A relatively new kid on the block, influencer marketing has emerged out of relative obscurity to become a big part of the performance marketing mix in 2016.

With the number of influential bloggers, YouTube stars and Instagrammers continuing to rise, interest among brands is also ramping up, culminating in mass investment and even dedicated influencer marketing networks.

The space is now big enough to have entire events focused solely on it, and Influencer Marketing Days is an option for advertisers wanting pointers on strategy, relationship management and campaign development within this specific area of marketing.

Greg Shepard, chief strategy officer at Pepperjam, recently spoke at the event, and we caught up with him to find out how to do influencer marketing right.

So, Greg, you’ve recently attended Influencer Marketing Days. What is your biggest takeaways from the event?

Greg Shepard: Influencer marketing platforms are changing, with a transition away from systems of record to systems of engagement. While previously advertisers and publishers would find each other through rudimentary means of tracking platforms or through manual research, new tools are being created to improve communication and facilitate deals within web applications.

Previously much of the engagement portion of the process would have been handled off-platform. This is a major efficiency for both publishers and advertisers, and broadens the field of potential influencers while providing more niche targeting opportunities.

Influencer marketing has been on everyone’s mind this year, but are influencers still in fashion?

GS: More than ever. In the electronic age, influencer marketing is absolutely essential to establishing brand loyalty and it’s good for the industry as well.

Influencers give your brand a soul. Apple and Tesla have a soul. It started with great products and extraordinary vision, but it was their customer experience and advocacy that gave them that quality of  movement. If you don’t have the advocacy, something is missing. You’re just floating in a sea of brands.

And what’s the biggest challenge brands have when working with influencers?

GS: Compliance is a huge challenge in working with influencers. The pool of influencers has become more diffuse over time, disabling advertisers’ ability to control how their brand is represented.

After identifying this problem years ago, I worked to establish one of the most comprehensive compliance platforms available to monitor publisher content and activity, thereby ensuring brand integrity remains intact and that publishers who are looking for a commission play by the rules.

What do brands often get wrong when working with influencers?

GS: Firstly, expecting something for nothing. Influencers often establish their position through trust and integrity. Brands should do the same. Don’t be cheap. Incent your influencer with a free sample, invite them to your facilities, create a relationship.

Secondly, it’s investing more in a good review than in the quality of the brand. Shoppers who look at reviews or articles are savvy – they typically look to multiple sources before purchasing.

If you have one stellar influencer amid a sea of complaints, you’ve likely wasted money and time on that person. The quality and integrity of the product or service must come first.

Lastly, misalignment. Make sure your influencers and brand identity are in alignment or they could do more harm than good. While targeting new audiences is great, make sure that effort doesn’t alienate consumer groups you’ve already established relationships with.

We’ve seen marketing trends come and go in recent years, so what does the future hold for influencer marketing?

GS: I believe influencer marketing will break out of the traditional internet mould of desktop and mobile, and into digital interfaces where personalised content presents itself in real-world scenarios.

Otherwise known as the ‘internet of things’, we will start seeing influencer marketing play a role in omni-channel transactions, connected cars, the home and more. For example, imagine you’re in a store and you receive a notification that your favourite video blogger has reviewed a product that you have viewed and is available in the store you’re shopping in. Even better, he is offering a coupon for that store. This is the type of engagement I expect to see in the future.