Marketing evolves so quickly that 2-3 years ago feels like the stone age, especially when we consider all that has changed in our world since COVID-19. What is standard now, was almost unheard of a couple of years ago, even a couple of months ago! Think about it: Full work from home schedules? Virtual only meetings? No handshakes? No more attending networking events or industry conferences?? No one could have seen this coming. Just 2-3 years ago, we were living in a different world. Back then, there was no Tik-Tok and IG Live wasn’t a go-to marketing strategy. Yet today, it seems like you have to be on social media in order to reach your audience. During this time of #socialdistancing, social media feels like the only safe place to network and interact with the people you know, like, and trust as well as people you’ve never met but want to learn more about or from. The question is, how do we as marketers effectively cut through the clutter and reach them?
One technique that has evolved and increased in effectiveness over time is Influencer Marketing. Influencer Marketing is leveraging the social media influence of a person with an established audience to showcase your product, service, or brand directly to that audience. Just a few years ago, influencer marketing was still so new that it was at best a trend, and at worse a fad that could flop. Reading up on it now, however, statistics affirm that Influencer Marketing actually works.
In 2018, Influencer Marketing Hub reported that every dollar spent on influencer marketing resulted in an average return of $18. Then, in 2019, Rakuten Marketing reported that 8 out of 10 customers had purchased something after seeing it recommended by an influencer. Those stats alone are enough to justify a marketing budget with a line item for Influencer Marketing, but in case you need more, there are great stats here.
To me, it’s no surprise – People like People. People Trust People. People Buy from People. Simple.
However, a few years ago, my experience didn’t quite end as favorably as those stats. Yet, that is the lesson that taught me the most about how to effectively leverage Influencer Marketing by choosing the Right Influencer.
A few years ago, I presented a marketing plan for a new lease-up apartment community in Atlanta, which was situated in a competitive market with other lease-ups. My property management family knows this story well… We always ask the same questions: What all can we throw at it and what’s the newest, latest, and greatest marketing trend or idea that will make us stand out in the marketplace?
For those of you who don’t know about property management, allow me to provide a bit of background and context. A lease-up is an apartment building that is currently under construction or recently completed construction and has 0% occupancy (i.e., 0 people living there or planning to live there). As you can imagine, that is an initial problem for all new businesses in the beginning – no one knows who or what you are and so you have no awareness or interested leads. In property management, we deal with this all of the time (imagine all of the residential construction you see driving through major cities!). Well, given that virtually no one knows this brand new apartment community exists, it is usually the job of the Management Company to effectively market and promote the lease-up, and it was my job to write out our plan.
My marketing plan included all of the standard marketing tactics like a plan for curb and signage appeal, purchase of a popular billboard, and a mix of trendy promotional items that needed to be considered worthy keepsakes to make the investment of $5000+ worth it. That’s what we call traditional marketing in property management.
However, we also strive to include something that is new and cutting-edge in order to create what Jay Baer calls a “Talk Trigger” or a strategy that compels your customers to talk about their experience to their friends and followers in person and online. Thus, my plan for this particular lease-up included a recommendation to try Influencer Marketing. Remember, this was a few years ago, so InfluencerMarketing was just a new trend and we didn’t understand the value of it. The good news: our Management Company and Clients were open to trying it out. The bad news: we didn’t have any previous policies or procedures for how to set up the campaign. Nonetheless, I was tasked with proposing possible opportunities for partnership.
First, I had to find an Influencer.
To pitch it, I made the case that to stand out, we should partner with someone who already stood out in that community and in turn leverage their social media influence to help get the word out to their fans about our new apartment community. Our hope was that this strategic partnership would increase brand awareness, establish trust, and also reach a new segment of potential customers. Thus, my job was to find a person who could help us do that.
I searched high and low on Instagram but only came back with 3 candidates. One was a sports broadcaster, helpful because we knew our customer base was heavy into baseball and local sports. The second was a track athlete and fitness trainer with a history of medical conditions that should have stopped her from being successful with physical activity, but didn’t and she could show that off in our state-of-the-art fitness center. The third was a famous local pup that could possibly appeal to our avid pet lovers while making use of our on-site dog park.
After reviewing the analytics and appeal of each influencer, our team selected the track athlete with a powerful backstory.
Next, I put together a plan for how the partnership would work.
I needed to outline what the partnership was and what we were going to offer in exchange for her time and leveraging her brand influence. My plan initially entailed hiring her to host events at our community. We would be able to quantify how many people she helped bring to an event as well as how many people leased because of her, so we could pay out a referral fee. Feeling good, I proposed my recommendations confidently. And surprisingly, the owners wanted a deeper commitment from our Influencer! They wanted her to sign a lease at the community! My question to them was: What are we going to give in exchange for that? They offered a hefty concession (which is a deep discount off of the rent).
Despite my hesitations, I acted on behalf of our clients to set up a meeting with the Influencer and her Momager (aka, her mom + manager, a formidable woman who formerly worked in media and marketing and was now turning her daughter into a social media superstar!). I showed them the community, emphasized the incredible gym, and told them the plan we had for a partnership. They had questions and a few concerns, but in the end, I convinced them to partner with us in exchange for a high percentage off of her lease. (She was looking to move, so literally the timing was perfect!)
Hey, it wasn’t exactly my plan, but I was ecstatic!
With the consent of the Influencer and her Momager, I went back to our clients to let them know our plan was officially a-go. We just needed to make it official. (And well, now that I think about it, I guess commitment is scary when you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.)
