Influencer: do or don’t?


Let’s start with the punchline.

If you have spent to the point of diminishing margins of return and extracted the full profitable opportunity from every other marketing activity and you still have some money left, then and only then should you consider Influencer Marketing.

If your email marketing budget could use another $50k, give it to the email team instead of the Influencer effort.

If another $120k means your video marketing on Hulu could reach desired audience psychographics, give that money to your video team instead of your Influencer effort.

If your search team can use Smart Targeting to reach another 10k relevant users, give the Bing Paid Search team the $200k Influencer budget.

If you can spend your last $45k on a cheesy self-made TV commercial to sell your used cars on remnant late night Cable TV ads, spend it there instead of spending it on Influencer Marketing.

If your—well, you catch my drift.

Of all the faith-based marketing we do, few are as obviously non-accountable as Influencer Marketing. Just about the only thing you can account for is that the Influencer got something valuable.


Through the (different) Looking Glass.

I am not recommending you reallocate your Influencer Marketing budget because of the AdAge story about corruption in even identifying who an Influencer was, which mentioned how brands like Pampers and Olay are leaders in spending on Influencers with fake followers.

(Though, OMG!)

I am not recommending you reallocate your Influencer Marketing budget because of the Hidden Brain podcast, which reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, on Buying Attention that illustrates the futility of using “micro-celebrities” to get attention. That is just not how earning attention works.

(Though, as a Googler, this story in the podcast broke my heart: Sue Tran has 23k followers on Instagram; she got a free Google Pixel 2 as an influencer, posed for pictures with the Pixel 2 and posted them on Instagram, and in the podcast, she laughed at Google for thinking she would give up her iPhone. Ouch.)

I am not recommending you reallocate your Influencer Marketing budget due to yesterday’s article in Digiday highlighting the messy free-for-all way in which “Influencers” are collated and sold.

(Though, the look under the covers is immensely unappetizing.)


Resisting the Siren’s song.

I am recommending a deeply serious rethink and reallocation of any Influencer Marketing funds for the following five reasons:

1. Micro-celebrities can at best have a nano-impact.

Uggs has a hard time measuring the value of Tom Brady in terms of delivering sales.

Tom freaking Brady!

Consider the impact of a micro-celebrity. They have 20,000 followers on Facebook. Organic reach on Facebook is now less than 1%. That’s 200 people listening. The likelihood that all 200 will run immediately and buy your shampoo, reserve your hotel in the Maldives, or open an account on Salesforce is negligible. Let’s say the conversion rate is the same as your website—it would be 1%. That’s 2 people.

Was the total cost of people, process, payment of your influencer marketing program worth it? Could you have gotten your two conversions much cheaper by negligible increase in anything else you are doing? Maybe send 20 more emails at the incremental cost of zero to get two conversions?

Ok, maybe your micro-celebrity has 4 million Subscribers on YouTube. Do the math:

(real reach x influenced to action x revenue) – (people cost + process cost + marketing cost + cost of goods sold) = profit.

Compare it to all other marketing. Is Influencer Marketing still worth it?

Scale is a desirable thing, unless you are a tiny company or want to stay one.

2. Everything else you are spending money on can be more easily and precisely measured.

Every article or industry keynote on this topic starts with this call to arms: Don’t measure the impact of influencer marketing. It is there, but you just measure it using “normal means.”

I am willing to concede that not everything that can be measured matters, and not everything that matters can be measured.

But if the brand or performance outcomes from Influencer Marketing are almost impossible to measure (other than lame metrics like Influencer Followers, and the related Potential Reach), why spend money on it?

At least until you’ve reached the diminishing margins of return for every other measurable marketing program you currently undertake?

3. Old Hollywood does not translate.

George Clooney might never drink Nespresso. But he is the gorgeous, sexy, hunky, global star George Clooney. He holds that cup to his luscious lips, and now my house has a Nespresso machine (it really does!).

Your 5k Instagram Influencer or 500k Twitter Influencer is not George Clooney.

I will admit that perhaps they have a slightly deeper connection with their audience in some ways; I sense this in my around one million followers spread around various social networks. But that connection is also extremely narrow. It’s just about beautiful pictures. Just about analytics. Just about plugging leaks in water pipes. The type of broad based irrational influence you see in the dreamy-eyed Mr. Clooney does not exist in micro-celebrities.

It is sub-optimal to connect old Hollywood influence depth with what Social Influencers have. That then impacts the results you see—at a very expensive cost (employee time, process cost, agency fees, product cost, opportunity cost).

4. Authenticity still matters. Even in 2018.

How many people who saw the Influencer fake posing with the Pixel2 phone really thought she loved her Pixel phone?

How many people who suddenly see their favorite Snapchat celebrity naturally pimping a “new fav” coffee can’t smell bs?

You get my point.

We are the most over-saturated, hence deeply cynical, generation when it comes to advertising. We can sense fake when it is a tiny, almost invisible spark. We can certainly sense it when it is a roaring fire. We are turned off by it when the Influencer moves from pimping one thing to the next thing week after week.

So, why try to rent fake authenticity?

Try this: Ask the person selling you Influencer Marketing to send you the last five examples of their work—or that of their Influencers. See if you can smell the inauthenticity. I bet you can five times out of five.

So. Why?

5. There is a cost to chasing shiny objects.

The most common reason for having Influencer Marketing in the mix is that marketers want to show how innovative they are. Look, we are doing Influencer Marketing—we are so cutting-edge!

Marketers don’t do this in a silo. Their VPs demand shiny objects because they want to be perceived as cool by their bosses.

Influencer Marketing gets 10% of the budget. The thinking is well I can look cool, and with that small amount… where’s the harm?

Nothing is free.

Your employees, agencies, legal team, analytics team, contracts team, consultants, bureaucracy, tools, and more will all have to get involved in a big way to spend this small budget. Often adding 5x to the amount you are sending to the Influencer. Suddenly, sizing up the iceberg below the waterline, it is real money.

I am not even counting the additional meetings that will have to be had. The investment of heated arguments, shaky justifications, comparisons and back-and-forths, which add an additional layer of misery to the cost.

If you understand the true cost of chasing shiny objects—not just Influencer Marketing—it’ll scare the heck out of you. Seek to be scared. It’ll make you smarter.


Bottom line: The rush and justification towards Influencer Marketing reminds me of the chase for Likes on Facebook, the stampede to create Pinterest pages, or the belief that creating filters on Snapchat was the key to eternal brand love. All those waves had splashy hard landings. I support experimentation with new marketing techniques. But, after your first $50k (smb) or $500k (large co) has been spent if all you still have is faith to justify continued investment… Pause, make sure you have absolutely no other place for that money to deliver profitable outcomes.

Will you be able to resist the Siren’s song?


PS: Here’s the beginning paragraph of this newsletter: This edition of TMAI comes to you from the perspective of a strategic marketer (me), a lover of data (me), an experienced Influencer who’s gotten his fair share of free stuff (me!), and hence from someone who’s seen this from all sides (me, me!).


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