Addressing Recent Backlash on Influencer Marketing: All Influencer Marketing Is NOT Created Equally

Sam Wormser
By Sam Wormser

There has been a lot of recent chatter online about how influencer marketing is a waste of money. As someone who has been involved with influencer marketing for 3+ years, I disagree, but I do think that there are plenty of examples of poor influencer marketing out there. For every article about how Influencer Marketing doesn’t work, I see about 10 saying how well it does work and brands who are making big splashes with influencers.

I think it all comes down to the campaign, the brand, and the influencers you are working with. You can’t dive into influencer marketing with zero strategy and expect to see results. The first phase should be to do your due diligence and research your market landscape to see what other brands in your space are doing. Think about if it’s feasible to work with influencers based on the product or service you are trying to promote. As a rule of thumb, tangible products are much easier to promote via influencers, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to promote a service or app. We’ve seen both done successfully.

Is Your Brand a Good Fit?

A few things that come to mind as advantages when seeing if your brand is a good fit:

  • You have a product or service that adds value to someone’s life and is something they need or would really want. If you have a product or service that is too frivolous, or doesn’t make a splash in the market as different and the need isn’t there, it might not perform as well.
  • You have a product or service that has a social mission behind it. Everyone loves a great story and giving back, so if your brand has that component, you could win big when it comes to influencer marketing, as some influencers will post for a much lower rate if there is a non-profit or social justice tie-in.
  • Your brand is unique and has compelling differentiating factors. If you’re trying to sell something that everyone has something very similar to, it’s going to be hard to break through the noise with influencer posts.
  • Your product has a high price point. An example of this would be a mattress company. Take Lull, for example. They are working with tons of influencers to promote their mattress and probably did so with a relatively low budget because a) the price of a mattress is high (or higher than other brands promoting something under $100) so you can negotiate sponsored rates and have a lot of leverage, and b) lots of people, especially young people, would love a new mattress because it’s a necessity and used daily.
  • Your product is aesthetically-pleasing and would look great photographed. If the packaging or branding is on point, or the product itself is a decoration, you’re already winning.
  • You already have a great social presence. This is another thing you can leverage similar to product price point. If you have a huge following on social media and would potentially re-post an influencer’s post, then you can probably get away with smaller sponsored fees. Influencers also want to work with big name brands so they can add that to their portfolio.
  • You are willing to get your product or offer your service to influencers so they can experience it first-hand. If the brand isn’t willing to do this, it makes it much more difficult to incentivise influencers to post about something. This is especially true because lots of people today will not even agree to share about something until they have had the opportunity to try it out before they recommend to their audience.

What Might Be Holding You Back and Solutions to These Issues

Similarly to the fact that there are lots of brands out there who have advantages when working with influencers and are more likely to have successful influencer campaigns, there are also a few things that come to mind as disadvantages when seeing if your brand is a good fit for influencer marketing. Here are a few of those points as well as solutions that you can use.

1) A low product price point and a low budget

The first is if your product has a very low price point and you do not have a large sponsored budget. If your budget is tight and you cannot incentivise influencers with product and see great results and response, something you can tweak is the ask and the influencer you are targeting.

Digital + Traditional PR

When it comes to the ask, you should first think about the channel. When you are comparing YouTube to Instagram to blog pricing for sponsored posts, YouTube and blogs are typically higher priced than Instagram. The exception here would be if the majority of the influencer’s audience is following them on Instagram. Because of this, if you have a smaller budget, we typically recommend focusing on one channel, with the emphasis being on Instagram.

Another way you can decrease sponsored rates is asking for other than a static post on an influencer’s Instagram feed if that is your focus channel. For example, if an influencer charges a hefty sponsored rate on Instagram for a static post, ask if you can do a series of Instagram stories instead. Sometimes these can be negotiated in exchange for product or a much lower fee.

You should also evaluate the tier of influencers you are reaching out to. We bucket influencer tiers into micro-influencers, who have 10k-under 100k followers, macro-influencers, who have a few hundred thousand followers, and celebrity influencers, who have over a million followers. Macro-influencer should be your sweet spot if you are working with a smaller budget and smaller price point of product or service. While they have smaller following size and overall reach, they have a highly-engaged audience, they charge less, they are often times easier to work with as you do not have to go through a third party manager, and you can work with more of them to increase your overall reach.

2) A very high product price point

While I’m confident that having a higher-end item or price point comes with leverage to negotiate sponsored payments as you can sometimes work in a product gifting in exchange for posting, there is also a down side. We have had a number of clients with higher price points where they were unable to seed a large amount of product due to either inventory because it is expensive, or unwillingness to give away a high ticket item without knowing if you will get results from the influencer. This could potentially mean only being able to seed a few products if the price point is very high. The issue with this is not being able to work with as many influencers and get as far of a reach.

