Episode 289:

We talk about influencer marketing like it’s a hot new trend. That’s not quite right. Celebrity endorsements have been around forever. The difference is that celebrity is defined very differently today.

It’s a bit of the wild west and we’ve all heard the horror stories. That’s why many agencies and brands have shied away from influencer marketing. What if you could sidestep the risks while maximizing the credibility and trust that the right influencer can bring to our clients?

Jason Falls wrote his latest book Winfluence, Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, to help agencies re-think this important opportunity. He’s been an agency leader for many years, owned social media properties, and created an influential blog in the marketing space. Jason believes that if we redefine who we think of as an influencer, we can change the game.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Jason and I dig into his version of influence marketing. We discuss how we need to rethink what it means to be an influencer and why it doesn’t need the celebrity stamp that so many people associate with the word. Among other things, we look at the various ways influencers can work both online and off, where agencies miss the mark with these campaigns, and how to measure and track ROI for influence marketing.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Influence Marketing

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why we need to rethink the definition of influence marketing
  • Examples of off-line influencers
  • Where agencies get influence marketing wrong
  • The correlation between influencer strategies and business driver goals
  • Ways that influencers are bringing audiences onto platforms owned by an agency or brand
  • The four key purposes of influence marketing
  • How to measure and track ROI for influence marketing campaigns
“Someone who has access to an audience and can persuade that audience to do something - that’s a real influencer.” @JasonFalls Click To Tweet “What you’ve got to do is identify those people that check the know/like/trust box for the audience you want to reach. Those are the ones that are going to be more productive for you than the ones that just have a lot of followers.” @JasonFalls Click To Tweet “When you look at the paths to influence and you check off one or two boxes, all of sudden you get enormous lift compared to what you would with a handful of online influencers who may or may not influence your audience to take action.” @JasonFalls Click To Tweet “A million followers looks good but 10,000 actually looks better if you look at it through the right filter.” @JasonFalls Click To Tweet “Take a step back. Instead of thinking of them as ‘influencers’, think of them as content creators.” @JasonFalls Click To Tweet “It’s not about the influencer, it’s about the influence.” @JasonFalls Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Jason Falls:

Additional Resources:

Announcer:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR. Whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and, if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to the podcast. Glad to have you. As always, I just got to tell you, it means the world to me that you keep coming back. I know how busy you are, and so I am grateful that I get to walk the dog with you every week or I’m on the treadmill with you or I’m on the golf course or however you consume this content. I am very grateful that you make the time for it, and it is my fervent wish that we keep adding value every week so you keep coming back. I know that this episode is going to check that box, so I’m excited to tell you a little bit about our guest and bring you into the conversation as quickly as possible.

But, of course, first, there’s something that I want to tell you. We, every year, do a salary and benefits survey. We didn’t do one in 2020 because the world was on fire and nobody was thinking about changing salaries or moving salaries, and I wanted to wait for the chaos to calm down before we went back at it to find out what you guys were doing around salaries and benefits. So the new 2021 salary and benefits survey is out in the field, and we sell this survey for $99, but if you participate in the survey, you get the survey for free. You can answer the questions by going to surveymonkey.com/r, the letter R like rooster, /amisalary21. So, again, that is surveymonkey.com/r, as in rooster, /amisalary21.

If you will do that, when we compile the data and we get the report all done, we will send you … You have the option to participate anonymously, or you can give us your name and email address. Obviously, if we’re going to send you a copy of the data, you have to give us your name and email address. Otherwise, we don’t know how to get it to you. It probably will take you about 15 minutes to do, and it’s super valuable information, and I know a lot of you have used past salary surveys to level-set your team’s expectations, to check to make sure you’re paying what you should be paying. So I know it’s useful, not only the salary side of it but also the benefits. What are other agencies offering for benefits? How much are the paying, for example, for health insurance or the things like that? If you will, please head over to surveymonkey.com/r/amisalary21, fill out the survey, and you will get a copy of the report absolutely for free. So that would be awesome if you would do that.

All right, so one of the things that I find fascinating in our world is the power of influencers and the power of trust. Trust seems to be a theme that’s popping up a lot in the show over the last couple weeks, and I think influencer marketing is all about trust. We all saw the documentary about the influencer program gone bad, and we’ve heard the stories of influencers making mistakes and losing endorsements or product payments for endorsing products. But, honestly, influencer marketing’s been around forever. We have always been influenced by what other people think and say and know. I think with the advent of channels that allow us to track how many people are following a certain person or a brand, it all of a sudden changed influencer marketing and it became this celebrity grab for a lot of people. How many times have you heard a kid say, “Well, I just want to be a YouTuber,” right, “I want to be famous on YouTube.”

