Picture: 123RF/SKDESIGN
Picture: 123RF/SKDESIGN

Cast your mind a few years back. Marketers – with their broadcast mentality – would send a brand message, via a television advert, to viewers. Due to declining TV viewership, marketers (still with that broadcast mentality) simply use an influencer (read celebrity) to broadcast their message via social media platforms. Though this is effective in some cases, there is far more to influencer marketing than meets the eye.

“Think of the meaning of the word influence,” says hyh’s Ryan McFadyen, speaking at the IMC Conference held recently in Midrand. “Influencing is about the ability to change one type of behaviour to another. Through research, we know that marketers love macro influencers – celebrities with thousands of followers on social media. Yet, ultimately, if you’re looking to change consumer behaviour, it’s more important to look at the power of influence more holistically.”

McFadyen points out that in SA, just 10% of conversations about brands happen online. This means that 90% of conversations happen in a face-to-face context, through recommendations. “Influencers are simply the tip of the iceberg and as marketers we’re not using them effectively,” he says.

Using influencers to create a change in behaviour goes beyond using Bonang to post a photograph of herself on Instagram sipping a glass of Veuve Clicquot and hoping that everyone goes out and buys it the next chance they get, says McFadyen. In fact micro influencers (communities or tribes of people linked by a common interest) are far more effective, he says.

Ultimately, when it comes to influencers, word of mouth is the strongest form of marketing. In fact, one in three word of mouth recommendations convert to trial, said McFadyen. As such, marketers need to understand who the influencers are in a certain community and engage with them to turn them from consumers into loyalists and then ultimately into advocates. Loyalty is no longer a key focus for brands as advocacy is significantly more powerful. Indeed, research conducted by Fred Reichheld for Harvard Business School revealed that a 12% increase in a brand’s advocacy score can double sales.

When developing an influence approach, says McFadyen, it is imperative to understand what insights will change behaviour A to behaviour B and who the influencers are that will lead that change. “Let’s use the example of Omo. A group of mothers would be far better placed to recommend the product than some celebrity professing to wash their clothes with Omo. And mothers are not interested in the washing powder that makes their whites ‘whiter than white’. But they do care about their children and they want their children to have fun without permanently ruining their clothes. Hence, Omo’s ‘Dirt is good’ positioning, which is something that will resonate with mothers everywhere. That is how you change behaviour – by tapping into the communities that influence it,” McFadyen says.

He goes on to say that brands focus too little on the actual product. “For example, is the launch of a new flavour of cereal really an innovation? Or is it just another ‘thing’ competing for the already divided attention of consumers,” McFadyen asks, pointing out that approximately 75% of new product launches fail.

Influencing behaviour is about asking different groups of consumers what they want from a certain product and then giving it to them. Apple is a case in point; with every innovation from the brand (macro or micro), Apple gives consumers what they want and need – smaller, faster, better devices, he says. “The product is always at the centre of the brand. This is how you create brand ambassadors – Apple people are so passionate about the brand that they wouldn’t dream of using anything else.”

To this end, it’s all about identifying tribes. The old rules around segmentation are no longer relevant. If you want to know who drives fashion trends, speak to the trendy kids on university campuses. Baby products? Try mothers’ groups. And so it goes. If you want to drive real value for a brand, target the adopters to get them to speak about their experiences.

The big take-out:

Developing an integrated influence strategy that taps into the key drivers of behaviour and then uses micro influencers who have  greater powers of persuasion through word of mouth recommendations within their communities will yield far better returns than any other form of marketing, says hyh’s Ryan McFadyen.

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