How to win fans and influence people: Emerging marketing phenomenon helps brands cut through the clutter

Every month I write a column for Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. This month, I interviewed my genius-smart co-worker Brandon Wolf, who helped demystify an emerging phenomenon: influcencer marketing.

In today’s crowded communication environment, it’s more difficult than ever to capture an audience’s attention. Accordingly, one strategy has emerged as particularly effective: influencer marketing. Simply stated, influencer marketing allows brands to partner with those who attract a large audience in a given niche. One locally relevant example: Fort Wayne native Andrea Russett, now a nationally recognized Internet personality, has 3.8 and 3.25 million mostly-Millennial followers on Instagram and Twitter, respectively. Partner with her and you just might have a chance to be seen by them.

To learn more about this phenomenon and how it’s impacting businesses, I spoke with Asher Agency director of digital, Brandon Wolf, who has experience in connecting brands with influencers—and, in the process—prospective buyers. Here are the highlights from that conversation:

mister-cofeeeAnthony Juliano: Endorsements and product placement have been around for a long time—long enough that I remember Joe DiMaggio going to bat for Mr. Coffee when I was a kid. How is this different?

Brandon Wolf: Influencer marketing is a little different in that the brand isn’t in full control of the message. Instead of crafting a scripted message, the brand works with an intermediary—the influencer—who gives an honest review of the product or creates unique content around it. That added authenticity is what makes it effective, versus someone like Joe DiMaggio delivering a canned message or the hosts of American Idol obediently sitting in front of cups of Coca-Cola.

AJ: I understand you have some firsthand experience with this topic from earlier in your career when you worked for an international hardware cooperative. Can you share an example?

BW: We were targeting an audience in the market for high-end tools, so we partnered with Gold Rush, a reality TV show based in the Yukon Territory in Alaska. We provided the show’s crew with Channellock branded products available exclusively through our retailers. This positioned the product well as durable and high quality. While we were not an official sponsor of the show, the brand’s tools did appear on several episodes. We also had the good fortune of several of the cast members tweeting about our products and our stores, which provided additional value.

AJ: What are the primary benefits of these types of partnerships?

BW: It’s a great way to get your product or service in front of a new audience with a specific niche interest. That can be tough to do today without the help of an influencer.

AJ: This seems like it could get pretty expensive. Can small businesses take advantage of the opportunity to partner with influencers, or is it only for large companies?

BW: Working with some of the biggest influencers does cost quite a bit of money—but there’s room for smaller brands, too. If you’re trying to reach a niche audience and you have a great story to tell, you can provide a product to a lesser-known influencer at a decidedly low cost. Regardless of whether you aim high or low, though, it’s important to start with a very well-defined target audience. The more effort you devote to targeting, the more likely it is you’ll find a partner who can put you in front of the right eyeballs and ears.

AJ: What’s the most important thing people need to know about influencer marketing?

BW: Authenticity is critical. Influencers amass their following by being seen as trustworthy and genuine. If you want total control over your message, then, influencer marketing may not be right for your brand. However, if you’re willing to trust a partner, listen to his or her feedback, and then step out of the way, your message will be much more likely to resonate. Remember, you’re initially a third party, hoping to slowly build a relationship with the influencer’s audience over time. If you’re patient, you’ll earn the audience’s trust and attention independently—and that can pay off substantially.

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