- Influencer marketing is growing and advertisers want to scale up fast. But there’s a key challenge: influencers are individuals, not ad units.
- Plenty of influencer marketing tools exist. Many can only really help with a small part of a full program, or are more suited to campaigns dealing with brand awareness.
- Recommended tools such as Mavrck, HYPR, Paladin and Socialix have their own USPs – but there is no catch-all platform on the market, yet.
- But if marketers are asking the right questions of the tools available, and are prepared to put the effort in, a marriage of human and tech can definitely be achieved.
In an era of abundant marketing messaging and social media noise, influencer marketing is a growing area for brands to reach potential customers with trusted and useful content.
As something of a partner piece to Charlie Brathwaite’s excellent article A comprehensive guide to influencer marketing, I wanted to explore the tools and platforms available to influencer marketers. What martech is out there which specifically assists influencer marketing? How do these tools work? What problems are they solving? And where do they fall short?
To find out I spoke with Kristy Sammis.
Sammis has been working in the industry since 2005; “well before we had a name for what we were doing,” as she points out. She currently works for the official trade organization committed to protecting the authenticity and ethics of the sector, the Influencer Marketing Association, alongside being a founder of the dedicated influencer marketing agency CLEVER.
The evergreen challenge of influencer marketing: Influencers are individuals not ad units
Influencer marketing is a growing vertical. MediaKix estimates the market to be worth $5-$10 billion this year and the practice is proving extremely effective in a landscape where consumers are increasingly turned off by traditional ad methods and the noise of badly targeted messaging.
For one thing, influencer marketing is certainly more targeted, often towards very specific niches. Its messaging is also more nuanced in the way it balances useful valuable content with advertising. “The reason influencer marketing is effective,” Sammis says, “is because influencers are real people who have cultivated real relationships with their audiences. They need to behave in a trustworthy manner, even with sponsored content, or they risk losing their audience.”
Sammis is quick to alert me to a fundamental difficulty within influencer marketing. While the ad industry relies almost entirely on adtech and martech to provide reach and scale. How do you scale something so inherently (and necessarily) human?
“It’s really, really tough,” she tells me. “My career with influencers has always been very hands-on and labor-intensive, because at the end of the day, influencers are individuals, not ad units. Absolutely no influencer marketing program can be successful without some human oversight and management – no matter how great the tech is.”
With this in mind, the relationship between tech and marketers in the influencer marketing sector is undoubtedly a little more complex than what we might see in other channels. Scaling up isn’t simply a matter of targeting more keyphrases or pushing out more ads to get more clicks or make more sales.
Influencer marketing is most measurably effective when generating brand awareness
This human element within influencer marketing and its complex relationship with martech arguably means that the practice is more useful at certain stages in the purchase funnel than others.
“Influencer marketing is best at generating brand awareness,” Sammis says. “We all know that consumers need to hear about a product several times before a brand name even registers in their minds for purchase consideration. Influencers help move the awareness needle.”
That’s not to say that bigger budgets and more established brands can’t use influencer marketing to move the needle for customers in later stages of the funnel too, from awareness to consideration to conversion and beyond. But it does seem to get more challenging the further down we go.
Sammis summarises influencer marketing’s effect on certain stages of the funnel in the following way:
- Awareness. “If you want to generate awareness, I’d recommend working with a large swathe of mid-tier (“micro”) influencers, and perhaps one or two celebrity influencers, budget allowing. You want to go for reach, and measure things like engagements, impressions, share of voice, sentiment, etc.“
- Consideration. “This is more for brands that are already established, which means working with influencers who are already brand advocates, or who fit the brand’s buyer persona perfectly.”
- Conversion. “Conversion is a bit trickier to measure, but coupon codes, POS data, affiliate links, and even tracking pixels can be used to help quantify sales activities. (I want to caution, however, that easily trackable links don’t tell the whole sales lift story.) In these cases, brands should probably work with as many influencers as possible, including “nano” influencers, to get these codes distributed far and wide.”
Most influencer marketing platforms solve only a fraction of the challenges that influencer marketers face
The picture Sammis paints of influencer marketing so far is one of diversity and variation. In the first sense, we need to acknowledge the uniqueness and individuality of the influencers whom marketers are working with, as well as their audiences – i.e. human traits. On top of this, we can see the variety of strategy and metrics at play depending on what stages of the purchase funnel we are focusing on.
Unsurprisingly, there are numerous influencer marketing tools out there. But there are also plenty of challenges which they aren’t yet solving.
