The value of (online) influencers: An attempt to define an undefined digital species

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They blog from the first row at catwalks. They share cool design gadgets on Instagram. They strike a pose with a selfie in front of 5-star hotels on Pinterest. And, they record „Let’s plays“ for Youtube while testing the latest computer games. The one thing they have in common? They are online influencers. A digital species that challenges and changes the marketing world of models, testimonials and the publishing industry.

According to an annual Nielsen study, it is a common knowledge that people trust most in recommendations of people they know. In the past, marketers put models or celebrities in this „recommendation seat“. It was meant to address two benefits: Brands intended to grasp some of the consumers’ attention by trying to hitch-hike on the wave of VIP awareness and public relevance. And, they used the reach of magazines and the trust those public voices had for the people.

Nielsen Study Trust 2015

It seems to me that the tables are turning now, and marketers have to rethink their brand extension strategy.

1. Models – the personalization dilemma
When using models, brands couldn’t tell exactly which audience they were addressing. It was a marketers’ and model agent’s best guess which model fits which brand. However, a model does not have a transparent target-group. They are just faces without any open address books or lead list.

Social influencers are their own agents. Their content markets their personality, their personality defines their content, their reach expresses their quality. They have got fans, followers, and friends that everybody (not only when following them) can see. A clear defined and dynamic target-group that is commited to them and engages with them on a regular basis. What they say gets read. What they state is trusted. In fact, their consumer opinion becomes one of the most trusted sources that people believe in – more than traditional ads of any kind.

Just imagine the influence on purchase intent, when an influencer is posting online to a large audience of friends and fans. Social influencers are perceived of their active and growing audiences as „more real“ than models, somehow even as „friends“.

But also the traditional model business is affected by the upcoming influencer trend: Previously interchangeable and relatively anonymous faces are now increasingly becoming personal brands thanks to their personalized Instagram and Snapchat channels and/or (mostly fashion- and beauty related) blogposts. Consequently, numerous models with significant reach are also acting as influencers to their audiences.

2. Testimonials – the authenticity dilemma
Testimonials need to match brand authenticity and follow the brand message in order to become valuable for marketers. Serious investment in dollars does not allow a testimonial’s mistake. Contracts are long-term and include testimonial involvement not only in all brand campaigns but also in personal PR and marketing engagement during the contracting period.

Money counts for testimonials – as much as monetary rewards do for online influencers. This is definitely true for the fashion and beauty industry, states the „Fashion & Beauty Monitor“ report in partnership with Econsultancy named „The Rise of Influencers„. However, three out of five surveyed influencers believe that the „relevance of brand in relation to own area of expertise „is essential when collaborating with marketers. Influencers are very well aware of their personality as brand that has to be secured and consequently, they do not sell everything just because they are asked to. Of course, this in return means a certain loss of control for marketers when working with powerful influencers. Just to state an example, years ago, I offered MINI a cool opportunity to collaborate with me. I fear the idea never reached the BMW four-cylinder tower – perhaps for fear of losing brand control?

Think about it: How authentic can testimonials be that are selected by brands as of their popularity in sports, fashion and lifestyle? Testimonials sell their media value. On the contrary, engagement with influencers can only work when brands do not act too commercial with them and meet their personal authenticity. Social influencers are personal brands; authentic brands that companies can collaborate with.

3. Publishers – the relevance dilemma
When content from influencers gets more attention (and is trusted more) than content from advertising, relevance becomes a critical tipping point. For years, marketers and PR experts were convinced that „serious“ traditional publishers are more relevant to readers than bloggers or any other form of social media active people. Thus, they invested serious dollars in brand building activities with the publishing industry. Today, these very media houses are approaching influencers to increase their declining media value.

A recent study by Collective Bias shows that content from influencers is viewed for more than 2 minutes (which is 7 times longer than the digital display ad average with a view time of just 19.2 seconds). Plus the relevance of someone’s personal opinion -whether rating, recommendation or review- has become of high value for consumers. Now if content from an influencer is relevant and perceived as being „authentic“ , publishing is facing serious competition in the future.

However, relevance needs to meet relevance both ways. Just putting brand messages into the mouth of online influencers won’t accelerate a brand’s value. In order to become relevant to an influencer and his or her audience, a brand needs to be „love-brand“ in a social influencer’s mind. If not, the influencer will be perceived (and probably also act) like a traditional publishing product without a media-kit.

