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The value of (online) influencers: An attempt to define an undefined digital species

They blog from the first row at catwalks. They share cool design gadgets on Instagram. They strike a pose with a selfie in front of 5-star hotels on Pinterest. And, they record „Let’s plays“ for Youtube while testing the latest computer games. The one thing they have in common? They are online influencers. A digital species that challenges and changes the marketing world of models, testimonials and the publishing industry.

According to an annual Nielsen study, it is a common knowledge that people trust most in recommendations of people they know. In the past, marketers put models or celebrities in this „recommendation seat“. It was meant to address two benefits: Brands intended to grasp some of the consumers’ attention by trying to hitch-hike on the wave of VIP awareness and public relevance. And, they used the reach of magazines and the trust those public voices had for the people.

Nielsen Study Trust 2015

It seems to me that the tables are turning now, and marketers have to rethink their brand extension strategy.

1. Models – the personalization dilemma
When using models, brands couldn’t tell exactly which audience they were addressing. It was a marketers’ and model agent’s best guess which model fits which brand. However, a model does not have a transparent target-group. They are just faces without any open address books or lead list.

Social influencers are their own agents. Their content markets their personality, their personality defines their content, their reach expresses their quality. They have got fans, followers, and friends that everybody (not only when following them) can see. A clear defined and dynamic target-group that is commited to them and engages with them on a regular basis. What they say gets read. What they state is trusted. In fact, their consumer opinion becomes one of the most trusted sources that people believe in – more than traditional ads of any kind.

Just imagine the influence on purchase intent, when an influencer is posting online to a large audience of friends and fans. Social influencers are perceived of their active and growing audiences as “more real” than models, somehow even as “friends”.

But also the traditional model business is affected by the upcoming influencer trend: Previously interchangeable and relatively anonymous faces are now increasingly becoming personal brands thanks to their personalized Instagram and Snapchat channels and/or (mostly fashion- and beauty related) blogposts. Consequently, numerous models with significant reach are also acting as influencers to their audiences.

2. Testimonials – the authenticity dilemma
Testimonials need to match brand authenticity and follow the brand message in order to become valuable for marketers. Serious investment in dollars does not allow a testimonial’s mistake. Contracts are long-term and include testimonial involvement not only in all brand campaigns but also in personal PR and marketing engagement during the contracting period.

Money counts for testimonials – as much as monetary rewards do for online influencers. This is definitely true for the fashion and beauty industry, states the “Fashion & Beauty Monitor” report in partnership with Econsultancy named “The Rise of Influencers“. However, three out of five surveyed influencers believe that the “relevance of brand in relation to own area of expertise “is essential when collaborating with marketers. Influencers are very well aware of their personality as brand that has to be secured and consequently, they do not sell everything just because they are asked to. Of course, this in return means a certain loss of control for marketers when working with powerful influencers. Just to state an example, years ago, I offered MINI a cool opportunity to collaborate with me. I fear the idea never reached the BMW four-cylinder tower – perhaps for fear of losing brand control?

Think about it: How authentic can testimonials be that are selected by brands as of their popularity in sports, fashion and lifestyle? Testimonials sell their media value. On the contrary, engagement with influencers can only work when brands do not act too commercial with them and meet their personal authenticity. Social influencers are personal brands; authentic brands that companies can collaborate with.

3. Publishers – the relevance dilemma
When content from influencers gets more attention (and is trusted more) than content from advertising, relevance becomes a critical tipping point. For years, marketers and PR experts were convinced that “serious” traditional publishers are more relevant to readers than bloggers or any other form of social media active people. Thus, they invested serious dollars in brand building activities with the publishing industry. Today, these very media houses are approaching influencers to increase their declining media value.

A recent study by Collective Bias shows that content from influencers is viewed for more than 2 minutes (which is 7 times longer than the digital display ad average with a view time of just 19.2 seconds). Plus the relevance of someone’s personal opinion -whether rating, recommendation or review- has become of high value for consumers. Now if content from an influencer is relevant and perceived as being “authentic” , publishing is facing serious competition in the future.

