We are seeing new rules of engagement emerging as influencers look to secure results-focused partnerships with brands rather than simply fulfilling traditional influencer roles. 

This year, influencer marketing is forecasted to grow to somewhere in the region of $9-10billion globally. This represents significant confidence in this marketing activity and surveys have shown that 89% of marketeers believe the ROI from influencer marketing is comparable or better than other channels (Mediakix). Digging deeper, this belief is not always backed up by data or confidence in actual sales. This belief is largely anecdotal and, unfortunately, few brands have managed to measure the actual impact of their influencer marketing. 

Whilst there is certainly no lack of appetite from brands to drive the influencer charge, the pandemic and various economic factors have accelerated the need for the existing model to mature rapidly, to offer brands more accountable and enhanced measurement, tied to ROI.  It is not only in the interest of brands themselves trying to justify every media pound invested during times of economic uncertainty, but also influencers who are seeing contracts change rapidly as industries are impacted differently by the pandemic. Influencers also need to make themselves stand out from the competition and be able to tie their posts back to revenue for the brands they are promoting. 

This could drive the next iteration of how brands view and collaborate with influencers through an influencer maturity index. The below framework will allow brands to plot themselves in different stages of maturity: 

Nascent is to drive Reach 

Influencers are great for driving reach organically – without using paid advertising – and for reaching an engaged, organic audience on platforms like Instagram. Both large and micro-influencers are able to drive incremental reach for marketing campaigns. 

For this type of influencer marketing, the main metric is reach. Beyond this, advertisers often look to measure effectiveness through superficial metrics like post engagement. The reason this is superficial is because of the difficulty associated with finding a clear correlation between engagement rate and business outcomes. This is consistent with relatively new marketing disciplines or platforms, for example, Facebook discovered this a few years back and began to discourage like or engagement campaigns and looked to bolster measurement capabilities. 

Engagement on posts is also extremely circumstantial – for example, a post that asks for likes and comments to enter a competition or to respond to a polling question will always get far superior likes and comments than a post that is simply an influencer showing how they use a product they are promoting in their everyday lives. This type of influencer activity has led to advertising fatigue through posts driving artificially inflated likes, shares and comments as opposed to really delivering the brand’s message, tone and value proposition. 

At this level of maturity, influencer marketing is acting like a broadcast channel or at worst like pop-up ads. 

Emerging is to be Relevant

Reach for reach’s sake is not useful. The whole power of influencers’ organic posts is an interested audience. By selecting the right audience, that reach can also be relevant. Often, brands will start out with broad-reach influencers and then move towards maturity in influencer marketing by selecting more micro or mid-size influencers who have audiences that are closer to their target. Influencers have the unique ability to command attention from their fans, so placing the right product contextually and considering the audience is essential; a beauty influencer promoting a cooking product is not as relevant (and may result in loss of followers for the influencer).  

There are many third-party tools now which aggregate influencers and help brands to find the most relevant influencers by matching audiences. These are extremely useful to find several influencers that hit a brand’s core audience: e.g. a travel brand might be looking to target luxury travellers and business travellers, so a tool like this could find one influencer who has an audience that intersects with luxury and a second influencer who intersects with business. In this way, a mosaic of influencers can be combined to build relevant reach to a brand’s target audience. 

At this level of maturity, influencer marketing can be likened to the advertorial in print marketing. 

Advanced is Response

As influencer marketing budget grows, the investment needs to be accountable to sales. When looking at effectiveness, there are both performance opportunities as well as options to look at for brand impact. When measuring performance, advertisers should look to use unique tags within their URLs in order to track traffic source by influencers. This can verify users who visit a brand’s website but depending on the complexity of the tag, can provide conversion data through Google Analytics. Secondly, for direct performance engagement, strategies should look to develop the paths of conversions through influencers and look to utilise new Facebook or Instagram platform placements including Instagram Shoppable Ads or Facebook Shops. For brands that are looking at indirect results for their business, short term and long term brand lift studies should be enacted on paid media to register the impact on upper and mid-funnel activity such as ad recall, association (between the brand and influencer), as well as affinity. 

At this level of maturity, influencer marketing is achieving the goals of performance marketing. 

Building long term and successful relationships 

Influencers can be seen as a shop and drop: brands use them once, and then drop them; consumers shop once and then may be switched to another product in their next campaign. Longer term relationships are needed to drive loyalty both from consumers and from the brands which employ them. It is often said that fewer posts from one ongoing influencer partner are more powerful than a series of one-off posts from multiple influencers. To earn the trust of an influencer’s following, brands should look to influencers more as ambassadors to verify their product or service to an organic fan base. The ideal scenario would be to have an influencer promote a range of products that would suit their audience, instead of just one product over time. Influencer marketing should be viewed as a strong brand growth opportunity, not to highlight specific product features repetitively.