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What Is Influencer Marketing? Many Retail Marketers Don’t Know.

Influencer marketing is a huge buzzword in retail, but as it turns out, most retail marketers don’t understand it. According to influencer marketing expert Amanda Russell, it’s not about paying celebrities to post selfies with your products.

Strategic influencer marketing is about relationship building and leveraging those relationships to grow influence. Russell explains the true meaning of influencer marketing and how to execute it in her book, “The Influencer Code: How to Unlock the Power of Influencer Marketing.” 

“To do what I call strategic influencer marketing, think about who the audience is and how you are going to influence them,” says Amanda. “It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. Start with the audience and that will dictate the answers.”

In this podcast, Amanda offers a framework for retail marketers looking to grow influence the right way so that they can achieve their business goals.

We asked Amanda:

  • Why do retailers need influencers?
  • Can you give an example of a retailer who has leveraged influencer marketing in an effective way?
  • How should retailers vet influencers and find the right person to partner with?
  • After finding the right influencer, what’s the next step to building an effective influencer marketing campaign?
  • What’s your biggest piece of advice for a retailer who wants to launch influencer marketing next year?

Top Sound Bites

On the difference between influencer marketing and social media advertising:

Amanda: If you’re just going after a bunch of celebrities and macro content creators with these social followings, that could work as an advertising tactic. If you’re paying somebody to put a product in their post, that’s social media advertising. It’s not really understanding what those forces of influence are around your audience.

When we take the blinders off and we start defining influencer marketing as who and what has influence over our audience, it opens up a world of possibilities. Could that be a content creator? Yes, it absolutely could be, but start with the audience.

On the biggest misconceptions about influencer marketing:

Amanda: There are three big misconceptions. One is that social media advertising equals influencer marketing. Social media is a channel. If I have a bunch of telephones it doesn’t mean that I have a bunch of influencers.

The second one is that influence equals reach. The most popular Instagram profile is a picture of an egg named Eugene. If I’m looking at reach and engagement, Eugene hits it out of the park. But what is Eugene going to do for my brand? 

The third misconception is that influence is universal. There’s no one universal person that is just influential over every audience over every subject. I have a slide that shows Obama versus some guy no one recognizes. You walk into a room and say, “Which is more influential? Who is the influencer?” Everybody says Obama. Well, what if the guy on the right is an orthopedic surgeon, and you’ve got really bad back problems, and you need an opinion? Now who’s the influencer? Obama may have an opinion, but is he really going to influence your decision on what to do about your back issue? So influence is contextual.

On how to build valuable relationships with influencers:

Amanda: Start a dialogue. That’s what ambassador programs do really well. You don’t ever want to be the person that only calls when you need something. You want to build a database of relationships so that when you do need something, you can pull from that database, and it’s not a cold call.

Zico Coconut Water has done an excellent job with this. They develop relationships with all kinds of fitness and yoga instructors. Monthly, they would do calls with their ambassadors. They couldn’t pay them at the time when they were a startup, but they would give them product. They would support their events, and by becoming a part of their ecosystem, they were naturally an extension of all of these people with these micro followings. Anytime a yoga instructor said, “Oh, you know, I’m actually teaching a retreat up in X, Y, Z.” Zico would say, “Great, can we send you cases of Zico to go with you.” 

It was this feeling of support. They had lifetime loyalty. I mean, I’m still loyal to them. Just by taking the time to catch up on a monthly basis–they had a field marketing team that would do calls just to say what are you working on, how can we support you–they would build lifetime influence ambassadors.

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