Just as I thought I had the whole plan together…
And a Win for trendiest marketing under my belt, someone pulled a wild card and the whole plan unraveled poetically.
Remember my hesitancy at having the influencer actually lease at the community? Well, it seems our Clients were starting to question that decision as well.
They researched more of her Instagram and began to question if she was a good fit. What they were really asking was: Is this a responsible use of our marketing dollars?
Knowing what I know these days, I might have suggested a local survey or poll to get better insight to see if she was in fact an ideal candidate. I might also be sure to show both the good and bad of potential influencers as marketing candidates. People like People, so humanity and authenticity are typically required in order to achieve success as a social media influencer. Yet, with that, they will also be strongly opinionated and thus imperfect and unpredictable, which is something else customers love! Think about the current President of the United States, or Kanye West, or even his wife Kim Kardashian. These individuals are perfectly imperfect, highly opinionated, and extremely unpredictable, Yet, most people in the world know who they are. Customers love that or at least love to watch that. Businesses… not so much.
In the end, our Clients rescinded their offer and I had to tell the Influencer that we were not going to partner with her after all. That was the last conversation I wanted to have with someone that I had created a unique opportunity for. I was excited. She was excited. Even her Momager was excited about this opportunity! Yet, in the end, I had to communicate that it wasn’t the right fit. As I broke the news to them, they were professional but also disappointed and admittedly offended that her influence wasn’t a fit for this opportunity. And while I felt it was, ultimately it wasn’t a seamless fit and that’s what’s needed when you have a strong brand with a distinct personality. It was a major blow to the innovator inside of me and I truly wished I had never ventured down that path. #Tbh, I felt like a failure.
However, as I look back at the lesson, I can see now that I was simply ahead of my time. Marketing evolves because of innovation and also because of people who are willing to try new things and risk failing in order to learn how to succeed. They help to create the policies and procedures that we use today from their own life lessons and best practices gained through trial and error. From that experience, I now know the ins and outs of pitching and positioning Influencer Marketing. Moreover, I gained deep insight on how to pick the Right Influencer for your business.
Here is my 2020 strategy for choosing the Right Influencer for your business.
How To Choose The Right Influencer
Look for people who mirror or reinforce your brand sentiment.
- Your brand or business has a distinct personality and position. Look for an influencer that compliments the personality and position you’ve worked hard to develop.
- As you consider different influencers, imagine how your customers will see them. How do they currently add value to the lives of your future customers? Can you easily integrate your brand into that message while creating MORE value for your customers?
Look for Influencers who engage authentically.
- Look for influencers who ask questions and get real comments.
- Look for influencers with a reasonable ratio of engagement on posts, at least 8%-10% of their follower count, giving credence to their followers being real and engaged.
- Look for influencers who seem to understand the needs of the community they serve.
Look at what they post.
- What are they showing about their character, their beliefs, their passions, their concerns, etc?
- What are the consistent themes in their social media history?
- What is their presence and personality like on other platforms?
Look at what others post about them
- Research their name and branded keywords as hashtags or general searches. Are you happy with what comes up?
- What do customers or fans say about them in reviews?
- Also ask yourself, would your customers share this content with others and enjoy doing so?
Finally, research their analytics.
While you can only see their analytics if they provide access to them, you can still scroll through their feed and get a sense for which types of posts get the most engagement and which get the least.
- What types of posts resonate with their audience?
- Have they ever posted about a brand or business before? How did that post perform?
Once you’ve narrowed down your list,
- Reach out to them and be friendly, yet professional. (Remember, these are real people, so address them like a real person.) After you exchange introductions, let them know what made you reach out to them.
- Ask about their rates. Each influencer has their own rates that they charge for a promotion. See if their prices justify the anticipated impact of your campaign.
- Rule of thumb: They know their prices and they have worked hard to be able to set them. Do not insult them with negotiations unless you have a truly compelling counter offer.
- Once the price is set and accepted, see if they are interested in setting up an appointment in person or over the phone to discuss potential partnership opportunities.
- Clearly explain what you want out of the partnership and ask them to clearly explain what they want.
- See if they are open to an initial trial period to see how well their promotion does with your customers. (Note: You will still be billed for their time and influence, but you will not be obligated to continue a long-term partnership.)
- Openly communicate if you are still speaking with other influencers and considering who will be right for the opportunity. (Make no promises to commit until your decision is final and irrefutable.)
- Ask them to share what they know about their demographics. See if they understand their core audience. Ask them to send a breakdown in writing so that you can review in-depth later.
Ready? Choose your Influencer wisely.
After your meeting, spend some time doing final research on the Influencer you are thinking of partnering with. Review their reach and their impact. Review their prices. Review their demographics and how well past brand partnerships have done. If all of this checks out and they still reinforce your brand sentiment, know how to engage with their audience authentically, post valuable and strategic content, have good reviews and good analytics, then extend a clearly defined offer to the Influencer. If they accept the terms of the partnership, then start with an initial trial period to test out their influence and reach. Give the campaign 7-10 days to make an impact and then review the results. If you are happy with your return on investment, then reconnect with them and see if they would like to enter a longer-term partnership. If so, create a legal agreement and sign off on the terms. Once the agreement is signed, begin your partnership with the Influencer and strive to maintain a positive relationship.
Remember: Their endorsement will reach a core audience that could mean new customers and even thousands or millions of dollars for your company!
It may take some time to find an Influencer, but at least they will be the Right Influencer for your business. If you have any questions or would like additional insight, please feel free to email me at [email protected].