However, relevance needs to meet relevance both ways. Just putting brand messages into the mouth of online influencers won’t accelerate a brand’s value. In order to become relevant to an influencer and his or her audience, a brand needs to be “love-brand” in a social influencer’s mind. If not, the influencer will be perceived (and probably also act) like a traditional publishing product without a media-kit.

Solving the dilemma – budget and advertising strategy
The world of testimonials, models and publishing is changing with the rise of influencers.
More and more companies and brands start working with social influencers. I personally doubt that they will completely replace models, testimonials and publishing houses, but the future will tell. However, the world of recommendations will be redefined by a new species.

Nielsen Study Recommendation 2015

According to a recent #BrandofMe study, brands invested 1 Bio. USD in 2015 in influencer programs on Instagram only. Influencers earn between 500 and 10.000 USD per Instagram photo or Youtube video – obviously depending on their media reach. Which means that some influencers get paid as much as some publishers for their ad space. A lot of budget that moves away from traditional brand building worlds.

The question is what values more to brands in terms of business impact: tradition or progression. But that question can only be answered when brands understand the power that online influencers can have on and in the sharing economy.

Reports: How retail marketing managers use digital, and how customers think…

Social media marketing has become more and more important for retail marketers in the U.S. this year compared to 2013. This states the latest reports by Extole which was based on the survey response of 302 people responsible for marketing and technology at U.S. retail companies. However, mobile marketing and email are still top priorities as well for those marketers across various verticals, company sizes and geographies.

Extole Report 2014 Marketing Spend to 2013

Although social media marketing was the leading marketing spend compared to last year with 41%, mobile advertising (32%) and email marketing (31%) were catching up as well. Whereas thee marketing spends were on the sweetspot for budget spends, topics like display advertising (28%), content marketing (28%), and paid search (24%) got less marketing spends this year.

Extole Report 2014 Marketing Channels Regularly

The report also made clear that retail marketers use social media and email two most (85%). Not surprisingly as social media was mentioned as the most effective tactic for acquiring customers. 50% of the retail marketers have picked it in the top three results. Nevertheless, if retail marketers want to convert retail customers, email marketing is still seen as the most effective marketing tool.

Spot On!
If we compare this report to another much broader study by Capgemini “Digital Shopper Relevancy Report” that asked 18.000 consumers around the globe, marketers might be putting too much emphasize on social media marketing. Marketers might have a closer look at the not “socially-engaged shopper” categories and then decide in which markets to invest in social media marketing, and which stay with a broader holistic digital marketing approach.

Capgemini 2014 Digital Consumers

What is your experience on how to best address your customers in the retail or technology space?

Study: Digital transformation still slow in companies. If there wasn't the execution…

It is one of the findings, we often experience in reality when we advice companies: The employees understand how the digital transformation works. However, the management -especially CEOs and executives- are not seeing the urgency in moving on with the digital transformation. In a recent study of more than 1500 executive people in 106 countries released by Capgemini Consulting in partnership with MIT Sloan Management Review these findings become clear again, although the study writers make clear that the common agreement is that the future is digital.

The results show that those company executive who have the digital transformation on their agenda almost four out of five executives (81%) believe that it will offer their company a competitive advantage. They also see that it will become a critical development to their organization within the next two years. Still, nearly two out of three (63%) see that the velocity of technology change in their organizations is not moving fast enough.

Not surprisingly, many employees are becoming more and more impatient with the development and progress compared to their upper managers. This stays against the fact that 53% of the CEOs think that the pace of the digital evolution inside their company is “right”, “fast” or “very fast”. Especially, the middle managers and staff employees think that the progress isn’t enough toward a digital realm. Just 25% of managers see the pace is right. One of the comments in the report blamed that the management was guilty of “complacency, [and] ignorance of modern technology”. And another one stated “Clueless management”.

The study’s authors categorized four different stages of digital transformation:
a. Beginners: Have been slow to adopt, or are skeptical of, more advanced digital technologies like social media and analytics.
b. Conservatives: Have deliberately hang back when it comes to new technologies.
c. Fashionista: Very aggressive in adopting new technologies, but do not coordinate well across departments.
d. Digiratis: Have the vision, and are willing to invest what it takes.

