Monday, 17 April 2017

"Influencer Marketing"! Why Do We Work SO Hard at Killing the Goose?

3.5 MIN. READ: Why is it so hard for we humans to do the smart thing, instead of doing what we've always done?

You know what got us really excited about the ads we made back in the 90's? People talking about them 'around the water cooler.' In other words we hoped for 'earned media,' better known as 'positive PR,' or even 'personal recommendations.' We were arrogant enough to think that if our ads were impactful enough, buyers of the product we advertised would 'spread their influence' and we'd see increased share of market. Sadly we weren't wrong, but the effect wasn't caused by our brilliance, most of the time, but rather simply by the social oddities of human nature: the more we see a brand, the more likely we are to buy it.

The single most significant change that the Internet has had upon marketing is what? Not digital ads. Not 'big data' (oh, that's huge, but it is an incremental change that became exponential). Not ads on mobile phones or geo-targeting (although it will eventually help bring us to the Holy Grail of marketing, more on this in a bit). The biggest thing underlies all the "SHINY & NEW" labels that the marketing journalists have come up with: instant, free and broadly distributed personal recommendations. The labels we've churned through of late with breathless hyperbole:

Social Marketing • Content Marketing • Influencer Marketing

Think about it. These are all the same thing and used to be called PR, also known as 'earned media,' whether the medium is a TV breakfast show or a popular blogger's site or feed.

Not just because I had my own agency on the beach in Cancun for many years I like the PESO model I came across recently:

Some versions of this model put the “Content” category title over different things, but I see Content as being in the dead center as, for the consumer of the content, the line between professionally produced and broadcast content (‘Paid,’ ‘Earned’ and ‘Owned’), versus unpaid amateurs' posts/tweets/feeds (‘Shared’) has become immaterial. It’s all just information and/or entertainment to the average sales prospect. I’ve added the split between ‘Push Efforts’ that the Brand can control and ‘Pull Results’ that they can’t, recognizing that there is some cross-over, like the brand’s Facebook fan page and Twitter account.

Now the author of this example of the PESO model put ‘Influencer Engagement’ between ‘Earned’ and ‘Social,’ which puts it squarely (excuse the visual pun) in the ‘Pull Results’ region. What happens when, especially in Canada where we don’t yet have a law like the US has implemented that requires all brand advocates to declare if/what they’ve been compensated for their endorsement, the Brand pays people to say good things about their product? That is in NO WAY either ‘Earned’ or ‘Shared’ (found/discovered) ‘Pull Results,’ these are clearly ‘Paid’ and ‘Owned’ (especially if directed/scripted) ‘Push Efforts.’

At Bruinco's recent BConExpo content-related conference in Toronto a panel discussion was featured titled “Standing Out in a Sea of Influencers,” moderated by Bree Rody-Mantha. The panelists recounted their recent efforts in the realm of influencers and what struck me was the fact that, for an admittedly low-engagement product like Honey Nut cheerios, Emma Eriksson of General Mills Canada had merely paid some online celebrities for a testimonial in what was an advertorial. I couldn’t resist opening my big mouth to highlight the distinct difference between the ‘Push Efforts’ of General Mills and the largely ‘Pull Results’ of Budweiser, recounted by Andrew Oosterhuis of Labatt Breweries of Canada. (Serena Tam of Clorox Canada described efforts that fell somewhat more in the middle of push and pull for Brita Water Filters.)

The concern that I raised then, and continue to be somewhat apoplectic about, is that the moment marketers PAY influencers/advocates for positive reviews, they destroy the credibility of these folks. Why am I giving Labatt a pass when they sought out the right kind of influencer based upon their followers, their demographics, psychographics and style and then gave them tickets and travel expenses to music festivals and the like, only requesting that they drink Bud and mention their consumption? Because there is a fundamental difference between being paid to be positive about a product you may not even like and being ‘placed’ in a consumption environment you very much enjoy.

The best experiential engagements between brands and consumers are the ones in which the brand fits naturally and relevantly. When people get free shampoos with scalp massages and hair styling afterwards out in the middle of a downtown square or market, it may be weird, but it is free and fun and earns a bunch of media coverage and social shares. When Frank’s Red Hot sauce puts on a rib eating contest at a music festival or foodie convention, the same thing happens. If the experience is fun, interesting, entertaining and might help improve my 'social capital' I just might post a photo of it on social media. If it gets me REALLY engaged or really enjoying the product, I just might blog or tweet about it, VOLUNTARILY.
Brand Momentum Event
Sadly, when General Mills tries to co-opt the plight of the imperiled honey bees by giving out wild flower seeds to every customer at the checkout of a grocery store to help promote a better urban environment for bees (a noble cause), the customers ask “Why would I want more bees in my backyard? I’m scared of bees!” and the clerk comments “Yeah, most people feel that way, but we were told to offer a packet to every customer.” Now I can imagine a bunch of creative and strategically sound ideas to turn this challenge around for Honey Nut Cheerios, but the sad fact is that this knee-jerk tendency our industry has of seizing every new opportunity for garnering genuine ‘Push Results’ and going back to the ‘Push Efforts’ we are most familiar with simply destroys the value and potential of new tools for brands to forge truly authentic and enduring human connections.

What is what I call 'The Holy Grail of Marketing'? Fully addressable advertising wherein we see only ads for products we're interested in, when we are interested, with zero repetition. Once we get there, marketers won't have to push so much as they'll find their ideal buyers organically and naturally. Customers will 'pull' ads they want and will be happy to watch them, as long as they feel that marketing efforts are relevant and credible.


Kevin is an inventor. An inventor of concepts and breakthrough solutions. Want more of his insights and how they can help your marketing efforts? Book a conversation with him today. Some topics you might engage him about:
  1. Bubbles Burst, Always” – the US economy is set to explode very soon, have you and your company prepared for the inevitable crash?
  2. The Workplace Diversity that We Never Talk About” – a look back at the evolution of human behaviour and how we’re missing opportunities to work together more effectively and honestly.
  3. The Death of the Ad Agency Model was Instigated in 1992, Giving Birth to What?” – Consider a new MarCom Agency business model.
  4. It’s the Brand Experience, Stupid!” – today’s focus on ‘one-on-one engagement’ was initiated in 1997 in “The Experience Economy” and it will eventually grab the biggest slice of the media pie, we just got distracted by ‘shiny and new’ for the past 20 years.

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