Influencers: The Most Effective Tool in Digital Marketing?

Times are changing, and brand marketing needs to learn to keep up. Millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, not only have millennials surpassed the Baby Boomer generation, they are also continuing to grow in purchasing power. The millennial generation is no longer a consumer base that companies should ignore. Their steady growth means it is imperative that brands learn to market to this demographic.

The younger generation has grown up in a world inundated with marketing. Because of this, conventional tactics such as print, radio, and television marketing have little to no impact on them. The truth of the matter is, millennials have been trained to ignore traditional marketing strategies. As the consumer base shifts, so must companies’ advertising methods. So the question becomes-“how do you effectively reach millennials?”

Influencer Marketing Yields Results

That’s where influencers come in. Social media influencers are the most compelling tool in contemporary digital marketing. According to a TapInfluence study with Nielsen Catalina Solutions, 2016, “influencer marketing content delivers 11X higher ROI (return on investment) than traditional forms of digital marketing.” With social media usage growing everyday, influencers have the power to shape their followers’ views and in turn, their purchases.

Many followers take cues from social media heavyweights while engaging in day-to-day activities. In a survey conducted by Twitter and Annalect, 2016, “49% of people say they rely on recommendations from influencers when making purchase decisions.” The extensive impact influencers have on their fans is unparalleled in contemporary marketing. In fact, it is more effective to reach one’s intended audience using influencer marketing than employing notable celebrities.

Influencers Build Relationships; Celebrities Don’t

The important difference between influencers and celebrities is a matter of credibility. While celebrities can bring more exposure to a product, influencers establish a better sense of reliability. Consumers view celebrities and brands in a similar fashion; both are unrelatable and inaccessible. Celebrities cannot create the personalized experience that their fan base craves. Social media influencers are able to break through this barrier and cultivate an experience tailored to their followers.

Since influencers are generally viewed as “everyday people,” their audiences feel a connection hard to replicate with celebrity personas. This sense of authenticity allows influencers to develop a deeper relationship with their followers and gain their respect. Millennials are much more likely to invest in a product or service that is recommended to them by someone they deem trustworthy. By utilizing followers’ respect of a specific influencer, brands can forge a more personal bond with their customers.

The Key to Success

The key to successful influencer marketing is targeting a specific demographic and finding influencers that closely align with that group. For example, the popular snack food brand Pocky often partners with “foodies” or lifestyle influencers that match their unique aesthetic. Matching their playful vibe with notable social media gurus like Lauren Hom (@homsweethom) brings in new consumers who otherwise may never have heard about the brand. The positive results are undeniable; brands who employ social media marketing using influencers are growing at exponential rates. Not only do their current customers feel more engaged, brands are able to reach and market to a new audience that doesn’t respond to old-fashioned marketing.

It’s Now or Never

As millennials continue to grow and become predominant consumers, it is time to start catering to their preferences. In the future, brands can expect to reach more potential customers than millennials. Generation Z will most likely continue the millennial’s trend of social media obsession as they grow their numbers and purchasing power. The power of social media will only continue to skyrocket; it is imperative that brands begin to use these platforms to their advantage. Social media influencers aren’t just a resource for the future; they are an asset successful companies are already using to grow their fan base. In order to take your company’s reach to a whole new level, it’s time to learn to effectively reach millennials.

3 things restaurant brands better learn from Brandless. Fast.

There’s been a ton of coverage of Amazon over the past few months. First, they bought Wholefoods. Then they announced a meal delivery service almost immediately. While all that was going on, a few articles appeared about a company called Brandless. If you haven’t yet heard about it, the company is founded on several important beliefs which you need to understand if you want to compete today.

1. Everything they sell at Brandless is $3.

It’s simple because customers hate complexity. Everything – everything – on their site today is available for $3. There’s nothing to think about. Handsoap? $3. Coffee K-cups? $3. Mustard? $3.

2. Brandless turned lack of grocery distribution from a weakness into a strength.

This is classic disruption. Knowing that it’s next to impossible to get broad product lines into grocery chains, they instead focused on direct distribution. This not only allows them direct access to their customers – they don’t have to trust grocery staffers to help sell the product or protect the experience – they also realized they didn’t have to account for the retailer mark-up. Hence Point 1.

3. Brandless rendered lack of brand awareness meaningless.

By choosing the name Brandless along with a generic look and feel they’ve risen above the marketing fray. They’ve said we can’t compete against hundred year old brands on their terms, so we’ll fight by diminishing the importance of ‘brands.’

This is a coup. Brandless appeals to younger consumers that are less loyal, especially to legacy brands. It makes of its products certified organic, gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, no added sugar and certified kosher to make sure it is all inclusive. To be fair, this is a well executed gimmick, albeit a clever one. Look for a company like Amazon to purchase Brandless in the next 18 months.