So influencer marketing all of a sudden shifted in a weird way to that celebrity status thing, as opposed to finding people who had credibility and trust with an audience and then partnering with that person to have them introduce your product or service to that audience and for them to endorse that product or service as something that they believed in and that they used. I think a lot of agencies have shied away from influencer marketing because it’s gotten very complicated, it’s gotten very contractual, and, for many agencies, it’s difficult to wrap your head around how to really leverage the influencer. I think that’s because we were thinking about the influencer as this celebrity or this big deal as opposed to just somebody who has an audience and who can reach that audience on our behalf.

I think, as agencies, we’re not using the full depth and breadth of influence marketing the way we should, and my guest today is going to talk a lot about that. I’ve known Jason Falls for many, many years. I met him probably right after 2000, somewhere in the early 2000s. We were both early on in the marketing blogger space, and we met at some events and just have gotten to know each other over the years. What I love about Jason is he’s a straight shooter. He calls it as it is. There’s no pretense with Jason, but on the other side of that smart shooter is a guy who really understands our business. Jason has worked inside agencies for many years. He has owned his own social media properties. He’s owned very influential blogs in the marketing space, and he’s written several books.

But his new book is called Winfluence, and the subtitle is Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand. What’s beautiful about this book is it is part storytelling case study, but there’s a lot of very pragmatic tools in the book to help brands and agencies on behalf of their brands really think about influence marketing in a different, more constructive, I think, more holistic way. I think it’s going to create some opportunities for you to help your clients in ways perhaps you haven’t thought about and to drive more revenue into the agency. I think Jason’s going to have a lot to talk about on all fronts of that, so let’s get to it and welcome Jason to the show. Jason, welcome to the podcast.

Jason Falls:

Thank you so much for having me, Drew. It’s great to talk to you again.

Drew McLellan:

Actually, it’s welcome back, right? You were one of my very first guests five and a half years ago when we started this crazy thing.

Jason Falls:

I think so.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. And, of course, you and I have known each other for … Gosh, I hate to say it, but it’s probably 20 years now, right? Probably about that, right?

Jason Falls:

Yeah. If it’s not 20, it’s 15 or 16. It’s a while back, for sure.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. Yep. So you have authored other books. You have a brand new book out, which I will show, Winfluence. The actual title is Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand. So what prompted this book?

Jason Falls:

I get continually frustrated when I see mainstream media articles about influencers because they’re inevitably about somebody who took a misstep or someone who photoshopped clouds into their Instagram things, and they never tend to underline the part of influence marketing that is fantastic, all of the great content creators out there that are doing a good job of connecting brands with audiences. So I was just thinking about it, and we were working on some influence marketing projects at Cornett, and it just all came together. It was like, “We need to stop looking at this in terms of influencers and start looking at it in terms of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to influence the audience.”

It might be a little kitschy or just kind of clever, but it’s like let’s just drop the R and not call it influencer marketing, call it influence marketing because that’s what we’re trying to do. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, well, just psychologically, that allows you to widen your horizons a little bit. If you’re trying to influence an audience, it might be through online social media people like on Instagram, but it might be through the president of the local PTA if that’s the target audience you’re trying to reach. So that was kind of the impetus for the whole thing.

Drew McLellan:

As I was reading the book, it was interesting to me how it aligns very well with the book that Stephen Woessner and I wrote back in 2020, Sell with Authority, because that’s really part of what you’re talking about, is how do you establish a position of authority, and we’ll get into some of the different positions as you talk about them in the book. But what you did was you took what we were talking about, which is, “Hey, agencies, you can do this for yourself and this is your biz dev program,” and what you’re saying is, “Hey, agencies, you can also do this for clients,” right? I think the two of them dovetailed nicely together in terms of just this idea of being influential as opposed to being an influencer.

Jason Falls:

Right. I think, again, that’s fundamentally key and what I hope that dropping that R triggers in people, is, again, if you’re trying to influence an audience, it’s not necessarily the influencer you’re looking at. In fact, the mainstream media has almost made us think influencer is a bad word, that it’s someone who’s superficial and frivolous and-

Drew McLellan:

Kind of a trickster.

Jason Falls:

Yeah, they might be even fraudulent in gaming their followers and things like that. So if you think about it in terms of, well, people of influence, people who are influential, because that’s ultimately what you’re trying to find, is someone who has access to an audience and can persuade that audience to do something. That’s a real influencer. That’s someone who is influential. So, again, taking it out of that social media, Instagram, YouTube context, now, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Wow, this is an industry analyst that is influential to my buyers. This is a public speaker who’s influential to my buyers but doesn’t have a big Instagram account. Or this is a local dentist who comes in contact with 400 people in my local community every week. I need to partner with that person.” Thinking about it in terms of who actually influences first helps you stop making mistakes on picking the wrong people to use for influence marketing campaigns.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think one of the points that you make in the book with some great examples is a following isn’t enough. They have to actually be liked and trusted enough that someone’s going to say, “Oh, well, if Babette uses that face cream, I’m going to use it, too.”

