Episode 287: Embrace the power of Influencer Marketing with Jason Falls
Influencer Marketing is not new. In this episode — we discuss rethinking what it means to be an influencer and tracking Influencer Marketing ROI.
Influencer Marketing is 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 influencer 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 influencer 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.
What You Will Learn About Influencer Marketing In This Episode:
- Why we need to rethink the definition of Influencer Marketing
- Examples of off-line influencers
- Where agencies get influencer 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 influencer marketing
- How to measure and track ROI for influencer marketing campaigns
Ways to contact Jason Falls:
- Book: https://jasonfalls.com/get-winfluence/
- Website: https://jasonfalls.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonfalls/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheJasonFalls/
- Twitter: @JasonFalls
- My Future Self Mini-Course
- Sell with Authority (buy Drew’s book)
- Join us for the Build a Better Agency Summit
- Facebook Group for the Build a Better Agency Podcast
- 2021 Salary and Benefits Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/AMIsalary21
Influencer Marketing: Full Transcript
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.
Influencer Marketing: Jason Falls Introduction
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 influencer 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.
Thank you so much for having me, Drew. It’s great to talk to you again.
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.
I think so.
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?
Yeah. If it’s not 20, it’s 15 or 16. It’s a while back, for sure.
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?
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 influencer 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 influencer 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 influencer 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.
Influencer Marketing: How it Aligns with Authority
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.
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-
Kind of a trickster.
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 influencer marketing campaigns.
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.”
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.
Influencer Marketing: Doesn’t Have to Happen Online
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 influenter marketing that reminded everybody it doesn’t have to happen online.”
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.
Influencer Marketing: Where Agencies Get it Wrong
Where do you think agencies get this wrong? Where do we make mistakes when we’re doing this on behalf of our clients?
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 influencer 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 influencer 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.”
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.
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.
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?
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 influencer 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 influencer marketing 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.
Influencer Marketing: How it Becomes Part of Your Brand
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.
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 marketing 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.
Yeah, and it started because he actually already knew and liked the product.
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.
Influencer Marketing: Correlation with Business Goals
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.
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 influencer marketing? What can you use influencer 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.
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?
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.
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.
Sure. I’ll give you a couple of different examples, but, first