By Shelly Kramer – CEO, V3B.
Marketers are faced with a new reality—as ad-blocking has gone mainstream we need new ways to reach our target audiences. Consumers—and especially Millennial consumers—have long been opting out of marketing messages, and as the adoption of ad-blocking gains traction, that is more true than ever before.
Consumers have replaced looking at your sales pitches with a hundred things that are more interesting to them—and relying on what their friends think about a product or service or reading online reviews to help them make purchase decisions. What’s a brand to do? Whether you’re marketing to a Millennial consumer base or anyone else, understanding the power of word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer advertising and embracing influencer marketing can be the secret to success.
Ad-blocking is just what it sounds like—and that can both empower consumers and dishearten marketers. A new report from Crowdtap reveals that more than 200 million people globally use some form of ad-blocking software, a 41 percent increase year over year. This doesn’t mean that people don’t care about your ads, but it really comes down to a major shift in how consumers want to be approached by brands in the digital age. They’re burned-out on in-your-face representations of features and benefits and brand-centric messaging. Your brand is awesome, and you know it. But consumers don’t want you to tell them—they (especially Millennials) want you to show them. Educate them. Connect with them. That’s hard to do in a flashing banner ad or a sidebar ad—no matter how good your designers are.
This topic reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou. I’m sure she meant absolutely nothing about marketing when she uttered these words, but yet here we are:
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That’s true for your brand, too. An empowered, engaged consumer base is one that sticks around because she wants to, not because you say so. And many do stick around, despite those high ad-blocking numbers. It may seem ironic, but data shows that Millennials are actually the most brand-loyal generation. How do you get in their good graces? How do you get in the good graces of any consumer of any age group that you’re trying to reach?
Word-of-mouth still matters today, and it’s even more widespread in the age of everything-social. It’s easier than ever for consumers to create their own reviews and read those of their trusted friends and family. This isn’t just my opinion—it’s backed up by data. Crowdtap’s report shows that more consumers trust word-of-mouth over any other channel—more than twice as much as they trust those banner ads, by the way. And, as you can see from Figure 1 below, word-of-mouth drives a significant portion of sales across a variety of categories—a whopping 5+ times the sales of paid media impressions.
Influencer marketing is a tactic that has a strong expert-to-consumer base with a shot of that warmth-inducing peer-to-peer feel—a perfect mix. It’s essentially: Do you know what you’re talking about? Check. Can I relate to you enough to trust you? Check.
When it comes to the success of your influencer marketing efforts, choosing influencers carefully is vital. Influencers should be subject matter experts, of course, but they should also be willing to thoughtfully engage with the target group. Specific to the Millennial consumer base, and as you’ll see from Figure 2 below, that’s what this cohort wants the most—for brands to “be willing to change based on consumer opinion.” In the real world, that means they are going to need you to listen to them—a lost art if there ever was one. Successful influencer marketing means working with influencers who get this, and who practice the art of listening.
That’s important because in the vast majority of influencer campaigns, brands get it wrong. They tap influencers based on flawed thinking and standards. They don’t spend any time developing relationships with influencers or really understanding their audiences and the value they bring to a brand. They don’t focus on building long-term, ongoing relationships with influencers. Instead, they treat campaigns like casual sex: How many Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat followers you got? Wham, bam, thank you ma’am, see ya later.
You can spend money on advertising trying to earn brand awareness and trust, and many brands do. If you’ve not got the luxury of time or large marketing budgets, influencer marketing done right can deliver some powerful ROI. Tapping the right influencers, people who have long-established relationships with your target customer base, and enticing them (usually with real money) to enter into an influencer relationship with your brand is like taking twenty giant leaps forward. They’ve got the connections. They’ve got the networks. They’ve got the trust and credibility. And in most cases they aren’t going to agree to do anything with your brand if they don’t believe in what you do or sell.
So when getting directly to your target audience in the most expeditious, most cost-effective manner possible, with the right messaging is important, influencer marketing can deliver amazing ROI on your marketing investment. But don’t take what I said about not having large marketing budgets literally. Influencer marketing absolutely requires a budget commitment and brands and agencies need to stop trying to do this stuff on the cheap. Influencers aren’t idiots. They have spent years building their networks and their reputations, and they know the value they bring to the equation. Don’t expect them to work for free, for a free trip to your event, for the “exposure” or any of those other lame things you offer up in lieu of cash money. Influencer marketing is work for the influencer, and it only makes sense that he or she expects to be paid for that work.
Customer experience is about relationships. Influencer marketing is about relationships. You want to build relationships with your customers that lead them to trust your brand, want to know more, and ultimately want to purchase. Invest your time and your marketing dollars in finding the right influencers, invest in building relationships with them that are intended to be long-term, invest budget dollars in compensating your influencers in such a way that they want to stick around for a long time to come, and sit back and watch the magic happen.
The Crowdtap report is interesting. If you’d like to read more, you can access the full report here: Beyond the Impression from Crowdtap. Pay special attention to the entries on the importance of creator partnerships—or, what I like to call “the house that influencers built.” And as you read this, keep in mind that for the most part, a vast majority of your consumer base feels the same way about being advertised to as Millennials. They don’t like it, so adapt your strategies accordingly, all the way across the board.
How many missed opportunities has your brand experienced because of ad blocking or marketing misfires? Do you think influencer marketing could help bridge that gap? The data shows it can—so what’s the hold up? I’d love to hear your thoughts.