Solving the dilemma – budget and advertising strategy
The world of testimonials, models and publishing is changing with the rise of influencers.
More and more companies and brands start working with social influencers. I personally doubt that they will completely replace models, testimonials and publishing houses, but the future will tell. However, the world of recommendations will be redefined by a new species.

Nielsen Study Recommendation 2015

According to a recent #BrandofMe study, brands invested 1 Bio. USD in 2015 in influencer programs on Instagram only. Influencers earn between 500 and 10.000 USD per Instagram photo or Youtube video – obviously depending on their media reach. Which means that some influencers get paid as much as some publishers for their ad space. A lot of budget that moves away from traditional brand building worlds.

The question is what values more to brands in terms of business impact: tradition or progression. But that question can only be answered when brands understand the power that online influencers can have on and in the sharing economy.

Study: Content marketing investment on the rise

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A recent study 2015 Content Marketing Survey by content marketing agency Castleford states that the amount of marketers committed to content marketing is increasing. According to their results 65% (compared to 48% one year ago) of marketers want to boost their content marketing next financial year. Their plans is to invest more in time and resources.

Even more, 97% of participants of the survey said they will increase or retain their current level of investment. And the respondents also face the support of their C-level executives. Of the responding marketers 76% replied their C-level executives viewed content marketing „quite positively“ or „very positively“.

Obviously, there are also some challenges involved in content marketing creation wit time (45%) and budget (29%) being the biggest problem. Just, 3% that mentioned their C-level buy-in is their biggest challenge to content marketing will be probably persuaded over time, we think.

In terms of content marketing tactics the study shows that social media (81%) is still the favorite online marketing tactics in this field. However, the biggest growth opportunity shows video marketing and paid promotion of content for the next year. 61% are already using video marketing, (increase of 13% compared to last year). This is probably also driven by the main players Facebook and Google.

The variety of content marketing is also growing though. Almost every second marketer said that they use five or more different online marketing channels (45%).

Although Castleford director Rob Cleeve is confident with the development of content marketing, he also makes clear that marketers need to deliver results with it as well: „In my experience, content marketing is claiming an increasingly large share of overall marketing budgets, which is going to mean more pressure to show how it’s benefiting the bottom line.“

Spot On!
Content marketing definitely has changed the advertising industry drastically. However, the main challenges involved are the appropriate use of data with content to drive the right story in the right context to the right user at the right time. Here we see massive problems for many marketers still in our work with customers. Post-it recently explained it nicely in a video that leverages their banner and ask many question in terms of how retargeting actually kills good content marketing in terms in the example of banner ads.

The infographic of the study carries all relevant results of the Castleford study.

Castleford-Content-Marketing-Infographic-2015

Why influencer marketing is the future of content

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In many posts have we written about the relevance of influencer marketing and how it differs from the value of brand advocates. Today, many marketing organizations and brands have understood the power of influencer marketing and dedicate a significant amount of their budget to them. And there are good reason for it which we can see from one of the latest infographics in the market provided by the guys from The Shelf.

Shoppers trust in influencers and use them as their third-most-consulted consumer decision information source. Although brand and retail sites are still in the lead as an information source. Blogs already come in right after them, even ranking higher than well-trusted social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.

Years ago, we have made clear that the 3 Rs of the social consumer will be leading the decision making process in the future: ratings, reviews and recommendations. The infographic is another proof for our thesis those days. These days, influencer are more trusted than brand content where recommendations have got the biggest power with 92% of consumers trusting in those. Reviews have become the second most trusted source (70%). People also try to stay on top of thought leaderwith blog content that is consulted by 47%.

Although the opportunities are there, only two out of three marketers (65%) invest in influencer marketing so far. and every second company separates their budgets for sponsored social content from other budgets (52%). Still, the amount of investment is not „nickles and dimes“ anymore for brands and companies. Every fourth company already spends over $500,000 already.

Spot On!
Why influencers play an important role inside your content strategy is obvious. They can explain products from various subjective and objective angles. They can play an important role in your community management when negative input needs tob e turned into positive arguments. They can have a big impact in your content production strategy in having an external view on your business and relevance in the market, and thus become your „search-engine-optimizers“. And, they will play a significant role in your sales approach if you take your time to think about it (or maybe talk to us if you don’t have an answer).

Have a look at the infographic and decide yourself if and how you would like to use influencer marketing in the future.

