyone who might be useful. You may not even know the (real) names of some people so it’s find to put “the editor of such-and-such newsletter / site / magazine / blog” and track down the details later. 

Can I really just cold contact these people? Will that work?

If you’re in sales, you’ll be laughing at this point, because yes: that’s how sales works, but for many small business owners and managers the idea of contacting a complete stranger and asking for their time while offering no financial reward is daunting or odd – after all, you wouldn’t want someone doing it to you, would you? Well, actually, sometimes you do appreciate being interrupted by a stranger – even one that’s trying to sell you something. As an example, if you’re on the beach and thirsty, you might appreciate the call of a passing drinks seller. So yes, you can just contact people out of the blue. They might not reply, but you can try. 

A few ideas for your first pitch 

The key to successful influencer marketing is to ensure your pitch is useful to the person who you’re pitching to. There are lots of ways to achieve this – below you’ll find just a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Offer a freebies or a samples for review – most people love getting something for free and tend to be more positive towards things they haven’t paid for.
  • Offer a competition prize – people who run blogs, print or online magazines, newsletters and even big social groups on sites like Facebook are pretty much always happy to have something to give away to their followers or readers and this can be a low cost way of securing space for your product.
  • Provide a video, blog post or photos – content producers, such as bloggers, are always looking for ways to fill space and may welcome one or more guest posts from an expert (you or one of your team).
  • Suggest a behind-the-scenes tour – give the influencer inside access to your company in some way and let them share it with their following.
  • Invite influencers to an event – perhaps something you’re running, or offer to sponsor attendance at an industry event or host them on your stall at a trade show.
  • Arrange a swap – what do you have that they might want?
  • Consider cash – whether you’re sponsoring a charity run or paying directly for advertising, for some influencers cash is king. Taking this step can be tricky, so word your initial pitch carefully if this is an option you’re open to.
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