Jason Falls:

Right. And there are examples out there of the people who are known, right? Know, like, and trust is the continuum. So there are people who are known. They have a big following. They’re probably liked by the people who follow them or, just by definition, they wouldn’t follow them. But are they really trusted? There are some, depending upon the product and depending upon the context, like I’m here to admit, if Kim Kardashian holds up your vial of lipstick or makeup or something and says, “I like this product,” you’re going to sell a bunch of units. It’s going to work because her audience knows, likes, and trusts her.

But if it gets into bigger products, bigger ticket items, maybe it’s not in the style/beauty where she doesn’t have that kind of authority and, therefore, doesn’t have that kind of trust, now, all of a sudden, it’s a different ball game. So what you’ve got to do is identify those people that have the know, like, and trust continuum check box for the audience you want to reach, and those are the ones that are going to be more productive for you than just the ones that have a lot of followers.

Drew McLellan:

Well, one of the points you make in the book … And it was interesting because, as I was reading it, I was like, “Oh, this is the first book about influencers or influential marketing that reminded everybody it doesn’t have to happen online.”

Jason Falls:

That’s true. Yeah, I use a couple case studies in the book, too, that underline that point. I think probably my favorite one of offline influencers that I’ve participated in was we developed a three-pronged strategy to get people in Lexington, Kentucky to support the launch of a brand video for a hospital. So who wants to go watch a two-minute brand film of a hospital? Not very many people. But the hospital is very involved in the community, so a lot of people support it, et cetera. Well, we said, “Okay, who are our people of influence, right? Not our influencers, our people of influence.” Well, our people of influence were certainly the 10,000 employees of the healthcare system that the movie was for, and so we started with them. Then we found, “Okay, there’s some people who are influential online in this community who we can tap into to go and participate in what we’re asking them to do with this video online.”

But then we said, “Well, wait a minute, we’ve got to think of the offline influence, too,” so we reached out to the mayor’s office. We reached out to the local state representative, the local dentist, like I used a minute ago, the CEO of the Urban League, the music director at one of the big megachurches in town who touches a lot of people and has impact over them, and we got all of them involved, too. So our influencers were Instagrammers and YouTubers and ministers and dentists and educators and employees, and when you look at the paths to influence and check off more than one or two boxes, all of a sudden, you get enormous lift compared to what you would with a handful of online influencers who may or may not motivate your audience to take action.

Drew McLellan:

Where do you think agencies get this wrong? Where do we make mistakes when we’re doing this on behalf of our clients?

Jason Falls:

Well, I think the biggest thing that most agencies, well, not most, but a lot of agencies and a lot of brands make when they do make mistakes is they go after the eye candy. They go after the big followers. You’re seeing consistent trends now with the brands that have been doing this a while, the ones that have been trial and error learning about influence marketing over the course of the last five, six, seven years. You’re starting to see the trends now of going to micro and nano influencers, so people with 5000 followers or 10,000 followers or even a couple thousand followers. It’s because those types of folks don’t have the brand partnership saturation. They’re not trying to be famous. They have just collected this audience of people, and they have a lot higher engagement rates, so when they do talk about things, more percentage of their audience is actually going to see it.

So when you start to do the math and you realize, “Well, if I get a .02% engagement rate on someone with a million followers and I get a 10.3% engagement rate on someone with 10,000 followers, this one’s actually better,” so really analyzing the influence partners that you’re working with and understanding who has real influence, who has real impact, and what the math is, right? Do that engagement rate math and say, “Well, this million looks good, but 10,000 looks better if you actually look at it through the right filter.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think a lot of agencies are using the online portals, findaninfluencer.com, so they end up with somebody that is basically being an influencer for a living as opposed to somebody who just has influence.

Jason Falls:

Yeah, and I think that’s probably an extension of the mistakes that I see agencies and brands make, is you got to remember the tool is only as good as the person using it. So when you log into these software platforms and you type in your keywords and it spits out a list of influencers, that’s not the end of your job. That’s the start of your job. Now, you have to go look at every single one of their content. You have to put your human brain on and analyze, “Okay, is this right,” because the software says this might be right. It doesn’t say this is actually who’s going to work. You got to still put some elbow grease in there and figure out which ones actually work.

A lot of the software tools now have these little features where it’ll tell you what percentage of this influencer’s audience is probably suspect, like fake bot followers and things like that. Well, that’s not chapter and verse. That’s just an indicator. So you might log in and see someone who says, “Hey, we think that this person’s audience is 80% real.” Well, you can write off that influencer because of the 20%, but when you actually start to look at it, you realize that bots follow a lot of people, not just people who pay for them, and so 80%’s actually pretty good. But, again, that score is just an indicator. You still have to analyze that content.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think, to your point, you’ve got to think about this in terms of it’s a longer play, so this is one layer in a layered campaign, and so how do these influencers play with the rest of the things that you have going on?

