Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Marketing is about selling things – I know it’s an ugly truth and in these days of social media we all often beat around the bush – but it is the bottom line.
But how do you get people to buy things when advertising isn’t that effective online, when people are reading fewer and fewer newspapers and magazines, and when we are tired and cynical about most other forms of advertising?
Potential prospects are now turning to blogs, social media and friends for advice on what product to buy, where to buy it (and often when to buy too).
There are two ways to do this. The second, however is usually considered the only option, as the first is seen to be impossibly difficult to achieve, hugely expensive and utterly impractical.
So what is that first impossible way?
Well the best way to get people to buy things is to make a great product that does exactly what is says it is going to do (plus a bit more if appropriate), offer it at a reasonable price and provide excellent customer service.
This is a long term solution that turns everyone who buys and uses the product or service into advocates for the brand – effectively an army of unpaid sales people – who then influence everyone around them, in a multitude of channels.
Furthermore, that influence is appropriate, customised and precision targeted. If you take this route, you will find that bloggers and journalists will magically give the product good reviews, social media will be buzzing positively and review forums will be awash with glowing tributes to your brand.
Now, of course, that’s not possible right? Far too difficult. And besides, you can’t trust the public to sell your brand – they won’t understand how good it is, or what it does, or that it really is value for money. (Too cynical you think?)
So the second route is for the marketeer to try and identify those bloggers, twitter users and other online sources who are influencing the new generation of customers. To cultivate them, pander to them and persuade them to push the brand. Unfortunately, many marketeers have yet to realise that this is just as hard, if not harder than the first route.
But how do we tackle this?
Surely that’s simple? Devise a measurement system to tell us who the influencers are and then target them.
But too often in marketing we are guilty of looking at things from a marketeer’s point of view – especially when thinking about strategy. What we should really be doing is remembering that we are also customers, potential prospects, part of a someone’s target audience – ordinary people in other words.
Rather than approaching this problem with ‘old school’ marketing thinking – 'Let’s devise a system to locate and measure these people, then we can target them with advertising and special offers' – we should be thinking how does influence work in my life? How am I, as a potential prospect influenced when I buy something?
And if we did that, just thought for a moment, how we came to buy something – make a purchasing decision, we would straight away understand that influence is fairly intangible, contextual and governed by a multitude of factors.
It is the contextual nature of influence that is the biggest issue when trying to identify particular individuals/blogs/websites that influence a buying decision.
I might be influenced by Jeremy Clarkson for example, when it comes to buying a car, but I certainly wouldn’t be influenced by him if I was buying a birthday present for my niece. (Unless she was a car enthusiast of course). So Jeremy will only be influential about certain topics – and it is this contextual nature of influence that makes it impossible to produce one universal measure.
Many of the current systems attempting to measure influence do recognise this and therefore attach topics to influencers – although often not altogether accurately. I may talk about the weather during a very rainy week and have a high level of engagement, but this doesn’t mean I actually have influence over the weather, or more seriously, over umbrella buying.
The micro-contextual nature of influence
But it is deeper that that – influence is micro-contextual. Jeremy Clarkson may be influential over fast, sporty cars, but I wouldn’t take his advice over a family car or a people carrier. He hates particular brands for no particularly logical reason, so I wouldn’t take his advice on those either. And if I am looking for a car with a particular feature – like one with a seven year warranty – he may not have anything to say about that at all.
If a new model of vehicle comes out, then there will likely be a delay before Jeremy Clarkson reviews it, or even mentions it and if a car has been totally overhauled and improved, then his views will be out of date. So influence can be based on a time context too.
There are so many product and service areas that have a deep level of variation and complexity, and are fast changing, that identifying an influencer using a single system is simply not possible – because influence is micro-contextual.
Giving a single number for influence as some systems do, is simply nonsensical in the extreme. And using such a number to make decisions is ludicrous.
Furthermore, your product or service may be quite different to anything that went before, it may be reaching an entirely new market, or it may be crossing over different product/service categories. Existing topics may or may not be appropriate – you may need to look at identifying new topics and new areas – for which there will be no current measure in place.
The only way to truly identify influencers that are:
- appropriate to your product or service
- in your market
- at this time
is to actually do the research.
Nobody else’s system will be right for your particular marketing problem.
There is no short cut.