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MarketingTech: It’s time for influence to evolve — Welcome to Influence 2.0

by Kirk Crenshaw, MarketingTech

Influencer marketing is one of the most promising and underappreciated disciplines in the digital marketing mix” – Brian Solis

Influencer marketing became mainstream in 2016. However, with pure pay to play and short-term campaign practices dominating the conversation, many misconceptions remain in this nascent space. Curious to see how the practice is perceived within leading enterprises around the world, Traackr and TopRank Marketing teamed up to survey 102 brand strategists and marketers and commissioned Brian Solis from Altimeter to analyse the data, evaluate the current practice and predict its evolution.

The report, “Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing”, highlights many salient points that we, at Traackr, witness every day working with our clients.

An immature practice

The data around current influencer marketing practice demonstrates a considerable lack of understanding of the vast untapped potential for the enterprise. The practice remains highly tactical, with low-level financial and resource investment:

  • 43% of companies surveyed are still experimenting with influencer marketing, and 28% only involve influencers at a campaign level
  • 57% are still doing everything manually, while 21% use an influencer identification tool, and only 19% an IRM solution
  • Reported budgets are still small, representing on average only a 10% share of the marketing mix. 50% currently allocate less than $100,000 annually

The report identifies short-term, campaign-driven, and paid activities as fundamental failures of current programs. These are hindering performance and preventing influencer marketing from becoming a strategic investment at a board level. By moving to an “always on” program focus, enterprises can powerfully impact purchase decisions and activate multiple moments of truth along a more meaningful and productive customer journey.

However, the data indicates a readiness for influencer programs. 71% of brand marketers rate influencer marketing as a strategic or highly strategic marketing category and 83% of respondents cited “identifying and building one-on-one relationships with industry key influencers” as a top priority.

Tomorrow is another day

Budgetary projections for 2017 also demonstrate a shift in prioritisation as 55% of marketers plan to spend more on influencer marketing. For those already investing more than $250,000 annually, this percentage jumps up to 67%, and up to 77% for those using technology, highlighting a success threshold. Some brands are showing the way, with 24% running an “always on” program. While many are missing out, with only 5% implementing integrated influencer activities across all functions.

Interestingly, influence is starting to expand its footprint within the enterprise with 50% of respondents stating that four or more departments are engaged in an integrated influencer practice, and 80% indicating more than three. More telling, 57% of respondents believe influencer marketing will be integrated into all marketing activities in 3 years, and 47% believe it will be a cross-functional discipline that expands beyond marketing.

Future goals also indicate that the role of influence is now expanding into new areas. These include marketing, sales, support, and loyalty programs. 94% of marketers would like to explore how it can improve brand advocacy, 92% want to use it to expand brand awareness, 88% want to reach new highly targeted audiences, 86% to achieve increased share of voice and 74% to improve sales conversion.

Welcome to Influence 2.0

In the new research, Brian introduces ‘Influence 2.0,’ or Influencer Relations as he states, and calls for the practice to mature. Only through an upgrade, can enterprises deliver on the promise of influencer programs to accelerate digital transformation through humanisation and enable true customer centricity by placing customer experience at the centre of enterprise business strategy.

He maps out a future vision for influencer marketing and introduces a new business model that unifies disparate organisational functions and encompasses all relationship-driven marketing activities. Influencers can play a role in each moment of truth in the customer journey. So, to earn executive attention, influence must be championed at a higher cross-functional level by multiple stakeholders including brand, PR, AR, customer and employee advocacy, social media, and digital.

Brian also emphasises that influencer marketing must also stand as an investment priority in its own right, rather than an enhancement to existing advertising, paid for endorsements, or PR programs.

Harnessing Influence 2.0

Brian pins success on reassessing the value chain, engaging influencers in authentic long-term relationships, and creating value within the relationships between influencers and their communities. To impact sales, satisfaction, and retention, influence management, content strategy, and customer experience must be integrated. Influencers, peers, intent, and experiences must be aligned throughout the customer journey. A meaningful investment in a strategic IRM technology platform is also required so on-going programs and long-term relationships can be managed and scaled, cross-functional collaboration can be enabled, and impact before, during, and after transaction can be tracked and measured.

As Brian states: “Influence 2.0 is an incredible opportunity for marketers to think differently about customer experience to fast track the inevitable changes that digital business presents. Marketers must reimagine their role as a central driver of organisational change, output, and impact by connecting with customers in more genuine and useful ways and channels they trust and value.”

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