Jason Falls:

That’s right. You brought up a good point there because I think a lot of people, especially those of you on the agency side who haven’t maybe done a lot of influence marketing programs … I think the initial starting point is, “Well, we’re going to pay a certain number of influencers a certain amount of money to post about our client’s product,” and it’s a transactional one-to-one kind of thing and then you’re done. That’s perfectly fine to do it that way, but, again, it’s very transactional. There’s not a whole lot of genuineness there. There’s not a whole lot of the type of emotional triggers that really drive their audience to do something.

What I try to advocate for with our clients at Cornett and the projects I’ve done before and anyone else in the industry is say, “You got to think about influence partners as long-term partners because you want that repetition. You want them constantly telling and reminding their audience about this product or service or this brand.” That takes a little bit longer time, it takes a little bit more creativity on what type of content that they’re going to create either on your behalf on their channels or for your channels. You can use them as freelancers and content creators as well. So think of them in terms of a much more long-term investment in growing a relationship with them and their audience. Now, all of a sudden, you start to see the dividends come back a lot better.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think the long-term aspect of it is often forgotten. I think what happens when the relationship is long-term is just gets sort of woven in, and so now, all of a sudden, they’re talking about your product or service naturally because it is part of their daily routine in some way or it’s, “Look, I’m referring people to this all the time because I actually use it or I actually trust it.” It becomes more than a paid endorsement. It actually becomes a part of their brand as well.

Jason Falls:

Absolutely. There’s a great example, actually, a guy, incidentally, here in Louisville, Kentucky named Chris Sussman, who is the BBQ Buddha on the Internet. So, obviously, he grills out and barbecues, does ribs and things like that. He started out that his daughter showed him Instagram in 2013, and he started playing around with it and grilling out and sharing rubs and recipes and whatnot, and he built a nice following. He’s got a little over 100,000 followers on Instagram, plus YouTube and a couple other channels. He started out using a Big Green Egg grill because that’s what he had at home and that’s what he liked. After six months or something, Big Green Egg reached out to him and said, “Hey, we’d like to partner with you. You’re already using our product, so let’s figure out what that looks like.”

Well, fast forward a couple years, and he is a Big Green Egg pro user and they take him to trade shows. Pre-COVID, they took him to trade shows to do demos and stuff for people. That’s a perfect influencer relationship because he’s got great content creation skills and talent, he’s got a concentrated audience of people that are absolutely relevant to the Big Green Egg audience, and he’s got a partnership with a brand over a long period of time that’s paying a lot of dividends for the brand as that relationship blossoms.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, and it started because he actually already knew and liked the product.

Jason Falls:

Yep. Those are the best examples. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can certainly introduce an influential person to your product. But when there is a genuine like of the product, they use the product, they rely on the product, that’s when you know you’ve got something good.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I know in the book you talked about the idea of … There’s a correlation between influencer marketing strategies and the business drivers and goals. Talk to us about that.

Jason Falls:

Sure. There’s actually a couple different contexts, which I kind of explained this in the book, but one of them, when you said the phrase business drivers … My first book was called No Bullshit Social Media, and Eric Deckers and I wrote that book together several years ago. We really wanted to help people understand how to approach social media strategically, and we mapped out what are the business drivers of social media marketing. So I actually used that list as a model to say, “Okay, what are the business drivers of influence marketing? What can you use influence marketing for?” Because you can’t decide what you want to do with it until you know what it can do, and so I went through the list from the social media list. In the book, I actually say, “Well, can it do this? Well, yes, it can do that. Can it do this? Well, probably not, so let’s take that one off the list.” I kind of work through that exercise in the book.

But influential people can drive brand awareness, and that’s typically the first place that most people start. They look for someone with a big audience that can help just get the word out about their products. So we know that it works for brand awareness. It can help you protect your reputation. So if you have a PR crisis or if you want to prevent a PR crisis and you are plugged into influential voices in the marketplace that are independent third-party people that can impact your audience, now, all of a sudden, you have a channel to communicate with to help protect your reputation, so that’s good. They’re great at helping you build your audience, build community, grow your followers, grow ambassadors, people who are really passionate about your brand. It’s an extension of that brand awareness, but having that community of advocates that you’re building through those channels is creating a built-in marketing arm of your company without having to go out and pay for it the way you would with traditional advertising.

Supplementing R&D is another business driver, and this one is the one that I think so many brands miss out on. If you get an influential person involved with your company early in the process of product development or reassessing feature development or just bringing them in as a focus group and asking them how they use the product, now, all of a sudden, you’re letting them behind the curtain a little bit and they feel much more invested in your brand, which means they’re going to be much more motivated to endorse you and talk about you, even when they’re not being paid to do so and you’re getting great insights from someone who not only uses the product but has an impact on how other people use the product. So bringing them in in that R&D function and mining them for insights, I think, is fantastic. Then the last one is the one everybody always wants to talk about, the business driver of driving sales and leads. You can actually use them to say, “Go buy this product. Go try this product. Go download this thing.” Influencers are great at doing that.

