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Some people want you to think influencer marketing is simple: Use their platform to procure an influencer, promote your product, pocket a tremendous return. It all makes sense; people are banner blind and they have an ad-blocker on, so why not try something new?

On the surface, that makes sense. But in the rush to go after the hottest influencers, brands have forgotten the most important thing: Influencer marketing is still marketing that has to follow traditional marketing rules. Traditional marketing needs to start with audience segmentation and targeting, identifying proper channels, and messaging that resonates. Finally, it needs to have a system in place that allows for measurement of which marketing channels and which messages are the most effective. The same applies to influencer marketing; if you abandon these fundamentals, you may be disappointed with the results. Would you buy media in a magazine without knowing who the readers are or tracking results?

I have spent the last seven years researching influencer marketing and have activated thousands of influencers. As the use of influencers is becoming widespread, it’s astonishing to me that brands are still settling for simple vanity metrics — the number of followers or likes, for example — without researching their audience demographics, interests and geographic location.

Let’s take someone like Kendall Jenner, an obvious social media powerhouse and one of the most influential people on social media today. On the surface, she’s a match made in heaven for any cosmetics or fashion brand: She’s a 21-year-old, all-American runway model and a member of the Kardashian family. When you look at her follower numbers, you can’t help but feel that a simple mention of your brand will make every teenage girl in America want it.

Remove the rose-tinted filter (so to speak), and Jenner’s audience analytics raise some red flags. Of her combined 185 million followers across four social media platforms (ignoring the fact that many of them are the same person following her on multiple platforms), only an estimated 37% reside in the U.S. and their core interests include pop music and entertainment. Beauty ranks lower on the list, and you can be sure that it doesn’t apply to her 28% male followers. What does that leave us with? If we’re selling in the U.S. and hoping to reach a female audience that’s interested in beauty products, we’ve lost at least 50 to 75% of that initial follower number, if not more.


When you look at someone like blogger Katy DeGroot, you get a totally different result. Sure, she doesn’t have anywhere near the following that Kendall Jenner has, but those who do follow her are in the U.S., are almost entirely female, and most importantly, they really care about beauty and fashion. Moreover, DeGroot posts beauty related content regularly, so your content will feel right at home. And you can be sure it costs a lot less to work with Degroot than it costs to work with Jenner (if you can even get her).

“Digital influencers and ambassadors are the new sales associates, and their virtual audiences are challenging brands and marketers to connect with them in new ways,” Jamie Cygielman, chief marketing officer and EVP of Iconix Brand Group, told me.

Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the biggest population group, and marketers need to evolve their strategies to reach consumers in places that matter to them. Iconix (which has worked with us) has a history of working with top-tier celebrity influencers in the pop culture space, but with the explosion of digital platforms in recent years, the focus has shifted towards influencers of all levels — celebrity, macro and micro. The latter is emerging as the influencer du jour for most marketers, and for good reason.

The decision to approach micro-influencers makes a lot of sense when your budget is limited, or when you’re still evaluating whether influencer marketing is the approach for you. My research has shown that smaller influencers come at a significantly lower price tag and have meaningfully higher engagement rates than their larger twins. It sometimes makes sense to approach the bigger names if you are counting on a halo effect, specifically hoping the content gets a lot of free PR because of the influencer’s identity. However, that is never a guarantee since many of the big influencers stretch themselves quite thin.

Brands are discovering that by partnering with micro-influencers (often described as influencers with less than 100,000 followers), they can target specific audiences, generate optimal ROI and keep costs down. Considered experts in their field, these influencers can generate an authentic connection and an element of trust with their following, resulting in higher engagement and amplification rates. In 2016, activations involving micro-influencers rose from 60% to over 92%. Micro-influencers started the year with an approximate 6% share of marketing spend, and closed 2016 with over 20%, according to research conducted by my influencer marketing firm. The same research showed that in January 2017, these influencers made up over 90% of the influencer population for that month — and these activations are set to soar as the year progresses.

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A recent success story involving micro-influencers was the Joe Boxer 2016 holiday campaign actuated by Iconix. Utilizing audience demographic information through our platform, a diverse group of on-brand millennial micro-influencers was procured to infuse various Joe Boxer categories into their day-to-day, sharing their looks across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Each influencer selected his or her own product and told 17 unique visual brand stories, resulting in millions of impressions, a high level of traffic and new customers to retail partners. Influencers were specifically selected because their audience analytics demonstrated a strong fit for their audience.

Solely referring to influencers’ vanity metrics can have a negative impact on marketing campaigns. As social media platforms become saturated, having access to audience insights is paramount to influencer marketing success.

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