February, finally. Is it safe to assume you’ve read up on your fair share of 2017 trends and know what ‘25 Things your Marketing Strategy Needs in 2017’? Good, it’s time to focus on three things of actual importance. As my colleague, Steve Rubel – chief content strategist for Edelman, points out here, there are three major inversions taking place as we speak, that all marketers and communications professionals need to be aware of (or probably already know and need to take seriously). Over the next few hundred words, I’ll attempt to add a useful, local filter on influence, attention and distribution.
I probably heard the word influence more times last year than I have in my entire life, albeit mostly in the context of how much ‘influence’ some influencer had. Influence, as defined by Google is, “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”. This definition is important to keep in mind as you develop plans and / or briefs to influence your consumers in 2017. Most important to note is that influence no longer simply comes from above, but predominantly through our peers. Although this is something that most of us haven’t questioned, we’ve never understood the value or impact of peer-to-peer communications in the same way we do now.
For the purpose of keeping this article under 700 pages, I’ll spare you my entire POV on influence and focus specifically on why it’s important for influencer marketing.
- Own your program: So, you have a list of ‘influencers’, they all have big followings, and you want to do something with them. Stop. Wrong way. Go back. This happened and failed way too many times in 2016. This year, please start with the end in mind. Think about what you’re trying to achieve, what your consumers want, what they’re talking about and with who, understand the forces (today and tomorrow) that are impacting them and your brand and design a program accordingly. Then and only then should you consider casting it with the right people. Most importantly, make it measurable – maybe even throw in an old-school feedback loop. For more information, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Understand the rise of micro-influencers: and know that ‘peer-to-peer’ influence is not a justification to pay a fitness blogger with 1 million followers on Instagram your entire campaign budget to post an image you have no say over. Micro-influencers are classified as social personalities with 1,000 to approx. 10,000 (100,000 in the US) followers and more often than not, have deeper engagement and therefore actual influence over their communities than ‘mass influencers’ do. Their audiences generally act with more passion as they feel a greater sense of relatability and connection to the influencer.
- Don’t forget that ‘influencers’ are practically their own people: with their own thoughts, opinions, pens and cameras. Don’t simply think of influencers as amplifiers of your brand’s message, but don’t go letting their ‘brand’ outshine yours. Respect their creative process and relinquish some control, align on outcomes and go forth and partner with them, you may even influence someone along the way.
Finally, I’ve listened to and read quite a few interesting perspectives on influence and influencer marketing, but none more so than this Digiday Podcast where Brian Morrissey talks with Digiday managing editor, Shareen Pathak and senior reporter, Sahil Patel on the ‘influencer bubble’ and the prediction that it just might burst this year. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for brands to work with independent third parties that genuinely impact the decisions their consumers make, just that in 2017, some things need to change. Give it a listen.
Today, consumers are paying more attention to their limited attention and don’t just want to give it up to any ol’ brand, for any ol’ reason. Here are some things to think about if you want my attention:
- We’re over gimmicks: Whether you’re a Pokemon GO fan or not, you can’t deny that in 2016, augmented reality was brought to the masses. In the same way, there were also great developments in VR, livestreaming and other immersive technology that made ‘shiny new gadgets’ more accessible than ever. I could sit here and throw out a load of stats and info about video consumption and all the coolest tech that we can expect, but what’s more important is what that means for consumers – access. Not only do they have access to great content that is being produced by all the biggest and best brands, but they have access to the equipment to make content (almost as good, if not better) themselves. And it’s this access in 2017 that means you need to start to think more practically about the application of new tech and the opportunity it offers to connect and interact with your consumers in new and useful ways. Think purpose and story first and make them some content they just can’t refuse; that either adds value to their lives or at the very least, their newsfeeds.
- A good story isn’t told by robots and algorithms: Last year, there seemed to be a growing focus – almost obsession – with using the latest tech and tools rather than achieving business or marketing objectives. This year, it’s important to be careful not to focus too much on the tools, and think story / purpose / objective first. A bot might be an important component to a campaign, but it shouldn’t dictate it. We’re communications professionals, professional tellers of great stories, let’s not forget that every time some new technology is released or Facebook and Google get creative with math.
- Respect access to their attention. They expect you to: Consider that your consumers expect brands to respect their attention, so don’t get too caught up in playing with tech for tech’s sake. It’s not so much that attention spans are getting shorter, but consumers are getting less forgiving of brands or waste their time and exploit their attention. Don’t be that brand.
Like anything, content doesn’t exist in a build-it-and-they-will-come type scenario. Almost more important than the story you must tell is how and where it’s found; and with the collision of technology and media, we see greater importance and power in the hands of platforms. Here’s what’s important to know when thinking about distribution:
- Even the media is on social: Trust in media is at an all-time low, as it struggles to create the agenda. Here, Richard Edelman sums up the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer findings and impact well:
“the media, the vaunted Fourth Estate in global governance, plunged in trust this year, distrusted in more than 80 percent of the countries we survey, to a level near government. Media is now seen to be politicized, unable to meet its reporting obligations due to economic pressures, and following social media rather than creating the agenda. Donald Trump circumvents mainstream media with his Twitter account, in this way seeming more genuine, approachable and responsive. Technology has allowed the creation of media echo chambers, so that a person can reinforce, rather than debate, viewpoints. In fact, 59 percent of respondents would believe a search engine over a human editor. It is a world of self-reference, as respondents are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position that they do not believe in.”
- Community matters: What’s important to note about the above is that as trust in media declines, trust in community and actual ‘people like me’ continues to rise. And as marketers, it’s important to consider your consumers and their community in every interaction. Remember that social networks are open to institutions of all shapes and sizes but fundamentally exist to connect people. For this reason, when thinking about distribution, it’s critical to consider how your community may respond to any brand communication and whether there is (or should be) an opportunity for them to interact (or react).
- Distribution is not amplification, it’s about planning: As easy as it can be, it’s important not to treat distribution as an afterthought, but start to consider it at the very outset of campaign planning. Thinking about distribution from the very beginning is critical for delivering good and effective ideas. Note: this is not a trend, it’s best practice.
If you only remember three things in 2017, remember these:
- Want to create good content that is both entertaining and useful? Think a little differently and make use of the tech available to you – but don’t let the tech lead your story, it should play the supporting role – your consumers expect it if you want their attention.
- Got a good story? Think about how and where your audience will hear it – and who they’ll hear it from. They trust their peers (and maybe even your staff) more than they trust the media, so think people and channel when thinking through distribution.
- People are no longer influenced from above. So consider micro-influencers and don’t get caught up in the mass-influencer bubble.
Finally, I’ve been writing this article for longer than I really should’ve been. Every time I read an article or listened to a podcast that mentioned marketing and / or media, I’d change my mind or tweak my point of view on something. In 2017 (and every year) I encourage you to do the same. This is the year of greater access to tech, greater strength in community and the greatest decline of trust in media. Brands, marketers, agency people, anyone who reads this, this year, be curious and keep an open mind, but always keep your eyes on the prize.