Drew McLellan:

So on the R&D, you could also tap into their audience, right? You could say to them, “Hey, look, we want to beta test some new feature or something else. A., we want you to try it, but we want to let your audience … No one else is going to get to do this, but your audience can try it or sample it or whatever.” Right?

Jason Falls:

Absolutely. For those of you out there that are representing especially startups and apps and whatnot, what better way than to find a relevant influencer that impacts that audience and say, “Hey, we want to give your audience exclusive access to this test so that we can get feedback from them.” Then not only does the influencer feel like they’re a part of this product launch, but their audience does, too. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got an army of ambassadors built in and all you had to do was work out a partnership agreement with one person.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You had something earlier about the idea of brands or agencies on behalf of brands leveraging the influencer to create content or things like that for their own platforms. I think we often think about influencers based on, oh, they’re a YouTuber or they’re an Instagram whatever, but, obviously, all of that, a., is not on a channel we own and, b., it’s not even on a channel they own. So talk about some of the ways brands and agencies are getting influencers to bring that influence and content onto websites or platforms that the brand or the agency actually owns.

Jason Falls:

Sure. I’ll give you a couple of different examples, but, first of all, let’s take a step back and think about … Instead of thinking about them as influencers, think about them as content creators. So who do you want creating TikTok videos for your clients? Do you want someone on your creative team who’s played around with TikTok, or do you want someone who has a bazillion followers on TikTok? I think you want the person who has the bazillion followers on TikTok. Just the way that you can collaborate with them to have them post something on their channel to their audience and you lease their audience for a little bit, they can also create in really engaging content that they know how to create that you can put on your channels, right?

So it goes both ways, and the influencers, oftentimes, they want to do that because it exposes them to your audience, it gives them the credibility of helping you grow on a platform or have really good quality content on that platform. So let’s think of them as content creators more so than influencers. When you think about it that way and you’re thinking, “Well, it’s kind of like hiring a freelancer on the creative team. Well, I can have them do my YouTube videos. I can have them do Instagram posts or Instagram Stories, which I can’t figure out because I’ve got fat thumbs and I don’t like creating stuff on a phone.” Right? So there’s lots of different ways you can use them.

The way that I think it really executes itself for agencies that I think you’ll all go, “Ooh, that’s really cool,” there are a couple of platforms and tools and specific agencies out there that this do this one thing, and there’s a couple of examples in the book, where you reach out to micro and nano influencers, the ones who will exchange a post for a product. You don’t necessarily have to pay them. There are some companies out there. There’s one in Erie, Pennsylvania called ApexDrop that I mention in the book, but there’s several that do this. They will go out and identify 100 people, 150 people, it’s all scalable, who they will send $100 worth of retail product, at least, to get them enticed to all these influencers. In return, what that influencer’s to do is to create a social media post, so it could be a tweet, it could be an Instagram post, a Facebook post, a YouTube video, whatever, create that using and reviewing the product.

Now, you can’t solicit reviews on sites like Google or Yelp or Tripadvisor. They have terms of service against it. But you can use reviews on your own site. I was actually just having this conversation with our executive creative director today. With this new client we’re working on a strategy for, I’m like, “I want to get micro influencers to do Instagram posts of them using and reviewing the product, and we’re going to pull those posts, and we’re going to put them on our website so that we not only have a review for people to read, but we have a picture of a real person just like them using the product that they can see, and we didn’t have to pay a photographer for it.” There are tools out there that allow you to do that really magically, or you can do it manually, but it absolutely brings a lot of review credibility to your website and shows off your product in a real way.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and that gets back to the Edelman Trust Barometer report every year that tells us that people love reviews from people who look just like them. So it doesn’t have to be an influencer where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s fill-in-the-blank famous person. But that’s somebody who does what I do, or that’s somebody who looks and sounds and feels a whole lot like me, and they love that shampoo or bourbon or whatever it is.” Right?

Jason Falls:

Yeah, and-

Drew McLellan:

Not mixing the two, of course.

Jason Falls:

Exactly. That would be dangerous. Although a shampoo that smells like bourbon might be kind of cool, but anyway.

Drew McLellan:

Wouldn’t be all bad, right.

Jason Falls:

Yeah, the example that I was talking about with my executive creative director earlier today, this particular brand and this particular product has a little bit of a trust issue with the target audience. It’s a very trustworthy product, but the target audience doesn’t know that yet. One of the challenges is convincing them of that. So I said the way that we’re going to use influencers is we’re going to get people who look just like this target audience to use the product and share their pictures of them using the product and we’re going to use that on the site to say, “Look, people just like you or who look just like you use this. You can trust it.” So it’s just another way to communicate that message.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Do you think there’s a threshold of a level of influencer or someone who’s influential who gets to a point where they don’t want to create content to be on your channel, or do you think you can do that with everybody all up and down the food chain?

