My blog is about exchanging ideas and best practices on all things marketing and communications related. I'm interested in your thoughts, feedback, additions, arguments and point of view.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Art of the Influencer

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “influencers” and how they drive product sales with their enthusiasm, large social networks and ability to generate word of mouth endorsements. We’ve all seen them in action – with their outgoing personalities they spend much of their time introducing us to other others as they make their way through a party, smart cocktail in their hand and wearing the latest style of shoes.

According to Ad Age, more than 80% of customers choose one company’s brand over another because of past experience, quality, price or personal recommendations by others. Influencer clout can’t be underestimated. And over the years marketers have tried many ways to cost effectively suck up to them.

In the US, where being an “influencer” has arguably gone berserk, you don’t look much further than award shows to watch the strategy in action. Celebuties are handed thousand dollar gift bags simply for walking down a carpet. Then the editors of People, US Weekly and E! watch closely to see what they’ll trash and what they’ll take home… What they’ll have on in the morning is splashed across websites and magazine covers around the world.

Now if being an “influencer” is something you’ve always aspired to – good news! In today’s digital media world of user generated spaces, you can be someone companies would love to get to know. All it takes is a passionate interest (in virtually anything) an online space to network in and enough of you to get noticed. Is nothing too good for pet and family member Rover? Are you a spiritual outdoor adventurer? Looking for gluten-free baking recipes? Join an online space, connect with other “passionistas” and you’ll become a highly coveted, quantifiable group of prospects.

And if reaching these “influencers” is number 1 on your launch plan, Yahoo! has interesting tools that can help. Last week I attended a breakfast meeting called ‘Marketing 2.0,” where company execs explained how they are able to identify groups of like minded consumers on their network using content, personalization tools, online communities and search products (they call it a "brand network").

Using the “long tail” marketing concept originally developed by Chris Anderson, authour of The Long Tail (Hyperion, $33.95), they presented US case studies on how they were able to sift through throngs of users on various areas on their site to reach super engaged people in virtually any target audience they were given – car buyers, dieters, outdoor enthusiasts.

Yahoo! also talked about another concept they’ve developed called user DNA, an approach to gather data on customer behaviour. It's aggregated (for anonymity) and analyzed to identify trends, behaviours and interests. And they say understanding user DNA enables them to serve up advertising that is highly targeted to only those people most likely to respond to it.

Listening to these guys made me realize two things – first how much we've evolved our thinking from counting page views and clicks in order to evaluate web traffic and online campaign effectiveness. And second, there’s some great minds spending time figuring out how to leverage the power of technology to help us deliver more impactful, more successful advertising campaigns.

Who knows - maybe 20 years from now, the celebutie gift bag will be a relic from the past.

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