TheShelf-Influencer-Marketing-Infographic-2015

The virtual office – Good reasons why your business may start here.

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Share Word on Round Button - GenerosityIn days of Facebook, AirBnB, Tumblr & others, when new business models and start-ups spread all over the world, some marketing freelancers might think about the option to appear big. Or shall I say for some interim period of establishing a business, these people might want to look bigger than some decision-makers might imagine? Whatever their driver might be. When starting a business, marketing consultants have got the challenge to look professional all over their brand. An address in the right context location seemed to be a must-have. It’s all about the brand, right? However today, the overarching value of a new business brand might have changed. What was a shiny office address in the middle of town in the year 2000, isn’t important any more (and maybe never was). There are new and probably better options that virtual offices can offer.

Thinking back around millenium days, when we launched a start-up with some good business partners, the venture capitalists would have loved the option of a virtual business. The resons were obvious: The business model puts a foot on the „valid business reasons'“ groud instantly. Operationals can start immediately. Being first to market, cannot be taken away from you. „Land and expand“ is the option. All set. In 2000 this sounded like a dream for founders and their investors. Our company’s rental costs were the biggest liability we had those days (also when we bought the business and sold some years later). We couldn’t just leave and sign off our contracts. The landlord was clever enough to keep us in our rooms for at least six more months. The virtual office is much more flexible and usually offering shorter termination periods.

Talking about liabilities, you might also think about getting a secretary? Another cost topic. Virtual offices have got their own secretaries who will look after your business. Calls, postage, or even emails if you may want to leave it to them: all sorted out by them. Whether it is PR requests, marketing topics, sales inquieries or any other service related business, the virtual assistant is giving clients and business contacts what they are asking for (if you brief them properly). No overhead business. No extraordinary employee costs. If it is your own staff, you have to find replacement for them on days of illness or family issues. In virtual offices, the service is available 24/7/365. These days, you do not necessarily have to pay for health treatment if someone is ill. And speaking frankly, this harms your business in the start-up business three-fold: cost-wise, additional workload and underpaid founders doing processes and projects they should not be looking after in the start-up period.

Later, when I started some other consulting business, I used a virtual office place to start the business. The benefits were quite interesting then:
a) Pay-per-stay. When I was in London for business, my virtual office would have been fantastic. Why do you always have to commute around London and waste expense budgets, when from time to time you can just have gotten people to commute to you?
b) Pay-per-use. When clients came to visit, I did one phone call to the virtual office desk and paid for hourly use. That was really handy. Do I need to „own“ (and pay) a meeting-room that is unused for 35 out of 40 hours a week?
c) Pay-per-need. When I needed a desk, I paid for a shared desk. If I wanted to stay at home, I just told the office desk the day before. Do I need to rent a place where „my“ desk stands and is waiting for me too many days in a month? Traveling is the key to starting a good business. Meet as many people as you think is necessary.
d) Pay-per-inspiration. When I needed business exchange, new innovative approaches or even looked for some new networking opportunities, there were people from many industries to talk to at the coffee lounge in the virtual office. On a good talk, I paid for the coffee. No cheaper way to get consulting. And: Who goes a floor down in his office, just to meet someone as they are tenants like you are in order to speak about business?

Spot On!
There are valid business reasons to use a virtual office company when you start a business. When the business grows and you have got paperwork to store, you might think about using a bigger version of the virtual office components and features. Still, the reason for renting an office in days of cloud computing, bigger WIFI access and coffee bars in virtual offices is becoming smaller and smaller. And even, if your business grows, there are many ways to leverage the virtual office s long as you act in start-up mode.

Reports: How retail marketing managers use digital, and how customers think…

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Social media marketing has become more and more important for retail marketers in the U.S. this year compared to 2013. This states the latest reports by Extole which was based on the survey response of 302 people responsible for marketing and technology at U.S. retail companies. However, mobile marketing and email are still top priorities as well for those marketers across various verticals, company sizes and geographies.

Extole Report 2014 Marketing Spend to 2013

Although social media marketing was the leading marketing spend compared to last year with 41%, mobile advertising (32%) and email marketing (31%) were catching up as well. Whereas thee marketing spends were on the sweetspot for budget spends, topics like display advertising (28%), content marketing (28%), and paid search (24%) got less marketing spends this year.