Jason Falls:

Well, I think when you get to the celebrity status, when you get to someone who has several million followers, probably more than one, one and a half million, around in there, when they’re managed by a talent agent, when they have bigger entertainment deals with taking their content in different places, at that point, you get to where you’re going to have to put them in the category of a celebrity and use them the way you would use a celebrity. Because once they get to a certain number of followers or a certain expansion of their content and they become more than just a single channel or two or three channel content creator on social media, when they’re being interviewed by traditional media, when they’ve got their own branded app channel on smart TVs and things like that, now you’re getting into a layer of celebrity where talent management is really going to come into play.

And there are influencers out there with less than 100,000 people who have talent management representation, depending on what kind of content they do. But up until the point where they are working with a talent manager, you’re probably going to have a pretty good time. Once they get to that talent management or half a million or up followers, it’s going to be a little bit more challenging, and then beyond about one and a half, two, yeah, you’re probably going to have to use them as more of a celebrity endorser as opposed to someone who will do a lot of flexibility with what they do with you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I want to take a quick break, but then when we come back, in the book, you talk about the four purposes. Let’s come back from a break, and we’ll talk a little bit about that.

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All right. We are back with Jason Falls and we are talking about influence, not influencers, but how to create influence for our clients and, honestly, in some cases, for some of you, this may be a strategy that makes sense for you for your agency as well. So in the book you talk about the four key purposes. Can you walk us through what those are and how working with influencers dovetails with that?

Jason Falls:

Sure. So the four purposes, this is the last, I guess, quarter of the book, the last four chapters, really, that dig in deep. I really wanted to use the four purposes as a way to translate influence marketing to the agency owner or the brand manager or even the CEO of a company so that they could see that there are parallels in why you use this. So we talked about the business drivers, which gets a little bit more into strategic planning, but this is kind of a pullback high level.

The first purpose of influence marketing that you would use influence marketing is to persuade. You’re trying to persuade an audience to try, buy, think, or behave differently, right? That’s the core of everything we do in an agency. I’m just putting it through that influence marketing filter. Well, that has a parallel to advertising, right? So advertising is there to persuade people to try, buy, think, or behave differently. If you think about what’s the purpose I’m using influence marketing, well, I’m using it to advertise. Well, that can help you make smarter decisions along the way with who you choose, what channels you choose to explore with influencers, how you use them, et cetera, the content they create for you.

The second one is association, right? You can use influencers to associate yourself, whereas you’re not necessarily trying to push a product, but you’re trying to really change the way people think about certain things or align yourself with a certain lifestyle or a certain sort of look and feel. One of the examples I use in the book is there’s a facilities management company in the United Kingdom called Mitie, and they had a reputation problem. People thought they were a mop and bucket company, that they just sold supplies. But they’re actually kind of a bleeding edge innovator with all sorts of technology and software and stuff like that. So they wrote a report about technology in facilities management, and they sourced 500 influencers. All they did was reached out and shared some of the data with them and said, “Can you give us a quote for the report?” So what are these people going to do when they get the finished report with their quote in it?

Drew McLellan:

Of course, right.

Jason Falls:

Well, they’re going to share it, for crying out loud, right? Over the course of however long, I think it was 18 months or something like that, Mitie tracked from the beginning … They did a little survey of what do people think of us, how do they think of us, and it was mop and bucket. Whatever the specific number that they were tracking in the surveys that they did or how they tracked results, they moved the needle by 200% closer to we’re an innovative facilities management company. It was really just leveraging influencers and sharing with them, “Hey, this is what we’re good at.” It was associating with these influencers and a different way of thinking about the company. So association is the second one, and that really parallels to public relations, right?

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, right.

Jason Falls:

PR does a lot of associating of your brands and products with certain verticals and writers and themes and topics and so on and so forth. The third one is validate, and validation, it’s closely akin to customer service, but I use it in the online context of validation parallels to ratings and reviews. If you know anything about SEO, you know that ratings and reviews on your website or other websites are very important. Like the examples of the micro influencers reviewing the product on your website, a purpose that you can use influence marketing for is to validate that your product is good at what it does and driving those ratings and reviews.

Then the last one’s probably my favorite one, chapter 14. I even remember the chapter number clear as a bell. That is to enthuse, so driving enthusiasm around your brand. This really parallels to what we know about word of mouth marketing, so it’s about getting people excited about what you’re doing to the point to where they turn and tell someone else. In those four chapters in the book, I really go into detail with case studies of brands that have persuaded, associated, validated, or driven enthusiasm leveraging influencers to do that, and I think it’ll help people who don’t quite feel like they understand the world of influencers really see on a high level, okay, here’s how we can … These are the purposes. Here’s how we can use influence marketing.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it also, I think, gives agencies a framework to think about all the different ways they can use influence marketing. It doesn’t have to be just the one and done, but now I can work with an influencer and I can ask myself, “How am I using this influencer and their audience in all of those areas, like in advertising, like in PR, like in ratings and reviews, and like in word of mouth?”