The solution to this problem is to develop campaign-based partnerships or ambassadorships, where you are working with one or a few influencers that are gifted the product and then you work with them for an extended period of time, potentially six months to a year.

This solves the issue of having to send product out to a wide range of influencers, but rather you should select the perfect influencer to share about your brand and then develop this partnership where they are constantly sharing about the brand in a natural and authentic way.

In the back of your mind you will just have to know that not every influencer will accept a partnership in exchange for a product. Period. Even if it’s a high price point. We have learned this and we have moved on and found other opportunities that have worked out better every time.   

3) A need for direct response channels

When it comes to influencer marketing, one of the main concerns with brands is the need to run direct response campaigns like paid social or PPC, where if you put more money into it, you will get more out of it in the form of direct revenue. This is not necessarily the case with influencer marketing and here’s why.

While we have seen a great return on investment with influencers participating in campaigns we run, which we can measure through things like UTMs, coupon codes, and referral traffic, there is not always an immediate return. I like to think of influencer marketing as the branding channel that creates long-term brand awareness as well as immediate revenue that continues to build as time goes on. What I mean by this, is if you’re looking to drive revenue, you should think of influencer marketing as a long-term play, similar to an SEO campaign.

If your main concern is getting immediate results, then you have to understand that influencer marketing works in conjunction with your other marketing initiatives. For example, the content that influencers post can be re-posted on your brand’s Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and other organic social channels. The content can even be used in paid social ads, where it’s the fuel to the fire for a more direct response channel. The testimonials that influencers are writing in their captions, sharing in their YouTube videos, and writing in their blog content, are testimonials you can use to build credibility and social proof in captions, in ads, and front and center on your website.

4) You’ve run a prior influencer campaign that fell flat

If you ran an influencer campaign in the past that didn’t prove to be successful, there are a few things you should ask yourself:

  1. Did your brand work with the right influencers? Influencers you work with should align with your niche category and speak directly to your audience. If you’re working with an influencer simply for their reach but your product or service doesn’t align with what they typically post about, you will probably not get great results!
  2. Did your brand work with a variety of influencers? I’ve seen brands work with one influencer or maybe two and called it quits because they didn’t drive an insane ROI. This is exactly why you should work with at least a handful of influencers before deciding that influencer marketing doesn’t work, because every influencer and every audience is different. You may also discover that by working with different niches, they convert their audiences differently. For example, you may be working with mom influencers on Instagram, and also working with some fitness influencers and you may notice that one converts or drives more traffic than another.
  3. Did you do everything you could to measure performance? We’ve heard of many influencer campaigns that supposedly didn’t cause a lift in revenue, but you can only truly tell the impact if you are measuring. That’s exactly why we use custom UTMs for each influencer partnership so we can look at results in Google Analytics.
  4. Did you create campaign-based partnerships? We always recommend working on a campaign with influencers, rather than a one-off post. This can involve working with an influencer on multiple platforms so you are reaching the most eyeballs in their audience, and can also mean working on a longer-term basis, where they are doing a series of posts over the span of a few months.

If you feel that you may have not had success from an influencer campaign because you didn’t follow the above key best practices, you 100 percent have an opportunity to try again.

Yes, Some Brands Are Still Doing It Wrong

There are definitely brands out there doing it wrong, but there are also brands out there doing it right. When a brand as a whole seems inauthentic, like skinny tea detoxes for example, working with influencers will probably not make it more authentic. This is where we see a lot of scrutiny of influencer marketing, when it comes to brands that are trying to flood the market, oversaturate the number of influencers they are working with, and promote a product that just doesn’t seem genuine.

On the other hand, some brands are seriously winning big from working with influencers. Take a look at brands like MVMT, Lulus, Vital Proteins, Siete, the list goes on. These brands were nothing a few years ago and through influencer marketing have become multi-million dollar companies and there are plenty of articles that talk about how they did it through influencer marketing.

Wrapping Up

With the prices of driving paid ad traffic to websites so high today due to its competitiveness, influencer marketing is another way to drive traffic to a targeted audience – as long as the influencer is a great fit and it makes sense for them to post about the product or service.

Influencer marketing means being nimble, adjusting to what is performing, and test working with different categories of influencers and putting on a focus on different channels.

If influencer marketing hasn’t worked for you in the past, or if you have been hesitant to deploy a campaign at all, let’s chat about some best practices and how to make influencer marketing work for your brand to drive long-term growth.

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Samantha is a PR manager and account manager at Power Digital where she executes on everything from top tier media relations, to SEO outreach and social media influencer outreach. After spearheading the influencer marketing arm of the PR department, Samantha has created strategies and partnerships with social media influencers to elevate both brand awareness, engagement, and ROI for our clients. Outside of the office, she's obsessed with all things food and exploring the outdoors.