Extole Report 2014 Marketing Channels Regularly

The report also made clear that retail marketers use social media and email two most (85%). Not surprisingly as social media was mentioned as the most effective tactic for acquiring customers. 50% of the retail marketers have picked it in the top three results. Nevertheless, if retail marketers want to convert retail customers, email marketing is still seen as the most effective marketing tool.

Spot On!
If we compare this report to another much broader study by Capgemini „Digital Shopper Relevancy Report“ that asked 18.000 consumers around the globe, marketers might be putting too much emphasize on social media marketing. Marketers might have a closer look at the not „socially-engaged shopper“ categories and then decide in which markets to invest in social media marketing, and which stay with a broader holistic digital marketing approach.

Capgemini 2014 Digital Consumers

What is your experience on how to best address your customers in the retail or technology space?

State of Marketing 2014 Report: Social Media and Video Ads up, Mobile down, Programmatic low at 1%

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Compared to some previous study, this years CMO Council’s „State of Marketing“ (sponsored by NetBase and Infor) shows that confidence to be a trusted source for the C-level is back with marketers. The online study that asked 525 global marketers in the first quarter 2014 shows that 69% of senior marketers see themselves as a trusted, strategic member of the C-suite and/or are increasing their credibility with the main business decision makers inside their companies. Furthermore, 81% of senior marketers responded that they’re confident to meet management expectations and goals for top-line revenue growth and market share in the next 12 months.

„The level of confidence and optimism is very high. We are seeing the CMO role being elevated to a much larger degree.“ Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director, CMO Council

From a budget perspective, the main areas of marketing spending growth for this year will be social advertising (71%), online video (71%), social engagement campaigns (69%), retargeting (67%) and search engine marketing (66%). However, mobile will go down in the attention of marketing spendings this year. Only 62% said they plan to increases and just 25% project increases of over 5% for 2014. 45% said they expect no change for mobile banners. The report makes no commments on reasons for this stagnating mobile budget growth. In general, 54% of marketers plan to increase their marketing budgets over the next 12 months, 27% will keep budgets stable. The most funding will go into new products and program launches (54%), corporate branding and identity building (53%), lead generation and qualification (50%), and customer retention and monetization (44%).

State of Marketing 2014 What tactics is most effective

When asked to identify where marketers will allocate marketing budget across

From an operational and process point of view 12% of the responding marketers said they will invest in product marketing, 12% said in strategy and branding, almost 7% in marketing and planning, 7% in sales and lead management, and 5% in market research, among other areas. It seems that programmatic buying has still not reached the marketing department. Only 1% sees programmatic advertising technology systems an interesting topic to invest in. Maybe they just do not have the right arguments for their C-Suite on programmatic yet.

The senior management expects from their CMOs over the next 12 months to drive top-line growth (56%), grow or retain market share (52%), better define the brand and value proposition (44%), and further customer insights and analytics (37%). As the leading areas of responsibility the marketers see for themselves strategic planning and forecasting (74%), branding (71%), digital (68%), budgeting and mix modeling (68%) and market research (67%). from a C-level perspective the marketers state that their main tasks from the business leaders are driving top-line growth (56%); growing or retaining market share (52%); better defining the brand and value proposition (44%); and furthering customer insights and analytics (37%).

Spot On!
The challenge for marketers as of the cloud technology evolution is to connect with other departments inside the company. Interesting to see from the report to which people marketers are reaching out these days for partnerships. The marketers responded that the CFO (58%), CIO (53%) and chief sales officer (51%) are their main three touchpoints inside the organization to form partnerships with.

State of Marketing 2014 Collaboration

The report also states that 55% of marketers want to hire in 2014. Their main focus of reecruiting people or getting knowledge will be on customer analytics (40%), social media (36%) and content development (27%). Interestingly enough, a trend that we also experience with our clients is that B2B marketers (60%) are very active finding new staff. Their main interest is in people on topics like customer analytics (33%), product marketing support (33%), content development (32%) and social media (32%).

2020: What will be the 10 most important business skills (Infographic)

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It’s hard to look into the future, or claim how the workplace could look like in 2020. And that in mind, although I get invites to different event looking years ahead and telling us, which technology will rock, which cloud model will be staring, and how friendships might die as of millennials heading towards a straight career, and forgetting the working colleagues, they have held close for years.

Still, certain drivers of change become more and more obvious. With the increasing advent of mobile and cloud systems in companies, some smart machines, sensors and systems will replace workload from people, and probably also erase some job profiles. And automation will organize a lot of processes that will connect the world around us.

