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7 min read

Is Influencer Marketing Dead?

Influencer marketing has swept the world but left more to be desired for. The centuries old alternative is back on the rise.

Mariya Besedina

July 12, 2018 (last updated: May 14, 2019)

Influencer marketing has been a hot topic for a while with two very different outcomes. Some claim to have gained their way to fame using influencer marketing techniques while others recall campaigns of wasted time and money. Let’s discuss who influencers really are, if influencer marketing really works and the one overlooked alternative.

Anyone Can Be An Influencer

The truth of the matter is that anyone can be an influencer. A high level exec, a blogger, or your friendly neighbour down the street. What dictates an influencer’s influence is the scale of their followers on the web, social media, or in local communities. An influencer builds their own community of followers around themselves and becomes the trusted source for one or more topics of interest.

On Instagram – we see many travel influencers, on Linkedin – recruiters talking about team dynamics. Every community has influencers and followers, you can distinguish them by those who voice their opinions, and those who listen.

Is Influencer Marketing Dead

Many influencer campaigns may seem fail-proof at first due to the large audience size however, audience size is often confused with true influence. With what seems like everyone having an opinion on something these days, we must draw the line between reach and true influence.

Having a large audience does not guarantee influence as the influencer’s audience may not be trusting enough to be influenced. On the other hand, you may come across an influencer of much smaller scale whose followers will actively listen to and act on every recommendation put forth. It is no longer the reach that need be analyzed but the engagement and conversion rates.

It is also important to keep in mind that influencers have their own objectives. With the appropriate incentive, they will share your content if it’s relative to their followers however, their main objective is to grow their name, to grow their brand, and increase their following.

It is less common nowadays to find an influencer of large scale who will genuinely connect with a brand and experience the company’s products/services as a customer rather than a paid advertiser. There is an inadvertent subconscious bias in paid promotion and the influencer’s followers can see it. Moreover, as soon as the incentives stop, so will your company’s promotion.

With the rise of influencers, there is a growing immunity to sponsored messages. There is however one alternative that has been around for centuries and always proven itself to be effective: advocacy marketing, also known as advocate marketing.

What Is Advocate Marketing

An advocate is someone who has a personal relationship with your brand. It is typically a highly satisfied customer, although it can, and should also be your employees, partners, and suppliers. These are individuals who will speak up about your brand, advocate for it, not because they are incentivized to do so, but because they genuinely loved their experience and have something to say about it.

This is a simple psychological phenomenon that stems from the law of reciprocity. It is an inherent obligation to give back to those who helped us, those who we feel indebted to. Their passion for your product, service, or brand, is genuine and effective as their listeners are mainly comprised of their family and friends.

Advocate marketing is a process of capitalizing on the opinions and experiences of your customers in your marketing strategies. It is a more authentic form of marketing because it utilizes true emotional experiences and connections. This can be done in the form of references and referrals, video testimonials, social media features, case studies, etc.

With advocate marketing, you gain warm referral leads. Unlike having a cold lead go through the Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat customer life cycle, with advocate marketing, your warm leads jump straight to the Trust stage.

01. Know

The point at which an individual learns about your company.

02. Like

The individual becomes more familiar with your brand and develops a deeper connection without any commitment.

03. Trust

When the individual realizes a sense of trust in order to learn more about your company and what you offer.

04. Try

With a sense of trust, the individual proceeds to try your product or service prior to any significant investments. This may be in the form of a free trial or a low-risk commitment.

05. Buy

The leap of faith is taken to purchase your product or service and the result is compared to the expectations.

06. Repeat

If the expectation in the previous step have been met or surpassed, the individual becomes a repeat customer.

07. Refer

When undeniable value has been delivered to the customer, they will want to refer you. At times, your customer may need help in referring you such as in the form of a share link, a few business cards, or other referral opportunities.

As long as you keep your advocates happy, they will refer you to others and keep coming back for more.

How to Capitalize on Advocate Marketing

To grow your advocates there is one key rule: give people something they truly value. What is it that motivates them? Influence within their communities? Advancement? Networking? Sense of achievement? Once you know exactly what they need and value, help them achieve it, whether it is as simple as being recognized, learning something new, or making their life easier.

For efficiency and scalability, it is important to create an advocacy marketing system for this process which will help you discover, nurture, and vitalize your advocates. The audience size of each advocate will be smaller than that of an influencer but their strong connections within their respective communities will make each referral much more effective.

People won’t listen to what you have to say about yourself but they will listen to what others have to say about you. One of the fastest ways to grow your advocates is through social proof. Surround your business with happy customers’ reviews, social media features, case studies, etc.

This is one of the few aspects that can be a numbers game, the more positive social proof they see surrounding you, the more likely they are to trust you, try you, buy from you, and become advocates themselves.

Is There Ever a Place for Influencer Marketing?

We can’t completely disregard influencer marketing, but it’s simply not for everyone. When embarking on an influencer campaign, you need to be definitive in your goals. It may not provide the highest conversion rates but it may offer significant brand exposure. The best offer an influencer can make is expanded reach simply due to their scale of followers.

You need to ensure you have an influencer strategy, timeline, and budget. It will take time to find the right influencers, ones who can portray a level of authenticity and credibility in talking about your brand despite most likely having no previous experience with your product or service.

Because influencers typically don’t have strong relationships with their followers, their impact on their followers’ decision making process may be very limited. Considering you picked the right influencers and the right target market, how many times would it be appropriate to present your brand to the influencer’s followers before they reach the Know, and potentially the Like stage of the cycle? It can take quite a few exposures, and each endorsement to a large audience can be costly.

Which One is Right for Me?

There is a time and place for both influencer and advocate marketing. Although influencer marketing can bring some short term exposure, in the long run, advocate marketing is more effective. Advocates refer new business continuously and accelerate the sales process for you while gaining a sense of satisfaction for themselves by helping others.