Influencer Marketing: Facts and Miscomprehensions

The fact that consumers rely on opinions of peers, so-called influencers and (often unfortunately) celebs offers opportunities for marketers but threats for them and for consumers. The importance given by people to the opinions of others is well known by now. We pay a great deal of attention to what complete strangers say and think.

The opinion of “non-strangers”, such as family members, friends and business contacts is also important. The fact that we tend to trust it, is a normal human psychological phenomenon which is becoming ever more evident. It is a well-known phenomenon by marketers and the reason why they are fishing massively for influencers, word-of-mouth, customer and peer reviews, etc.

Unfortunately many still misunderstand what word-of-mouth us, look at reviews from a defensive point of view and at influence from an entirely wrong perspective, being one of Klout and mass. However, as I pointed out in a guest post last week, data show “everyone who shared is an influencer if the subject is important to him or her: lots of people who have influence on specific and vertical themes are more important than the traditional influencers with a higher impact on diverse themes”.

How much do we value peer and influencer opinions?

Harris Interactive concluded in a study that 60% of respondents valued the opinions of others on social media, only 25% did not agree. It is striking that people prefer to listen to the opinions of others over giving and sharing their own thoughts, ideas and experiences: 53% responded affirmatively to this statement, only 31% of those surveyed did not agree.

There is a clear imbalance between people who, on the one hand, share opinions and on the other hand, people consulting these opinions.

Since the thoughts and advices of others (customer reviews, posts of so-called “thought leaders, etc.) are so important in forming our own opinions and even emotions, also in the ambit of commercial decisions, this doesn’t only result in an opportunity for brands to make full use of influencer marketing: there are dangers and threats involved as well.

The perceived objectivity of influencer marketing

An opinion is by definition very subjective. Even if it is one of an influencer. After all someone is considered a reliable source depending on various elements: the fact that he or she voices their opinion, the perceived value of their thoughts and (re)views but also the “exposure” they get. There are many opinion leaders, in the marketing industry, for example, which are trusted highly, while they sometimes proclaim nonsense.

Export this to other industries. Take, for instance, the medical and pharmaceutical industry. “Since a study by professor X from University Y indicated that there is a connection between A and B, we have to purchase medicine C massively”. After all, the authorities say so and the media copy it. The fact that the study or the department of professor X might be financed by the manufacturer of medicine C or that professor X could have drawn incorrect conclusions, are conveniently forgotten.

Opinions are never neutral. Even most scientific findings are influenced by the purpose and nature of the research, the culture and the backgrounds of the researchers, who are human beings as well.

These human, psychological and emotional dimensions are often forgotten, as is the emotional impact of what other say and do, let alone of words and who has spoken or written them.

The information and opinion overload

The fact that consumers are influenced by others, is an opportunity, a threat and at the same time probably an expression of the sociological phenomenon that people seem to form their ideas less than before. However, what else can you expect from a world bulging with information and opinions?

In the business world, we observe exactly the same: knowledge that could be gathered internally by conducting the necessary experiments, possibly in cooperation with consultants, for example, in the area of marketing, is often not a priority. Everything gets outsourced and the risk is passed on, along with the responsibility.

In the mean time, influencer marketing reigns supreme, as is the case with word-of-mouth marketing. Even though there are ethical standards, there are no actually enforceable rules and increasingly more companies specialize in the identification and engagement of the opinion makers and influential voices.

Influencer and word-of-mouth marketing: the risks of not playing it fair

In itself there is nothing wrong with this. The question is which tactics businesses use to utilize all these influencers and opinion formers for their marketing purposes, knowing what enormous influence opinions have. There most certainly are dubious practices.

A tip for marketers: no matter how tempting, play the game fair. Sooner or later you will address someone appreciative of openness and less “ethical” influencer-attempts will be thrown back with a slap in your face. Or, in other words: there are threats for those that are all too eager in their influencer marketing efforts, so play it fair!

And some tips for consumers (and indirectly business as well): think for yourself, not everything that you read is “true”, you don’t even see the tip of the influencer marketing iceberg emerging from the water.

Furthermore, don’t rely too much on what ‘influencers’, that are recognized by the “public opinion” as such, say, trust is a precious thing that has to be earned and is highly personal.