OK. So how does this relate to the restaurant business?

Reduce barriers to purchase.

They are starting with products that reduce barriers to consumption. By making products that cut out sugar, GMO and non-vegan ingredients, they’re making it easier to buy them. They built it this way from scratch, intentionally. Today’s younger consumers don’t start with a baseline expectation that things don’t fit their requirements. They demand products that meet their needs. Especially food. Make it hard to meet their dietary needs and they’re not coming back.

Don’t make consumers think about prices.

Second, they made pricing super simple. In the grocery store, people hate the way stores force them to compare prices. Especially since young consumers are more likely to shop at multiple stores to achieve their regular grocery shopping. Pricing in restaurants it’s not much different. They want it to be obvious that the price is fair for what they’re getting. Can you make everything on your menu $3? Probably not. But could you stand to streamline pricing? Definitely. Make it easy to understand.

Control the experience.

How many times will you read that the experience is all-important to consumers? For most brands, one time too few. Brandless controls every part of the experience. Consumers buy and receive products directly from them. This is an advantage over brands that are at the mercy of retailers to present the brand correctly, or next to a competitor that makes them look favorable. People choose everything from taxis, to musicians and now toilet paper based on the experience. What are you doing to improve the one you offer?

Brandless is currently selling CPG space and coming after established brands. It probably has nothing to do with your business if you are in the restaurant space. One thing we have learned from the digital disruption of the past 15 years is that a successful business model is replicated in every other sector. Soon, someone will launch an unbranded restaurant concept that reduces barriers, offers simple pricing and a controlled, positive experience. Today, you have a chance to pre-empt the success of that concept. Tomorrow? Who knows.

The viral hype is on menus, not memes.

Every day it seems that there is a new viral sensation sweeping your social media feed. No, not the latest OK Go video, DJ Khaled snap or Kardashian whatever they do. Think food. First it was the Pinterest-ready cupcakes rendered in beautiful pastels. The next big thing was macarons. Then the cronut became a standout solo hit. Giant pizza slices. Brisket burrito. It feels like these new items hit the internet daily. Because they pretty much do.

Each new item attracts visitors to the restaurant, along with Likes, shares and clicks. And most of these items are the creations of independent restaurants. But major brands don’t fire off crave-worthy novelties at the same pace. Sure KFC had the Double Down, and now sister brand Taco Bell has the Naked Chicken Chalupa (look familiar?). But by-and-large, these items are few and far between.

They usually play like novelties invented just for the press release. Gimmicks like the Panera Bread “secret menu” attempt, designed to ride the success pioneered authentically by some brands but ultimately falling short. Outback Steakhouse’s 3 Point Bloomin’ Onion (topped with cheese fries and steak) was clearly built to get media attention. It failed to gain visitors because it just doesn’t look that good to eat.

Many viral hits across media are remixes. Music, movies, even viral videos about remixes.

For the restaurants that create the Sushi donut, initial traffic crashes the place. Traffic is the goal of major brands as well. But independents, strapped for resources, fail to capitalize by moving those there to try the viral hit onto more mainstream menu items. Major QSR, Fast Casual and Casual Dining brands have the R+D departments but somehow fail to innovate.

So, what’s different?

The Double Down success was as much a product of its curiosity inducing form as it was the media buy that gave it visibility. It was never intended to be a mainstay on the menu at KFC. But it also failed to create serious levels of demand, unlike the buffalo chicken chimichanga. These are the items that younger guests seek because they’re not only looking for unique food experiences, but they’re looking for things to share on social media.

Taco Bell is well positioned to launch a string of viral food hits. They have the food oddity gene in their DNA by virtue of the co-opted nature of their Amexican cuisine and history of flavor combinations like the Doritos Locos tacos. Taco Bell also has the top viral audience coming in daily. And now for Waffle Tacos. So why aren’t sales continuing to rise?

The food that goes viral have something else in common. Like Taco Bell, they are remixes of popular items. Sushi and Donuts for example. Unlike Taco Bell, they tend to cross culinary lines that brands locked into a corporate flavor profile have trouble finding. The cronut, maybe the item that started the viral food trend, seems simple. But French pastry techniques and good old deep fried dough had never been cross pollinated, despite sitting next to each other on New York City bakery shelves for decades.

Many viral hits across media are remixes. Music, movies, even viral videos about remixes. Fragmentation has rendered mass attention harder than ever to earn. Artists and media seek to leverage known properties, or very, very familiar ideas to draw a bigger initial audience. The easier it is to explain, the bigger the audience opportunity.

In light of the change in culture, brands need to find their own Sushi Donut that will attract initial attention, drive trial and allow for menu exploration down the road. Mixing favorite flavors is one recipe for viral success. Creativity doesn’t have to be original to be successful.