Thanks to the recent rise in ad blocking, influencer marketing seems like the new hotness in the industry. But of course, traditional advertising has always involved influencers. "Celebrities are the biggest influencers in the world, and they have been advertising spokespeople for hundreds of years," says Dave Karraker, vice president of marketing and communications at Campari America. However, thanks to the advent of social media, influencers have become much more accessible for brands of all sizes, he notes. Now, what used to cost a fortune -- that is, reaching and influencing millions of people with a celebrity -- can now be done with a much smaller budget with a social media influencer, yet reach the same number of people.
"Adding today's social media influencers to your media mix is important because we know that consumers, particularly Millennials, see influencer third-party endorsements and word-of-mouth as exceptionally important in making purchasing decisions, more so than traditional print or television advertising," Karraker says.
At the iMedia Brand Summit (Feb. 12-15 in Amelia Island, FL), Karraker will be discussing strategies for empowering advocates to become brand influencers. So let's lay some groundwork: What's the difference between an advocate and an influencer anyway? Karraker breaks it down simply: "An advocate is anyone that is an outspoken fan of your brand," he says. "They are the ones out there singing your praises and actively telling people why they like your brand so much."
On the other hand, an influencer is simply someone who has influence over a particular group of people, perhaps your consumers. But they may or may not be advocates. "A paid social media influencer, for example, may have little experience with the brand they are promoting," Karraker notes. "I always say your best influencers are those who are truly passionate about your products."
For Campari, this ideal situation manifests in Neil Patrick Harris, a loyal and genuine advocate of Campari. As such, Campari is more likely to empower NPH as an influencer.
That said, not all influencers are celebrities. Sure, the stars might align nicely for your brand sometimes in the case of a Neil Patrick Harris. But finding a high-profile celeb who loves your brand certainly isn't a prerequisite for effective influencer marketing.
Take Campari's Negroni Week as an example. Each June, during Negroni Week, bars and restaurants commit to donating one dollar from every Negroni cocktail sold to the charity of their choice. This campaign has turned into a global phenomenon, with more than 6,000 participants from 44 countries in 2016.
"Some of the key influencers for this are bartenders, who are really advocates for the program," Karraker says. "Over the past four years, we have enlisted these advocates to be the face of Negroni Week, using them on social media, in media interviews, and at events to tell folks why Negroni Week is so important." By leveraging bartenders as influencers who can talk about how much they enjoy helping local charities during Negroni Week, the program's credibility is greatly increased.
Negroni Week's power is in its authenticity. As Karraker sees it, authenticity is where most brands misstep with influencer marketing. Many seek to enlist influencers who aren't actual advocates of their brands.
"Consumers are much smarter than a lot of people give them credit for," Karraker says. "If they have followed someone for years, and all of a sudden that person starts talking about your brand out of the blue and it doesn't fit with their established personality, they are going to smell a fish."
According to Karraker, transparency is going to be a driving force in 2017, so brands will do well to make sure the people they engage as influencers are people who care about their brands.
Fortunately, there are brands out there that already understand the importance of authenticity in influencer marketing. Overall, Karraker notes, fashion brands have nailed influencer marketing better than any other industry. These brands are tapping into low-cost influencers who create beautiful content with "news you can use" sales drivers.
For brands looking to better harness the power of influencer marketing, Karraker says the most important thing to do is listen. "You have a wealth of information available to you on your social media channels, and the channels of your competitors," he says. "Get on there for 30 minutes each day to listen to what people are saying and identify who is talking the loudest. Those are your real advocates."
From there, brands can start to engage their advocates to see if they have the potential to become influencers. "If they do, start promoting them on your channels and build up their followings," he recommends. "Empower them to be a better advocate and influencer, using the resources you have at your disposal." After all, Karraker notes, this costs nothing. In that regard, influencer marketing is a fit for all brands, regardless of budget. The key to success, whether engaging powerful celebrities or everyday individuals, will always be maintaining authenticity.