How to stop chasing technology and start measuring influence

Influencer Marketing
Social Media Marketing

So many networks, So little time

There’s no question, brands can create and sustain valuable relationships over social media. But in recent years, the endless tide of new social networks has tricked marketing strategists into burning too many mental cycles on slicing and dicing social investment. The result? Brand leaders who are too distracted to think about what matters most to marketers: The entire customer lifecycle, and all of the influencers and touchpoints that impact the purchase decision.

If your recent marketing strategy sessions have been dominated by hand-wringing over how best to balance investment between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and maybe Yo and Snapchat as well, then you’re missing the bigger picture. Don’t let a lingering case of FOMO (fear or missing out) disrupt your ability to distinguish between the latest novelty social network and the impactful influencer marketing strategies that will help you measure what matters most when it comes to customer engagement.

Take it from Paul Adams, former Global Brand Experience Manager at Facebook: “You need to orient your business around people, not technology. Don’t have a Facebook strategy, or a Twitter strategy, or Foursquare strategy. Map to human behavior and not to technology.”

Redefining what it means to be social

When it comes to a social strategy that moves the needle for your brand, it’s important to look beyond reach to ways you can educate, influence, and convert outside of the news feed.

Superior marketing strategy has always been and will always be about making the right connections with the people who make purchases happen. Social media is one approach to stimulating those interactions in a way that feels like a natural, word-of-mouth recommendation. But when social is used as a substitute for influencer marketing, the need to realign your priorities becomes clearer. Sure, social media marketing offers real-time metrics about views and clicks and engagement. It feeds our biases to prefer what we can measure before our eyes, and we can watch our view count climb with every refresh of the browser tab. Plus any marketing department can have a spirited internal debate about whether a Snapchat account or a Yo handle will garner a slew of new engagements and followers.

But when it comes to a social strategy that moves the needle for your brand, it’s important to look beyond reach to ways you can educate, influence, and convert outside of the news feed. The real, worthwhile social challenge is finding the right marketing mix, one that will help you identify and engage with the people who influence purchase decisions both on and off the sales floor.

Yo? is that all you have to say?

Buffalo Wild Wings staked its claim and was an early national brand adopter of Yo. Its reward for trying to make a splashy entrance in a quirky social network? About, eh, 100 users pinging the brand back during its big spotlight moment during the 2014 World Cup.

In contrast, when Diamondback Bicycles invited sales associates and brand advocates to engage through an expert engagement network, it wasn’t just to push a quick hello. They offered valuable content that respected each member’s time. The brand delivered on-demand training that fit the highly active, outdoor-oriented schedule of its strongest proponents. It streamlined their industry discount program and pricing. And now Diamondback can claim the rewards: advocate sales that climbed an average of 157% for two straight years, plus continuous opt-in engagement with the front-line retail associates and cycling experts who can make or break public perception of the brand.

The lasting value of advocacy

Social media has always been focused on the brand-to-consumer connection. So, it’s easy to see why it’s also often present in discussions about word-of-mouth marketing.

But word of mouth’s power isn’t just a matter of conventional wisdom. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) conducted a study of sales and marketing data from some of the largest U.S. and multinational brands and found that word-of-mouth engagement amplifies the impact of paid media spending by as much as 15%. Word of mouth also drives over one- eighth of all consumer sales, and approaches the 20% mark in high-value transactions. All told, it accounts for $6 trillion in consumer spending.

More brand sales

When it comes to brand-to-consumer interactions, social media misses the mark—by a long shot —in assuming that the only authentic conversations occur on social networks. In addition, the idea that smartphone-driven research and impersonal big-box retail have eliminated the role of trusted advisors and knowledgeable sales associates simply doesn’t hold up to the facts. A TimeTrade survey of 1087 American adults found that 93% are likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable sales associate, and 85% buy more when helped. On the flip side, nine out of 10 customers will leave a store without making a purchase if they can’t find the right person to help them. That’s what makes knowledgeable brand advocates so indispensable. They make specific, actionable recommendations, and often at the point of purchase when a consumer is in a position to buy.

The lasting value of advocacy

Note that a brand’s best advocates may not even be social fans or followers. Social fans can like, retweet, and otherwise engage with your brand, but it’s the potential to drive sales that distinguishes the casual social fan from a true brand advocate. If you’re able to connect and engage with the people whose credible recommendations influence purchase decisions every day—the brand advocates who are already in your product ecosystem—you can capitalize on their WOM impact to increase conversions and improve order sizes.

Asking the right questions

When Michael Kors took to Snapchat, marketing insiders debated whether the luxury retailer had achieved a coup with younger consumers—or was simply diluting its brand. They asked the wrong question.

