Overcome the Hurdles to Adopting Influencer Marketing

Take a look at our business metrics these past few quarters and you’ll quickly establish that Traackr, and the influencer marketing category, are going gangbusters: our sales have nearly doubled quarter over quarter for the last 6 months, our sales-cycle has shrunk, and our speed to market with new customer-driven features has improved by an order of magnitude.

The future of marketing is now. And yet, the fact of the matter remains that influencer marketing is still in its infancy and has yet to reach scale in most organizations.

Many of the marketing pioneers in this space are our customers. We’ve had the unique opportunity to understand the challenges they face and the solutions they’ve developed to successfully scale their influencer programs. The patterns in their experiences are so clear, I felt compelled to share them in hopes of helping some of you to make this essential transition towards modern marketing.

Organizations typically face three challenges when approaching influencer marketing:

  1. Figuring out how to start
  2. Measuring impact
  3. Assigning adequate resources to execute

Let’s look at each of the hurdles and discuss how successful organizations have overcome them:

 1. How to start influencer marketing?

There’s little contention within marketing organizations that everyone needs to improve and formalize their practice of influencer marketing. There is, however, an array of opinions of how to go about it. Questions such as: Who should own the program? What are reasonable goals? How does it fit among everything else we do?– can be paralyzing because they don’t have simple answers.

Influencer marketing is often a catalyst for change. The practice invites marketing organizations ‘down the rabbit hole’ and into a broader conversation about their overall marketing approach. Ultimately, it comes down to determining how much the organization will need to change in order to keep serving its purpose to impact buyer decisions.

Organizations that successfully navigate the tumultuous waters of marketing disruption take three similar approaches:

  • Seek tangible impact: make your first influencer marketing initiatives count by giving them a strong business purpose. The clearer the objectives the more you’ll be able to stay focused and deliver.
  • Think big, aim small: define ambitious strategic guidelines for what you want to achieve and how influencers will play a role. At the same time, focus on a series of tactical, achievable, and measurable initiatives that will serve your vision. Each level impacts the other and both must be present.
  • Always on: beyond your prioritized initiatives, it is essential to develop relationships with your key influencers outside of serving a tactical purpose. In other words, make friends before you need them. Forming key relationships takes time, but the process will in-turn inform your tactical initiative roadmap.

2- How to measure impact?

Influencer marketing is as complex as the world that marketers operate in today. For most, quantifying the activation of an influential advocate in sales performance is daunting task.

Measuring impact, however, is an imperative at a time when marketers must set difficult and competing priorities for their budgets. Shying away from measuring results is to give way to the path of least resistance and of least change at a time when radical change is what’s needed most.

Difficult doesn’t mean impossible and here is how some successful companies have approached it:

  • Define success metrics and measurement methodology at the onset of your program: you need to define quantifiable outcome metrics (e.g. sales, conversion, leads) that define the success of your initiative. Additionally, identify trackable output metrics (e.g. referral traffic, social mentions, share of voice) that can be used as a proxy to measuring outcome.
  • Progressively invest in an empirical model that translates output into outcome metrics: over the past few decades, marketing has developed sophisticated empirical models that translate output (what we can measure) into outcome (what matters). Start simple, with raw assumptions and market data (where available). As more data becomes available, grow the scope and complexity of your model. You can’t improve what you haven’t built, so get on it!
  • “Lean in” to the unexpected – as you measure impact, don’t put on blinders. Stay open to surprises. Unexpected results provide insights that should inform future initiatives.

3- How to find the resources?

The hardest thing for businesses is to dedicate the human and financial resources required to innovate. To add to the complexity, finding resources with the right skills can further delay the launch of a new endeavour.

Though seemingly difficult, there are ways to overcome the resource issue:

  • Look inside the building and find those already practicing – most organizations are already practicing influencer marketing, they just may not be calling it that. Identify those within your organization who have a demonstrated ability to build relationships online (community managers, PR, sales). Their skills will easily translate to an influencer program.
  • Get advice but never outsource execution – too often brands turn to agencies for execution of programs; You must own the relationships with your influencers in order to learn how to develop them at scale. Your agency can help strategize and plan but your team ought to own the outreach.
  • Embrace experimentation – build your influencer program one brick at a time. Allow your team to fail quickly, fail often and learn how to optimize your programs. Once the infrastructure for your influencer programs is built, allow budgets and resources to flow to the most productive initiatives.

Though challenging, the hurdles to adopting influencer marketing are typical of disruptive innovation. An irreversible shift has occurred to buyer behavior and we marketers must either adapt or become rendered obsolete. Not much of a choice if you ask me…