Source: MIT Center for Digital Business & Capgemini Study 2013

Source: MIT Center for Digital Business & Capgemini Study 2013

The reasons for the slow adaption for the modern digital challenge is made obvious: Time. When 53% of CEOs and executives say that the “don’t have time for this right now,” it sounds like a normal common excuse when things are not familiar or understood in the importance for the future development of companies. They (52%) simply don’t know how to do that, or are resistent to move on “this is the way we’ve always done it”.

Source: MIT Center for Digital Business & Capgemini Study 2013

Source: MIT Center for Digital Business & Capgemini Study 2013

Spot On!
When the study finds that 65% of organizations have just begun to step into the digital transformation process, it shows that most managers have not yet understood where the world of mobile and social media is getting us in the future. And when only 15% of respondenting CEOs and executives can be considered “mature” adopters of digital technologies, it reflects our view of how we experience the top management that comes to us and wants input on how to change the company towards the digital realm. And whent he study authors conclude that just some companies rank in the same category as a Starbucks or Intel, which are kind of top notch in digital transformation, we might still see potential for even them to become better. It is one thing, to have a chief digital officer at Starbucks that also enables customer mobile engagements. But it is another thing to make all employees follow the rules of the digital transformation. The challenge is on…!

PS: Study can be read here.

MINI: Engaging fans with digital billboard campaign

No, I am NOT normal! I am not a normal MINI fan. I am a brand advocate of MINI. And maybe that is the reason why I like and share this campaign from my favorite brand.

With their campaigns MINI in the UK celebrates the NOT NORMAL relationship of their friends, fans and followers. A relationship which reflects a deep connection to their cars. Not MINI conquered many, many digital billboards with professional spotters. Target: Engaging MINI fans while they are driving. Special cameras were set up and placed to reward MINI drivers. Isn’t this a cool idea from MINI?!

Hey MINI! Not interested in brand advocates?

My MINI Paceman - So much fun with it!

My MINI Paceman – So much fun with it!

Listen BMW and MINI! This is not a story made up. This is real. This is me.

When the MINI Paceman was first promoted at the Detroit Motor Show in 2011 as a concept car, I said and wrote to my fans, followers and friends: “This is gonna be my new car!” To some of them, it came as no surprise. Some knew of my passion for the MINI brand. Some recalled my words from brand strategy workshops, from keynote speeches or marketing seminars. Some remembered pictures of me in front of my former white MINI Cooper, and they were surprised I am selling it. Some responded and asked questions about features of the new Paceman; even I could not answer those days. Today I can.

But… Many of them did not even know of the new concept, the new brand, the new design, the new small SUV category that MINI kind of invented, and so on. I did. I saw the potential. I just got infected by the brand. I wanted a new MINI Paceman. I loved the outlook: Getting the keys handed out for a MINI Paceman.

I have thought a long time about writing this post, or just forgetting about it. But I am a challenger…

Today, the IAA 2013 is opening their doors in Frankfurt. Car brands are proudly presenting their latest auto concepts. Managers posing in front of their new innovations in modern steel or carbon. They are shaking hands with those that make them look good. But who does really make them stand out? The technical suppliers? The revenue driving resellers? The social influencers? Or those who hold up a sign in the streets without being incentivized or getting cash saying: “I love this brand!” Those who stand out, and those who make stand out: the brand advocates?

Maybe today is the right time to write a blog post and tell a story that to many of my fans, followers and friends sounds unbelievable – but MINI, I tell you, it is the absolute truth. I write it in the night when other people are sleeping. My clients tomorrow won’t care whether I had enough sleep, or not. I write this, when there is more important things on the desktop than leveraging a brand that does not listen, nor understand. Am I mad? Am I not clever? No, I am honest. I am what I am. I am a real MINI Paceman advocate.

Beginning of February 2013, I sat down with my MINI car sales representative and told him that I want to buy a Paceman. I wanted to be one of the first in Munich. I wanted to sign the contract. Now. And I asked whether he could open doors to the marketing, PR or social media department at MINI when an idea hit my brain just in the minutes when I sat there: Two of my clients have called me their “pacemaker”. The word transition from pacemaker to paceman was not too far off for me. So, some brilliant thought (at least in my mind) awoke in my head: Why not call yourself “Mr. Paceman”?