The most important consideration when evaluating any social investment is its potential to move the needle for your brand. So, rather than question Michael Kors’ brand authenticity, insiders should have been asking whether the strategy would help them create long-lasting relationships with their most valuable asset, the brand advocates whose WOM impact influences purchase decisions.

For an image-driven brand like GoPro, Snapchat may seem like a fitting social investment. Instead, the brand went beyond the social feeds to create a network of engaged experts in retail locations worldwide—giving associates a lasting relationship with the brand and a chance to influence purchases with dozens of customers every day. That makes GoPro’s investment far stickier than any blink-and-you-missed-it social image could ever be.

The top 3 influencer categories that don’t get enough attention

Retail sales associates

These are the qualified resources that 85% of consumers say inspire them to spend more. Research from the Wharton School of Business shows that advocates like these who participate in just one brand education course sell 87% more of that brand than those who don’t.

• When TimeTrade surveyed 60 large retailers, 80% reported a sales boost of at least 25% when shoppers received qualified staff help.

• These experts create a great buying experience and often even escort your consumers to the cash register. That means impact on sales conversion rates and average order values can be directly measured, providing tangible ROI for your investment in expert advocacy.

Professional experts

From snowboard instructors to makeup artists, these are domain experts, practitioners, and otherwise undisputed leaders in their fields. 
They work in a given category day in and day out. Their performance often depends on the products they use every day. In fact, 91% of the time, these experts have more product expertise than the average consumer and that information is 92% more trusted than even the product’s marketing copy.

• These experts can prove their influence through their place of employment, professional society membership(s), or other bona fides which establish them as passionate category influencers that people turn to for advice on what to buy.

Category influencers

These are subject matter experts. And 75% of people in their extended social circles will make a purchase after talking to them—and spend 50% more when doing so.

• Category influencers may not work in the field, but they have an unshakable passion for a particular topic or brand, as well as the time and money investment to back it up.

• Moreover, these are people who have hungered for years to be recognized by brands for their informal advocacy, and would love a chance to engage directly with them in a meaningful way. Brands can welcome them into their inner circles on a gradual basis and let them unlock new materials and incentives as they demonstrate their value.

Get those influencers talking and earn more sales

As it turns out, you want them literally talking. The WOMMA study found that offline word-of-mouth produces twice as much measurable business impact as online discussions.

Credible, authoritative resources are exactly what brands need to help crystallize a purchase decision in an age of information overload. A survey published by Aberdeen in CEM Executive’s Agenda 2015: Leading the Customer Journey to Success revealed that most companies are challenged by the fact that customers have access to a great deal of information on competitive products and services.

In fact, this was the top customer experience challenge cited in both 2014 and 2015. Customers are already taking in a wide range of opinions, reviews, and advice. Make sure your advocates are equipped with the best possible resources to answer their questions.

Restoring the balance

A solid social media program is still a key marketing asset. But what is the value of these social investments, really? It’s already hard enough to know the ROI of all your marketing efforts—does trying to come up with a successful strategy for every new-fangled thing really help your bottom line? How do you know when it’s time to go all in?

Simply put, social media is not the only part of a great brand advocacy plan. Social media is big and growing, but it is still dwarfed by the analog world in which people live and interact. The most effective social brands put the consumers, real people, at the center of their planning, their strategies, and their execution. And certainly, knowledgeable conversations, engaged customers, and real, measurable influence are more valuable than any fleeting Snapchat image or just another Yo.

This approach is backed by the industry experts marketers turn to for advice on how to develop sound social strategies, including the CEO of Collaborative Gain, Phil Terry: “Too many brands chase the shiny object of innovation as opposed to the basic needs of their customers. Start with the customer experience, and work your way back to the technology.”

So take a step back. Start with the consumer. Evaluate each investment on its potential to connect you with experts who influence purchase decisions, amplify the impact of your existing marketing channels, and impact sales—wherever they happen to be.

The ExpertVoice effect: How to connect with your brand’s best advocates

When it comes to conversations about your brand, some opinions matter more than others. Your brand’s best advocates aren’t necessarily the most active social-media-ites, but the most influential experts and social consumers whose credible recommendations and WOM impact are both personal and measurable. The real impact of any social investment lies with experts—category influencers whose conversations can have a real, measurable impact on your bottom line. Finding new ways to connect and engage with those key influencers is key to maximizing their impact.

ExpertVoice helps brands connect with the experts who then connect with their customers, creating an impactful, measurable word of mouth-driven wave of influence that amplifies the impact of existing sales and marketing efforts in every channel. The result? In-person and social media connections will happen naturally, and your brand strategy will stay focused on the big picture.