“There are hundreds of influencer marketing platforms out there even just designed to help you identify the right influencer for your program,” Sammis says. “This can be fantastic if you know who you’re looking for, if you can trust the data you’re looking at, and if the influencer is even open to being approached. These are big “ifs”. The other challenge here is that identifying influencers is only about 15% of the process of running a full influencer program. Many tools don’t actually help with campaign management, especially not at scale.”
Sammis’ recommended influencer marketing tools
This seems as good a point as any to reflect on the platforms which are useful. There are, of course, some very good influencer marketing tools out there. Sammis recommends:
- Mavrck. Multi-award winning and ‘strong performer’ according to Forrester, Mavrck is billed as an all-in-one solution for enterprises running influencer marketing campaigns. It boasts a wide range of metrics, from impressions and engagements, to more complex trackables such as offline sales lift and brand lift. It also has proprietary fraud protection and brand safety assurances built in.
- HYPR. With big brand clients such as Pepsi and National Geographic, HYPR’s ‘360° influencer marketing platform’ claims to be influencer agnostic and to see influencers as a commodity. This might seem counter to the ‘need for a human element’ Sammis highlights above, but is clearly working to appeal to marketers who want influencer marketing to feel as much like other forms of advertising as possible.
- Paladin. This multipurpose tool looks to be more geared towards campaigns operating at the brand awareness stage of the purchase funnel. It offers creator relationship management, social influencer campaign management, data insights (leaning more towards social media viewership and engagements), as well as talent discovery.
- Socialix. This platform promotes its functionality to help marketers manage their influencers at scale. It subsequently boasts some high profile clients in Polaroid and Sony, as well as boasting other unique process features such as team collaboration and automation.
There’s no one singular tool, but marketers should have access to certain things
Even while many influencer marketing tools are promoted as multifunctional, there is no single platform yet available that can comfortably solve every challenge for every kind of influencer, or every campaign/brand size, or even every campaign goal from awareness to conversion.
With this realization, brands and marketers stepping into the influencer marketing ring need to be fully prepared to see the practice as one where multiple tools and platforms will be used alongside one another. And as Sammis rightfully points out:
“Marketers also need to understand that managing influencer programs requires a solid investment of time and energy, even with these advanced tools.”
If ever there was a test for agility, adaptability, and flexibility for marketers and their managers, then influencer marketing is surely it. That’s not to say that there aren’t recommendations all influencer marketers should give consideration to when choosing a tool to assist them.
Sammis suggests asking at least the following four questions of the technologies under consideration:
- Can the tool give me access to known, vetted influencers who are willing to work on programs and have been screened for “bad” behavior (like bot followers)?
- Can it show me historical performance data about the influencers I’m considering?
- Can it provide Benchmark data from contextually relevant influencer programs, so I know how their next program is likely to perform?
- Can I see real performance data, such as: reach, engagements, clicks, etc. (not just algorithmically estimated performance data or numbers from paid social)?
Working with influencer marketing platforms: takeaways for marketers
Influencer marketing is an exciting specialism. But it is a marketing practice which must prioritise trust and authenticity before ad messages.
Remember that influencers are individuals, not ad units. This inherently human element makes the introduction of influencer marketing tools for streamlining processes and scaling up quite complicated. All the martech available cannot replace effort and nous on the part of the marketers and the influencers themselves.
Measurable influencer marketing is most attainable when using this kind of messaging to generate awareness. It can be employed at other stages in the funnel, of course, but things can get more tricky the further down we go. Subsequently, many influencer marketing platforms are appear to be more geared towards this earlier stage of the funnel.
There are lots of influencer marketing tools out there. There are even a bewildering number of platforms available which ultimately just achieve single goals in influencer marketing. One example of this is choosing an influencer – which in and of itself is only a very small part of running an influencer program.
There are certainly some useful and acclaimed tools out there too. Recommended influencer marketing platforms according to Sammis include: Mavrck, HYPR, Paladin, and Socialix. These are multifunctional platforms which each have their own USPs, from fraud protection to automated processes.
No one of these tools can do it all. Marketers running influencer marketing campaigns need to be agile and adaptable to multiple and new-to-market tools, but they also need to be prepared to put in the hours. There isn’t a catch-all platform, but there are catch-all questions which Sammis suggests all marketers should be asking of the tools and technologies which are on offer.
The answers to Sammis’ questions should work to signpost marketers to the virtues which underpin successful influencer marketing programs – i.e. campaigns that are authentic, trustworthy, relevant, and do not bombard end-users with ads and noise.
Ultimately, these best practice influencer marketing campaigns – a well-balanced marriage of human individualism and tech – will provide value to consumers, influencers, and brands in such a way that other digital and traditional marketing methods cannot.