‘‘We’re entering an era of radical change for marketers. Faith in advertising and the institutions that pay for it is waning, while faith in individuals is on the rise” – Chris Anderson, The long tail
The future will not be dominated by people who know the most about ‘The Quantum Theory’, nor those who can hit long sixes or take best penalty shots, nor those who bag most Oscars and certainly not by those who make false promises for votes- NO. The future (& much of the present) belongs to people who hold major leverage on public stance, people who can sway the masses into believing what they ask them to believe- People who hold Influence over other people’s opinions without letting them know about their ‘Stardom’.
Gone are the days when companies resorted to luring top journalists through five-star hotels and business class air travel in order to secure positive press coverage for their brands. Businesses now need to identify those people who are influencing their prospects and realign their marketing accordingly. For product marketing, if they can’t get to more people, they need to get to the right people. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it-
“There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them”
There is no litmus test to tell who these people are. They may be high profile CEOs and conference speakers, freelancing journalists, financial analysts or blog writers, social network page owners and even the girl/boy next door who is socially gifted enough to influence a community. In the context of business to business (B2B) marketing, integrators and consultants play this key role. Also, top influencers in B2B come from hugely important Value-added resellers (VRS) and Original equipment manufacturers (OEM).The success of any marketing approach depends today on the involvement of such people with this particular and rare gift . A potent strategy as such is called Influencer marketing.
Technically, the term has a boring definition with words like ‘commissioning’ and ‘succouring’ but essentially it means finding people who are experts at “planting ideas in people’s minds” and making them do so. These people are the real-world Leo DiCaprios capable of performing ‘Inception’ and are the best at doing it. So if people think that “the military technology to infiltrate the subconscious” used by him doesn’t exist than they need to look right in front of them at the screen they read this article on. From that pink background pamphlet showing a man telling you how he makes 10,537 ₹/day sitting at home to forums of consultants, government-backed regulators, financiers and user communities and as far as to the entire social web- everything is part of that machine. Byte by byte, line by line and post by post, people are falling into the trap of Influencers.[sociallocker]
Let us deal with an example- What do people do when they have to make a decision regarding availing/disposing of a commodity/service they don’t have much knowledge about? Obviously, they “google it” or look for advice from people who seem to know about it to choose the best brand/product/service provider. The million-billion dollar corporate giants obviously know this ‘STRATEGY’ of theirs. The key is what they do with this knowledge. If they do use Influencer marketing tactics, then the question is whether the masses actually get to make that decision themselves? Absolutely, Unquestionably & Undoubtedly –NO. The companies thus acquire a certain amount of hold on the decision making of the general masses. By doing so, they have come up with a far more prodigious and far more powerful strategy of “Casting a smart net and making waves”.
Having said that Influencer marketing is a trap, the intention is not to characterize it any negative way whatsoever. There is no need to panic! It’s a ‘Nil Nocere’ trap. It’s not going to harm people. In fact it might be good for them. Of course nobody likes to be fooled but isn’t it justified as far as people get what they want and can even brag about it. Looking at the other marketing and branding tools they may have, people can’t be so harsh on those brands. When brands align their marketing, public relations, sales and product around a common strategy through Influencer Marketing, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. In fact, it is something that people themselves have begged for (if not given birth to). Fed up of the soothing, humourless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and “your-call-is-important” interruptions, the frustration of people reverberates aptly by this declaration of ‘The cluetrain manifesto’ –
“ We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings-and our reach exceeds your grasp.”
Influencer marketing is thus the brainchild of a frustrated consumer, (oops! human being) who got infuriated by the bore some century old tactics of ‘Interruption marketing’. Hence, it can well be concluded that Influencer marketing is a two-way symbiotic relation and hence is inevitable for everyone. As Nick Hayes realized this so early-
“It was clear that influencer marketing, a specific take on word-of-mouth marketing, had reached that part of the wave where there was no turning back.”
To gauge the basic evolution of the idea about how word-of-mouth marketing can really boost sales, ‘The One Number You Need to Grow’ is a must read paper. Frederick Reichheld said in this paper that he figured it out after two years of extensive research which linked survey responses with actual customer behaviour—purchasing patterns and referrals—and ultimately company growth, that businesses only need to ask their customers one question: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?” From 2003 then, things have changed for better in the field of Influence Marketing.
Apple Inc. was one of the very first to devise any specific programmes for influencers and it is seen where it stands today. Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi, Budweiser, Virgin Mobile and Yahoo-all started focusing on influencer campaigns to gain edge over their market counterparts. Recently, Influencer Marketing has produced wonders for MI6 (U.K), Netbase Solutions (U.S.A), Juniper Networks (U.S.A), close home for Ford India and many others. The tremendous success of Whatsapp making it what it is today (or what it is ‘not’ courtesy of Facebook, Inc.) can be attributed to word-of-mouth marketing in general and Influencer campaigns in particular. The range of Influencer Marketing is not limited to companies only. It can also be perceived as a decisive factor in bringing the present ruling party to power in India! The potency of the strategy is thus limitless and businesses that are still using obsolete and anachronistic marketing techniques need to ponder over this modern, in-vogue super design.
To sum it all up, the best thing to say would be that the notion in question is hegemonic in the context of modern businesses and there is absolutely no limit to its applicability range. Be it a customer, a marketer or an influencer himself, all need to “Brace themselves” because believe it or not Influencer Marketing is certainly going to influence if not decide the shape of the business world to come.[/sociallocker]