A concept created in a brain flash: Website domain. Web space. Web blog. Unique content published in a Paceman. The life of a Pacemaker in a Paceman. Lifestyle. Design. Speed. My life.

While the reseller configured my MINI Paceman, I bought the website domain, set up the blog with a little help of a friend and scribbled the whole concept on my smartphone. I told my MINI sales rep about the idea when I had signed the contract. He was enthusiastic about the concept and saw a lot of other potential cooperation opportunities.

I was ready to start publishing. Publishing about the pleasant participation for my MINI Paceman. The color. The design. The coffee holders. The changing interior lights. The engine. And so on. Publishing about the pace of my days, my experiences with the new Paceman, my life in a MINI Paceman nutshell. I wanted to share pictures of MINIs. I wanted to post design ideas of other MINI freaks, and find the first MINI Paceman pics, I might come across. And a lot more…

Now, obviously I knew about brand protection and brand rights. I knew that -before I started buying the domain- I should get in touch with some MINI brand contacts and get some formal permission to use the brand name. I thought: “Just do it!”

So, I wrote emails to MINI, their PR department, their marketing department, their social media people, and their agencies. I even contacted strategic partners from MINI. I wish I hadn’t done it. I felt like a little unloved kid being pushed from one corner to another in order not to cause any trouble for anyone, in order to shut up. MINI did not move. I continued. The answers I got where just some lines making clear that I am not allowed to use the brand for my purposes.

Hang on! My purposes? Is that the power of a big modern brand, is that arrogance, hubris or simply ignorance?

If I promote a brand I like, invest time, offer to wear their branded merchandising clothes and have even bought the brand product before (and maybe a far too expensive brand product), why should I not be allowed to do marketing and PR for that brand to my fellow peers? A target-group that MINI is chasing with banners, print ads, wallpapers, outdoor marketing, newsletter mailings and a lot more.

Doesn’t this mean, I am actually doing what MINI pays others for; marketing agencies, PR people and media houses with the old “quid-pro quo” game: editorial coverage for advertising dollars? Those institutions that create corporate publishing products for brands which cost these brands a fortune?

Shall I then be happy and not get crazy, when I get the feedback: “We might consider that you are writing a guest post on our official MINI blog.” Hurray! What an outcome of my activities! Sorry MINI, you missed the point! I am not just a buyer. I am not a normal influencer. I am more. I am a MINI Paceman brand advocate, if you know what this means MINI. If not, you might just read the study by Ogilvy)?!

A brand concept. Still waiting for MINI to understand the value of brand advocates.

A brand concept. Still waiting for MINI to understand the value of brand advocates.

More than seven months later, the blog is still online – online without any content at MrPaceman.com. The case has been mentioned by me in at least 20 seminars and on several stage appearances at events. Events where even the BMW marketing departments or some of their agencies participated. I saw people shaking heads, heard their words asking how ignorant and un-clever brands can be, and read their tweets and updates trying to get reactions to this case from MINI. MINI did nothing. For seven months now, the MINI brand managers did nothing.

Yesterday, some silver surfers passed by my MINI Paceman. One of them, a man in his seventies approached me when I got out of my Paceman: “Great car. Cool design and colors. Is this new? Have never seen this car before…” His wife replied: “This is one of these new SUV cars but just in a MINI format. Nice high access. Like it!”

Would this make up for a really cool advertisement? Now, just imagine, I had written about such stories, shared a picture with these older people and spread the word around the world about my life in the MINI Paceman. Don’t you think these stories, these emotions, these experiences might have made a difference in the way the MINI Paceman gets positioned, promoted and had pulled sales leads?

“Advocacy goes deeper. Advocacy is emotion-driven. Advocacy is loyalty. Loyalty is commitment. Loyalty is passion. Loyalty let’s forget the rules of logic, of facts, of the rational. Advocates drive on the streets of loyalty and breath it’s air.” Martin Meyer-Gossner on brand advocacy, September 2013

Did I make the benefit of brand advocates clear to you, MINI? Ok, then get into the next MINI Paceman and drive to me. Let’s speak!

PS: All of you out there who think MINI should make a move towards brand advocacy, share this post and maybe that will make them clear what opportunity they might have missed. And let’s hope some other brands learn from this case…!