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Why Influencer Marketing is Not a One-To-One Direct ROI

November 20, 2018
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In recent years, influencer marketing has become an increasingly popular method of marketing for just about any B2C business. This popularity surge is due to a variety of factors including the need for high-quality content, the increased efficacy of ad blockers, and the decreased efficiency of organic social media promotions. It also speaks to the fact that we humans naturally trust the recommendations of real people more than we ever would promotions or advertisements.

According to OnBrand Marketing’s 2018 State of Branding Report, 79% of marketing decision-makers will invest in influencers marketing in the upcoming year. Of these, 43% plan to spend more than they did in the previous year, shifting resources away from more traditional marketing methods.  Now, whether this is just a trending fad or a fundamental shift in the way marketing will be done from here on is, as of yet, unknown.

There are those who buy into influencer marketing, claiming the return on interest is exponential. On the other hand, there are a small but quite vocal minority of naysayers who see it as a lousy investment, yielding pennies on the dollar. As is most often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Since influencer marketing is primarily a “top-of-the-funnel” brand awareness play, it may not yield a direct one-to-one return on your investment, but that does not mean it is an ineffective method of reaching customers. To that end, we will discuss the reasons why influencer marketing is not a one-to-one direct ROI and then delve into how you can get a better ROI with your influencers.

The Marketing Funnel

To better understand why it is wrong to expect influencer marketing to provide one-to-one direct ROI, you must first examine the marketing funnel. There are five tiers of this marketing funnel that begin with a marketing campaign:

  • Awareness – The top of the funnel is the widest being that it represents the total potential customer base; this demographic you hope to create brand awareness in with your marketing campaign. This type of lead generation is driven by PR, content marketing, referrals, influencer marketing, e-books, whitepapers, online ads, viral campaigns, videos, direct email, and social media.
  • Interest and Evaluation – The middle part of the funnel is the lead-nurturing aspect of the sales process. You are retargeting channels with methods like paid and social media, content marketing, and case studies.
  • Commitment and Sale – At the bottom and most narrow part of the funnel, you are converting customers, and perhaps supplementing these conversions with trials and demonstrations.

By visualizing this process, it helps you to imagine what the buyer process looks like and how you need to fill your marketing funnel starting at the top and then working your way down. Many wrongly assume that influencer marketing is meant for immediate conversions, and while it does, in fact, do that for some, it is much more of a top of the funnel play. In reality, the influencer introduces the brand to their followers or fans, organically driving brand awareness.

This begs the question, ‘Why can influencers not drive direct revenue?’ The answer is that they absolutely can. However, it is increasingly difficult to measure direct ROI due to the limitations of only tracking online conversions and not being able to monitor purchases made in-store, which is a reason why you have some who are believers in investing money on influencers and others who claim it’s an inefficient use of marketing dollars. For those in the latter group, this highlights a faulty line of thinking that ignores the importance of the top of the funnel.

The Importance of Top of The Funnel

As the saying goes, in order to catch a lot of fish, you have to use a wide net. If your sole focus is on driving direct return rather than fueling the top of your funnel, then you too are guilty of adopting this distorted view of what marketing is and how it works.  

If you wish to increase overall brand awareness and drive conversions, you must then widen your nets by bringing as many potential customers to your website as is humanly possible. Simply increasing the number of would-be customers, naturally increases your odds of a conversion; this principle is the underlying foundation of most sales methodology.

This concept of emphasizing the top of the funnel is especially true for higher price point items or services since a good swath of that population might automatically be turned off by the price alone. Even then, for those who can afford high priced goods and services, such sales typically require nurturing, convincing, and time as those potential customers weigh the cost-benefit of the expenditure. Naturally, there is almost a direct correlation between the speed of conversion and rate of conversions with the overall price, wherein the cheaper the product or service, the less time or convincing a person needs to make the purchase.

As you fill the top of the funnel, much in part due to influencer marketing, the middle and bottom of the funnel will fill up, creating opportunities for retargeting and email campaigns.

Loss of Tracking

One of the reasons why it can be difficult to track the metrics of influencer marketing is partly a result of certain avenues that simply do not have a linking opportunity. In such cases, loss tracking occurs because you cannot obtain insight into traffic and conversions.

Because of this, we prefer to use UTM codes for our influencer campaigns. These simple UTM codes are attached to a custom URL in YouTube descriptions or Instagram Stories, allowing us to track them with Google Analytics and then analyze the conversions and revenue. In cases when there is not an ideal opportunity to link this UTM, you’re left blind, unable to fully track performance and returns.

When it comes to social media, many users desire to stay within the app, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat; because of this, many see a post about a brand from an influencer on their feed and then choose to open a separate Safari or Chrome link on their phone or desktop in order to either continue browsing and view it at a latter point, or to save their spot and make a purchase in that moment.

How to Get a Better ROI with Influencers

With all this in mind, the best way to get the most ROI out of your influencer campaign is to use everything on the influencer side as a fuel to the fire for other more direct response channels.

There are several things you can do to increase your ROI with influencers. They include:

  • Identify your target audience and the right influencer – This should be obvious, but certain influencers are optimal for certain audiences. Using a YouTube star to target people in their 20’s is far less effective when that YouTuber’s audience is mostly tweens. It is essential you find an influencer who cannot only reach but connect to your target audience.
  • Utilize creative assets – Encourage your influencer to hit their audience from multiple angles, targeting them from their website, in paid social content, in email newsletters, and in organic social content.
  • Allow influencers creative freedom – There is a fine line between utilizing creative assets and controlling an influencer’s creative freedom. In all likelihood, they know their audience better than you, they have their own voice, their own style, and their audience can tell whether or not they believe in a service or product. One of the easiest ways to turn off an influencer and damage a future working relationship is by attempting to control them. Many of these people are creatives who built up audiences organically on their own merits. While you should absolutely give well-defined brand guidelines, objectives, or goals, stilting creatives who are self-employed is the wrong way to go about it.
  • Drive traffic through UTMs – As mentioned above, UTMs can help drive traffic and aid you in tracking. By analyzing these UTMs and movement to your website, you can build your retargeting pools for paid social campaigns. We see this perform better than stock photos or overly branded photos since lifestyle content has low CPCs.
  • Run influencer giveaways – Influencer giveaways are fantastic means of organically increasing your social following. Everyone likes free stuff, and they like it even more if there is a winning aspect to obtaining it, which is why the lottery is so popular.
  • Use campaign-based partnerships – If you think of working with influencers as a funnel itself, it would be wise to work on a series of posts with influencers. In this series, the first post is the touchpoint brand introduction, while the second and third posts are intended to push their followers past awareness, down the funnel, and eventually to more of the consideration phase with the hopes of ultimately turning them into conversions.


Influencer marketing is a phenomenal tool for any marketing campaign, but only if you utilize those influencers properly since a tool is only as good as the hands that wield it. Additionally, it is crucial that you reorient your view of how influencers operate. Remember that although influencers can drive direct conversions, their true value lies in creating brand awareness and drawing potential customers to the funnel.

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