Jason Falls:

Yep. I think it’s pretty useful, and I think people will find those four chapters particularly helpful for you.

Drew McLellan:

So, of course, it all boils down today in proving that it works. One of the reasons why I suppose brands and agencies are drawn to the celebrity level influencer is because you can look at their followers or their traffic and go, “Okay, well, this is a big number. This feels significant.” But how do we really measure? Agencies are being really held to a completely different standard of proving ROI than we used to be back in the good old days. So how do agencies set up influencer marketing programs in a way that allows them to measure and track ROI?

Jason Falls:

I want to answer that in two ways, and one is more specific to influencers. I’ll get to that one in a minute. But, first, I want to take a step back and unpack it a little bit because I have always been confused as to why anyone ever says you can’t measure this or measurement is hard. I’ve never understood that, especially in the digital world, because no matter what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter if it’s influencers, if it’s SEO, if it’s billboards, it doesn’t matter what it is, if you plan to measure from the get-go and you lay the right data traps along the way and benchmarks of doing a snapshot of where you are so you can optimize along the way, measurement is not impossible and it’s not hard. When you decide to go, when you’re working on the strategy, one of the first things you do after you understand the brand and the product and the target audience and you say, “Okay, what is our goal, we’re going to try to get people to think this way or buy this or whatever,” when you decide that goal, that is your [THEPI 00:40:57], not KPI, THEPI. That goal is what you’re trying to achieve.

So what you have to do is you have to plan to measure and map out little traps along the way that are going to help you with the KPIs, the other things that tell you you’re doing that well, that give you a good indication. Trap those pieces of data along the way so that you can monitor and optimize and keep going in the right direction. But, also, look back at that goal and say, “Hey, if our goal is to drive revenue, then everything we do we have to set data traps to track revenue,” right? The way that that translates itself into influencer marketing … And I would also touch real quickly on the question of ROI is always an expectation leveling. If your goal is to create more awareness, you can’t report ROI because your measure is not financial. It’s not money, right? You’re going to report the difference in awareness at the beginning versus at the benchmark or at the end or whatever, and the percent change is your return. It’s not return on investment necessarily, but it’s return. So let’s level set there.

But the way this all translates itself into influencers, let’s say I’ve got 10 influential partners that are going to help spread the word about my product or service. It takes literally a half an hour to go down and use a UTM parameter link generator and say, “Okay, influencer one, here’s your unique code. Influencer two, here’s your unique code,” et cetera. When you partner with that influencer, you contractually require them everything you do, you’re going to use this unique code because it tracks you specifically. You can even break it down and say, “Here’s your code for Twitter, here’s your code for Facebook, here’s your code for Pinterest, here’s your code for whatever,” so that when you look at your analytics software on your website, you can actually say, “Okay, I know exactly how much I got from my influencers. I know exactly how much I got from Drew McLellan, and I know exactly how much I got from Drew McLellan’s YouTube channel because Drew put all of those links in place.”

Now, obviously, if you’re not worried about website traffic or you don’t have a conversion point on your website, it makes it more challenging. But you can still use unique links, you can still use unique codes, you can still lay those data traps along the way to capture what you need to capture to be able to measure and report. If you don’t plan to measure on the front end and set those data traps, you’re going to be in the same position you’re in right now of sitting there at the end trying to measure it and going, “Oh, measurement’s hard. I can’t do this.” Well, no, you can’t do it because you didn’t plan to measure. In the book, I liken it to … And I’ve [inaudible 00:43:44] in talks before. If you don’t plan to measure from the get-go, it’s like getting to the end of the driveway with your family and saying, “Okay, where are we going on vacation,” right? You haven’t booked a hotel. You don’t have tickets. You haven’t taken care of the pets. You have no plans. You’ve got to plan to measure if you really want to measure.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think, again, as we talked about early on in the conversation, especially with so much of this happening online, there are infinite ways to measure. What if it’s happening offline?

Jason Falls:

Makes it more challenging. Doesn’t it make it impossible, just makes it more challenging. So if you’re driving an offline program … And there’s actually one that I talk about in the book that is a great word of mouth marketing case study for chocolate milk. It was the American Dairy Association or something like that, and they concentrated on the state of Ohio. The influence plan there was we’re trying to get teenagers and high school athletes to extend the life of drinking chocolate milk because and the trigger that they used was they had research that showed if you drink chocolate milk after a workout, it actually replenishes certain things in your body. I don’t know what the science is, but it’s a good thing for you to do, to drink chocolate milk after a workout, especially in a younger audience.

So what they did is they actually … In the state of Ohio, their influencers were high school football coaches. They communicated all this great stuff to them so that they would turn and tell their teams, “Hey, we’re going to drink chocolate milk after workouts.” So there was a practical, “We’re going to use the product,” but it was also communicating a message about the product to those. It was a 400 and some odd percent lift in sales or something over a certain period of time. It was crazy, a great word of mouth marketing case study. But the way that they tracked that is they correlated what they were doing with this program in an isolated area, the state of Ohio. They tracked sales within that state over a certain period of time. Now, I would assume, I don’t know this for sure, but I would assume they didn’t do anything significantly different in how they marketed chocolate milk in that area so that they could equate that program to the needle moving.