What I see from our consulting business already today is that „sense making“ and „social intelligence“ has still often not found it’s way towards board rooms. Sometimes this is based on the missing people, sometimes just it’s a matter of traditional management methods that block the change process as of company or personal politics.

Furthermore, I can see that „virtual collaboration“ is desired in many companies. Still, the culture of training and changing the mindset as a basis for this capability gets not the right support and budgets from top management. Finally, „cognitive load management“, the challenge to filter information from importance, was an approach I thought of in my vision of the Personal Web Manager some years ago. It will come, I am sure…!

The guys at Top Ten Online Colleges have create an infographic which summarizes the top 10 business skills for 2020. Have a look and tell us what you think!

2020-Top-Business-Skills

2014 Trends in Content Marketing [Infographic]

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The perspective of Uberflip „predicts“ that there are some obvious trends coming up in content marketing.

Not surprisingly, a „director of content“ might be the new team member in companies. This might be nothing new when compared with our job title predictions for web strategy at the beginning of 2013. Some other aspects of Uberflip include: higher quality of content, content curation, multiscreen marketing, and what every consultant will love: bigger budgets for hopefully better content.

„Brands will step up their game by integrating great journalism and storytelling into their strategies,“ states Uberflip.

Let’s hope their predictions proof to become reality. Or maybe, you see some other development in the near future. Why not share it with us…?

Content-Marketing-2014-infographic

B2B Study: Buyers behavior insights on conversion and engagement

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Are you planning your lead generation programs at the moment? Well, you better be quick then. Why? The conversion rates for B2B online lead campaigns generate the best results when the year starts – so now! The reasons are quite obvious: Budget are fresh or renewed. Funds are starting. Conversion falls below average in the Christmas month, probably as of intense planning activity and budget cuts. Not surprisingly, the summer months show a significant decrease in conversion activity.

The findings are coming from some recent analysis by Software Advice, based on data generated from over six million visitors to the Software Advice website in the last 5 years. Although this might be some very detailed experience for the B2B software industry, it is still valid and applicable for the whole b2b industry if they do lead generation programs.

Study Software Advice Conversion By Month

The report shows that B2B buyers were most active on the Software Advice website Tuesday through Thursday, with Tuesday being the most active day and Wednesday driving the highest conversion rates.

Study Software Advice Conversion By Day

Interestingly enough, traffic peaks in the first half of the day, and especially around lunch time. 53% more unique visitors showed up during work hours when compared with Software Advice’s unique visitor traffic.

Study Software Advice Conversion By Hour

Spot On!
Comparing this with other engagement studies from the social media world (here and here), we see that the time around midday seems to be best to get people engaged in content marketing, social media and lead generation. Speaking from our own experience with silicon.de over ten years, I can say that the morning hours when people get their first coffee were also successful in lead and demand generation.

Study 2014: What marketers see as their top priorities

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Obviously, all marketers are ROI-driven – or made to think that way. Not surprising then, the top priority in digital marketing comes to be increasing the conversion rates (47%), followed by increasing/improving brand awareness (46%) and collecting/measuring/using behavior-based data (29%). This is the outcome of the latest study by ExactTarget entitled „2014 State of Marketing“. The report, conducted between October and November 2013, gives insights from over 2,600 global marketers.

ExactTarget-2014-top-priorities-exacttarget

Although I would have expected from our conversations with clients that demand generation comes in as one of the top priorities, only 28% of the marketers said acquiring new subscribers, improving channels (24%) and leveraging actionable data is among their main challenges for 2014.

ExactTarget-2014-success-metrics

The good sign for publishers, consultants, advertising platforms and marketing service providers is that 98% of responding marketers plan to increase or maintain their digital marketing budgets. The rise in digital marketing spends goes primarily to data and analytics (61%), marketing automation (61%), email marketing (58%), social media marketing (57%), and content management (57%).

ExactTarget-2014-budgets

Spot On!
It would actually be interesting to have a study that asks marketers what they define as social media marketing. Why? Interestingly enough, only 34% of those marketers find ROI in social media marketing. As of a lack of definition, we cannot argue whether there is a misunderstanding in the definition or in the company’s approach to social media. Still, only 52% think their social media activities will actually pay out in ROI. But when Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are cited as the most popular social channels for the respondents, I doubt that their social media approach is properly understood. At least there are positive signs when the repondents see that Google+ gets more impact with 18% planning to start in 2014.

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