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.

Earning traffic during the retail decline

Retail business is being crushed – no surprise to anyone studying their local markets, watching the news or even driving in their neighborhood. Stores are closing and brands are going bankrupt. Strong brands like Macy’s, Lululemon and Ralph Lauren are suffering. Weaker brands like Sports Authority and Payless are suffering even worse.

There are some theories about why. Amazon. Experiences. Did we mention Amazon? But the fact is that people are spending less time going to stores. The build out of restaurants across the US was aligned with the buildout of retail. Creating destinations that would attract people (shoppers) called for restaurants that allowed them to refuel and extend their shopping trip. Now, traditional anchor tenants are shutting down making malls empty husks. Developers are scrambling to rethink the space they’ve got so much invested in.

What will be the memorable touch that your staff provides that will earn five stars on Yelp and a repeat visit?

Multi-unit restaurant brands have lost the natural traffic from their retail neighbors. Considering the extreme die-off in retail, restaurant sales are remaining fairly strong.

Experiences built for sharing.

One theory for the drop in retail is that people are spending more on experiences. Specifically the kind of experiences that make them look good on social media. Experience has become a buzzword, generating cottage industries of specialists and consultants. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. What in your restaurant is worth posting to Instagram? What’s on the menu that will break through the Facebook feed and go viral. What will be the memorable touch that your staff provides that will earn five stars on Yelp and a repeat visit?

We are seeing strong, established retail players really ask themselves if they are offering something worth visiting. Is the experience worth the trip? Would you invite someone to come along? Would you share it to social media in a non-snarky way? Brands need to look in the mirror and accept what they provide and its value. The brands that do will have a chance to create experiences that people will travel for.

Delivery as an extension not a replacement.

If people won’t be coming to you, you can go to them. But one flaw with the current trend of delivery services is the lifeless exchange with the brand itself. Hospitality provided by the restaurant is gone. The experience is provided by a proxy. Staff and servers are critical to earning repeat customers, so what happens when they’re eliminated from the transaction? And a transaction is all it becomes.

Another reason that retail has fallen off is that online retailers have found ways to mimic the service and personal touch of live staff. They’ve eliminated barriers. Restaurant brands must find ways to extend the experience in a delivery environment. What touches can be added to make delivery from your brand memorable and differentiated? While people are keen to share images of their meal at the table in your restaurant, they’re very rarely interested in sharing an image of food that’s been delivered, unless something’s gone terribly wrong. Give them a reason to get excited about the brand from their own home.

One interesting thing about people is that we always think we’re watching the third act. What is happening to malls today isn’t necessarily the final state of American retail. Building malls as a center for commerce was one phase. The web was a second. Mobile is still impacting things today. Technology like self-driving vehicles will change shopping in ways we haven’t yet considered.

The brands that are positioned for growth aren’t the ones going all in on what we know today. They are the ones who are creating plans that will be adaptable going forward.

The most innovative brands are first to face the backlash

Starbucks made its way across the country in the 90’s bringing sophisticated coffee house experience to every street in the US. Everything most Americans knew about coffee was learned from Starbucks. The idea behind the experience, sit in a comfortable place and chat, work, and savor ‘premium’ coffee was amazing. It immediately impacted pop culture, inspiring a permanent set on the sitcom Friends (at least in part). It was counter to the fast food culture that it help supplant, while leveraging the real estate lessons of those same brands.

The promise was so simple. Come in, we won’t rush you. Sit, enjoy. As the brand grew in popularity, the experience strained at the seams, but somehow didn’t break. Most of the moves Starbucks made (and this is still true) work for both the customers and the brand. Even as the stores have filled up with ever expanding traffic counts, people kept coming back.

They were out in front of mobile commerce in the best ways, providing delighting experiences through their app which is considered best in category. The gamified loyalty component is as addictive as Candy Crush. But this app has caused other side effects for that simple experience.

The transaction is more akin to taking cash as a near physical handoff takes place when the barista aims the scanner and the guest fidgets with their phone.

Starbucks mobile ordering is a fantastic technical product. But it creates trouble in expectations for customers who may be waiting in line while mobile customers jump ahead of the line or join the second queue of people waiting for their order. Remember, the key to the Starbucks promise to customers was that everyone deserved a premium coffee experience.

Pre-Starbucks, coffee sold for 25¢ and expectations were low. But the green circle came to mean a better coffee, a nicer time buying and sipping it, and a higher price tag. When people refer to the brand as ‘four bucks’ they usually do so with a smirk because the elevated quality makes it more worthy of that cost.

The media is now covering the wait times as a cause for fears around the stock price. People have been left waiting for their mobile orders, because there are so many orders coming in at peak times. But before that, the experienced was getting whittled down by suboptimal locations, where lines and customer service fell below expectations. Think: airport locations.

Sure, it’s great that customers can tap their phone and have a coffee waiting for them en route to the office. Like anything, consumers have a way of getting spoiled. The last thing the brand can afford is people having time to stand at the end of the counter and think about the cost of the coffee while they wait in a crowd. It starts to feel less and less special. Less special means less valuable. Less valuable means high priced. This is how traffic slows.

During the recession, Starbucks thrived because it was a relatively affordable luxury during tough economic times. They did this with a focus on consistent service and intelligent products that played off of the psyche of their core consumers. The world-class app mentioned above has contributed to cutting down the experience in other ways. Though mobile pay is simpler than swiping a card, it creates a break in the engagement between staff and customers. The transaction is more akin to taking cash as a near physical handoff takes place when the barista aims the scanner and the guest fidgets with their phone. Powerful technology is reminding customers that they are paying, and paying quite a bit, for their morning coffee.

Starbucks is far from trouble akin to what fallen brands have dealt with. Too much traffic and too many orders are an issue most CEOs would long to discuss as a negative on earnings calls. But unless they adapt and align their fantastic technology with their in store experience (and brand promise!), it may have a negative impact yet.