The Engagers: Sam Fiorella

In this edition of The Engagers, we climbed to the top of a mountain to meet with the zeniest of all marketers to better understand the true dynamics of influence. Sam Fiorella is Partner at Sensei Marketing and coauthor of Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing (to be released in May). Hear what he has to say about who to engage and what types of results you can expect.

In your book, Influence Marketing, you recommend that marketers stop engaging the influencer. Isn’t this counter-intuitive to influence marketing?

We discovered that when a business focuses on which people have “influence” across social channels, they ignore the prospects they’re trying to exert influencer over. Are the followers of the selected influencers actually prospects? If so, are they even in the buying cycle? Maybe they’re already customers? When you attempt to exert influence over a wide, unqualified audience, recommendations tend to fall on a lot of deaf ears.

As marketers, it’s our goal to create quality leads with the greatest opportunity to convert to a sale. Within the practice of influence marketing therefore, making the influencer the center of your campaign is what’s really counter-intuitive. When you focus on how prospects make decisions, and what stage of the purchase life cycle they’re at, you can better identify the micro-influencers who can sway their decisions.

Identifying the personas of the macro-influencers who broadcast general messages, and the micro-influencers who sway purchase decisions, provides a foundation for an influence marketing methodology built around the customer. It’s work, but the results are more targeted campaigns with measurable sales conversion.

As someone who excels at engagement online and off, what is the most challenging part for you? In other words, what is your kryptonite?

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Some will say being an introvert is the kryptonite of engagers. For me, it’s being an extreme extrovert. It means I’m so comfortable in crowds and want to engage with so many people, access to social media has made me a “kid in a candy store.” It means I usually speak before I think. And that’s a problem. Translated to my engagement online, it means I type and post before checking what I’ve written; I type faster than I think (97 words a minute).

So I often post comments laden with misspellings or grammatical issues that I’m often called out for. It derails the conversation and causes me to back pedal. I’ve forced myself to slow down: Stop, think, re-read, post. It’s like torture for me. The fact that I’m a poor proof reader doesn’t help matters. I’ve had to hire an editor to help with my blogging just to keep the focus on my content.

Further, my sense of humor tends to lean towards sarcasm and snark, especially with my closest friends who (no surprise here) are also sarcastic and snarky. Given that I’m an extreme extrovert, I see EVERYONE as my closest friend online and revert to my natural state of sarcasm and snark. Not everyone appreciates this, regardless of my intent. Again, I try to stop, think, re-read, post. For me, engaging online is completely natural, yet it’s a new language that I’ve had to retrain myself to speak.

You’ve been a very vocal proponent of the importance of measuring social media engagement. Is influence marketing a measurable activity for brands?

Most definitely!! There’s value in measuring and monitoring metrics such as number of followers, number of Likes, shares, re-tweets, etc.; however, these metrics are simply contributing factors or indicators to real measurement. The problem is generally caused when social media marketing is seen or executed as a stand along campaign instead of an integrated business operation. When connected to the lifetime value (CLV) of a customer, social media engagement becomes measurable.

The model of engaging customers and influencers presented in our book shifts the strategy from simple marketing amplification to pure customer and sales acquisition. In doing so, we can directly link the effort exerted to sales and customer life time value.

The methodology outlined in your book suggests marketers identify where in the purchase life cycle prospective customers are, before they engage them. Why?

The business’s goal when engaging its audience should be to gently move them along the customer life cycle, both before and after the purchase. With respect to the pre-purchase life cycle, in order to become a customer, prospects must move from awareness to consideration and from consideration to purchase decision. Each business has different steps in this cycle and different factors that impact decision-making processes along the way.

Understanding where your customer is in this cycle allows marketers to create focused influence strategies that move them along the path. There’s no sense offering a product or a “buy now” recommendation to someone who isn’t aware of your product or doesn’t know they need it yet. Further, the person who might influence them to become aware or consider a product might not be the same person who will sway them to purchase it.

It seems that the terms Brand Influencers and Brand Advocates are used interchangeably these days. Is there a difference in your opinion? Do you need to approach them differently?

Yes, there is a difference between the two and yes, while complementary, each requires a different strategy. I define brand influencers as people who are motivated to speak about a product or brand because of an offer of reciprocal benefit, payment or by using gamification tactics. Brand advocates, on the other hand, are customers who, because of superior customer experience with the brand, voluntarily promote it with no promise of a perk, payment or reward. Each are required in a complete influence marketing strategy, yet there’s a markedly different methodology required to maximize each, which becomes further customized when consider the specific industry.

Sensei, your marketing consultancy, has flourished over the last two years. What role has influence marketing played in that success?

Sensei’s core service is improving the customer experience our clients’ customers have with their brands. Part of that service requires us to chart the customer life cycle stages and how customers move (or don’t) along that path from initial awareness right thought to customer advocacy. It’s this work that first pinpointed where today’s influence marketing strategies fail the business and what has driven the creation of an influence marketing practice.

If there really was a team of superheroes named the Engagers and you were on it, what name would you give yourself?

I’d pick “Zen Master” because it’s part of my engagement strategy. Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment in the Buddhist teachings. In contrast, it de-emphasizes knowledge of doctrine or status quo. I’m always debating the status quo – even when I tend to agree with it – in order to seek a greater understanding of the issues.

Sadly, that name is void of super powers. I’m a mere human. *sigh*

Read our interview with Sam’s coauther, Danny Brown.