You have to think through, okay, what else are we doing, and how does that have an impact on the outcome? Is our influence marketing offline going to contribute to that, and, if so, how are we going to quantify what it contributes? Again, those are hard questions to answer sometimes, but if you don’t ask them first, you’re never going to answer them. So you’ve got to ask those up front.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Measure twice, cut once, right?

Jason Falls:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Okay. If an agency owner reads the book and puts it down, what’s the one thing you hope they walk away from reading the book and from the podcast? What do you want to make sure they know, if you can narrow it down to one thing that they have to know when they’re done?

Jason Falls:

It’s not about the influencer. It’s about the influence. It’s about mapping the path of influence to the audience you’re trying to reach. That might mean an Instagrammer. It might mean someone else. If you pull back and think in terms of the strategic goal, the function, you’re trying to influence, you’re not trying to influencer, then you can put it in a better strategic context and you can plan for it better and you’ll be more successful doing it that way.

Drew McLellan:

As I was reading the book and I was thinking about it, it also, I think, broadens the opportunities, right? It greatly increases the number of people who could be of influence. It also probably helps you manage the budget a little bit because a lot of these people, if they’re at the nano or micro level, they don’t have an agent telling them what they should charge you. They are going to be much easier to negotiate with, they’re going to be much more flexible in how they talk about your product or service, and they’re probably going to be more enthusiastic about it because they’re not being asked every day like a celebrity influencer is.

Jason Falls:

Exactly. I’ve had a couple of instances where I’ve reached out to, like when we reached out to the dentist to get them involved in that healthcare film example. Explain to them, “You have influence over the community because you touch so many people, and you going and liking and sharing and commenting on this video is going to have an impact on the people who are your customers and whatnot. So we’d like to involve you.” She was tickled, absolutely tickled, and was more than happy to do it and never once asked for payment or anything, just, “I would be happy to.” It helps that it was a big healthcare provider in the community that invests in the community a lot, but, at the same time, yeah, you can absolutely widen your possibilities of who and what channels you can use to influence your audience.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah, this has been fascinating. Thanks, Jason, for coming back on the show and sharing all of this with us. The book is fantastic. I know you’re hearing this all the time. But it’s a hearty book, it’s not a small book, it’s 257 pages. But it’s a quick read, and, as an agency person, it starts to get a lot of ideas cooking, so I think you’ve done yourself proud, obviously, by doing it, but I think you’ve done a great service to your agency brethren in helping them think about this in a different way because, in some ways, influencer marketing’s been around forever but just not in this flashy, showy way that we’ve had in the last decade.

Jason Falls:

That’s true. Officially, probably dates back to the Josiah Wedgwood in the 1700s and the Queen’s pottery. But it probably dates back before that as well, and so this is not a new concept. But we have a new media landscape, and so there’s so much noise out there. That signal, though, that you see rising from the noise is not just traditional media. It’s not just entertainers. It’s not just celebrities. It’s influencers. So it’s worth your time to pay attention to them. I appreciate the kind words. I certainly hope that the book provides all the agency folks with good inspiration for their clients.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think it will. Thank you so much for being with us again, and I’m sure that we will talk soon.

Jason Falls:

Absolutely. Thanks, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. First of all, I will tell you, go and grab Jason’s book. It’s a great read. It is packed with data points you can use with clients. It’s packed with great cases studies that you can use as stories to help your clients understand what you’re doing. It would also be a great read for your account service team, anybody on the strategies side, because what it will do for all of those audiences is it gets you thinking about the possibilities. I think it broadens the possibilities that we as agency owners are thinking about when we think about influencer marketing.

So I highly recommend the book, and I believe you can put it into action in a heartbeat inside your shop and really change and expand the way you were doing influencer marketing with your clients. If you haven’t been doing it at all, maybe because it seems like it’s a hot mess to manage celebrity influencers and all of that, I think it’s going to change your perspective, and I believe you’re going to see opportunities for your clients as you’re reading the book. I think you’re going to get ideas to sell and take to your clients that will be very effective for them while you’re reading the book. So I highly recommend it. Go grab it at your nearest bookstore and give it a quick read.

I’ll be back next week with another guest to get you thinking a little differently. Also, want to give a shout-out to our friends at White Label IQ. As you know, they are the presenting sponsor for the podcast, so they, every week, make it possible for me to come and hang out with you and bring you folks like Jason. Check out their site, whitelabeliq.com/ami, because, as you know, they’ve got a special discount for you there. All right. I’ll be back next week. In the meantime, you can track me down at Agency Management Institute. Thanks so much for listening. I know how crazy busy you are, so I appreciate your time very much. I’ll talk to you next week.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.