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How to turn influencers into brand advocates

How to turn influencers into brand advocates

By Steve McKinley, a director of integrated marketing agency GHMC.

Today, the traditional mass-media marketing model no longer works.

Repeatedly assaulting buyers with more and more messages delivered through an increasing number of media channels is actually a self-defeating exercise; increasingly sophisticated consumers have learned to blank out this brand noise.

The key to consumer engagement is opening up a dialogue with key influencers on the purchase decision; talking persuasively and compellingly; and making sure that when people are talking about your market sector in general they are recommending your brand in particular.

In today’s marketplace, people are selling, people are buying and people are talking. Around every purchase decision, every transaction, every negotiation, there is a network of conversations going on.

Not just between brands and the consumer, but a complex matrix of people – friends, retailers, experts, reviewers, bloggers – all offering opinions and making recommendations. The result is that, whether overtly, covertly or inadvertently, there is a huge range of people who are bringing influence to bear on our purchase decisions.

Gaining advocacy amongst these influencers is key to building brand loyalty and driving sales. And just as important as the actual content that is being produced, is the integrity of the people who are making it. Ask yourself whose endorsement carries greater impact in your own decision-making process: the paid celebrity; the TV commercial; or the wine seller, for example, who always picks out the best bottle of wine for you?

So how do you identify the most powerful influencers?

In the business to business (B2B) market these people can be relatively easy to find as you are dealing with a smaller sphere of influence. For example, in the enterprise IT space there are tried and tested ways of identifying and then talking to the right analysts, bloggers and others that have experience of specifying an enterprise network solution. This is a relatively small universe so you can pinpoint who to talk to down to an individual level.

With the business to consumer (B2C) market however it becomes more complex as purchase decisions tend to have a much greater sphere of influence. Individuals with the greatest degree of influence are harder (though not impossible) to find, so brands need to target clusters of influencers through social media channels such as Facebook or foursquare and by monitoring brand conversations online.

At GHMC, we find that more often than not it is the professional that has the greatest influence over the buying habits of consumers, which is why we created our B2P2C (business to professional to consumer) model.

For example, if you are a golfer and you see an ad extolling the virtues of a particular ball, you might take notice but will it change your behaviour there and then? Get that same message and a recommendation from your instructor or local pro however and the chances are that you will take the advice and give that ball a go.

The same applies for computer games or game station, if the assistant in your local specialist gaming shop says that something is the best thing ever, you’re more likely to listen to him. It is these people therefore – from early-adopting style leaders in bars to professional staff to Key Opinion Leaders – you need to be targeting.

In addition to creating core brand messages targeting the buyer, marketers need to be looking at creating a suite of individually tailored complementary influencer messages or activities designed to harness key influencers’ support and get them actively on-side as vital players in the sales process.

The work we do with Cow & Gate is a good example of how this works in practice. One of the biggest influencers on a mother’s choice of Infant Milk Formula are midwives and other healthcare professionals, so as a core part of our activities we developed a highly sophisticated programme specifically targeting midwives and HCPS that successfully drives recommendation though engagement.

To be successful in the modern marketplace, brand owners must embrace this fundamental shift in the way marketing works. Indeed, marketers need to look beyond the traditional buyer and seller relationship to identify all the influencers within every channel and then gain their advocacy.

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