It is no longer possible to launch a successful product without engaging consumers as partners, and any brand that thinks otherwise is fooling itself.

The old model of brand management (which told consumers what to think about a brand) and the old model of brand licensing (in which licensors approved products, then simply waited for royalty checks to come in) are dead.  Making a great product happen now means getting customers talking about it, too.

Google Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing Gopi KallayilAs Gopi Kallayil, Google’s Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing told students last month at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, “You don’t have a choice; [consumers] are going to do it anyway.”  Kayyalil used an example of SC Johnson’s Ziploc brand; no matter how many banner ads or FSIs the brand may pay for, a consumer who Googles “Ziploc bags” will turn up thousands of YouTube videos about the brand made by individual consumers.  Those amateur videographers are now brand managers, too.

Consumers always influenced each other’s purchase decisions, but thanks to social media (whether blogging, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube) that influence exploded over the last 10 years.  Whether you like it or not, consumers are now managing your brands, too.  It’s why you have to treat consumers as partners, and it’s why IMC just launched its own influencer marketing division, built on the platform launched by our sister company, Vibrant Nation, in 2007.

How We Do It

“Influencer marketing” is raising lots of questions among marketing professionals, although at its heart it is the simplest and most reliable form of marketing we all know.  In our own lives, what is the one thing most likely to make us remember and try a new product or brand?  It is hearing about it from someone we trust.  Whether a book, or a new kind of shampoo or cereal or hotel, in the cycle of decision-making that may also include advertising, earned media, and coupons, we all know that the little voice in our head that says “Nancy told me she liked this” will propel us towards a purchase like nothing else.

When we get consumers talking about a new product, it’s that voice we are activating.  It’s not the voice of a movie star or paid endorser or someone who happens to have a million followers on Twitter; it’s the voice of a real person who brings authority and credibility to the product for any number of reasons:

  • They are at the same lifestage as the target consumer (and the lifestage is relevant to the product’s usefulness)
  • They have the same interests and tastes
  • They are subject-matter experts
  • They are reliable and consistent in the way they talk about brands
  • They are good story-tellers, or funny

Consumers will ignore brand advertising unless it engages, entertains, or educatesMarketers who think “influencers” means celebrity endorsers are missing the point, and are denying the truths they know from their own lives.  Data analysis cannot be the only way to identify who makes a good influencer; neither does their presence on a brand’s list of existing customers.

Our own metrics focus on an influencer’s reach (via blogs or other social media platforms) but also on her credibility, her reliability, and her ability to tell a good story.  We also look to her staying power, because most influencer content is evergreen, something marketers don’t think about enough.  Influencer marketing is not a one-time promotion.  Instead, it lives on and can be found by any shopper, any time.  If you search Youtube for “Ziploc bags” the top 10 results are 1-6 years old.  Google (and smartphones) now allow consumers to cycle naturally between research and commerce, and if consumers can’t find content from real people about a brand or product or service, they simply won’t buy it.

Launching new products now means making sure consumers are already talking about them; that’s why IMC can’t make great products happen without it.

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