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.

Carl’s Jr. is starved for attention

For years, CKE’s Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s brands have been known as much for the models in their ads as for anything they have done in the kitchen. It seems their young, male audience liked the ads quite a bit. Or at least paid attention. The ads aren’t just famous for having slim, carefully lit women in bikinis eating their burgers. They’re also famous for hiring very relevant women in bikinis eating their burgers. Heidi Klum, Paris Hilton and Kate Upton are just a few of the ladies employed by the brand(s) and always at just the right time in their career. They even featured Kim Kardashian in an ad (for salads) earlier in her rise to fame when the audience wasn’t seeing her literally everywhere.

Former CEO Andrew Puzder credits the approach with helping to ‘save the brand.’ But as Carl’s Jr. flags along with most of the industry, the shift is on. The brand is moving on aggressively. They’re using a new cast of characters of their own design to destroy to old elements of the brand, such as “bikinis.”

Commenters held the show hostage until the actor held a shoe on his head

The site on which the video is hosted tells you more about the confusion Carl’s Jr. is facing. Twitch, the extremely popular streaming video site for gamers and other growing niche interests was chosen most likely for the cool factor and separation from Google. As the number of views tells you, this approach is far different from their Superbowl spots. The ongoing fragmentation of TV and media is driving down their ability to reach a large swath of their audience with impact.

This is precisely why many smaller brands have turned to influencers. Influencers are hand-picked to appeal to each of the fragments of the audience that brands were once able to reach with TV every Thursday without fail. People perk up momentarily to hear what an influencer passes through their stream of content about style, food or brands. It’s a way to make a message a bit more attention worthy to a focused group. This is how marketing and advertising is evolving on the internet.

But especially on a channel like Twitch, where content is authentic and rarely staged, it’s not the place to stage a show about blowing up the old brand assets. In fact, the content of the show – actors portraying the titular Carl Jr. and his father Carl Sr. along with a wider cast of characters – is more akin to the kind of creative that would have made sense on TV. But it feels out of place and awkward on Twitch. The viewcount supports that. The top video in the set has under 15,000 views; smaller than the worst TV ad the brand has ever run. And those views are for a video clip in which the commenters held the show hostage until the actor held a shoe on his head.

Curiously, the brand had the formula for the internet age even before Twitch was invented. No, not nearly nude models eating messy fast food. This is not about the oddly sexist content of their past TV ads. But attention hacking with names their audience knew – or certainly found worth Googling – was the formula most brands are embracing online. Carl’s Jr. is pivoting to a branded version of “Arrested Development” for an audience that watches more streaming videogames than long-form television.

Right now, brands are still comparing impressions evenly and feeling that any attention is good attention. Time will tell if the strategy pays off.