The Kind of Influencer Money Can’t Buy

September 16, 2019

By Neil Feinstein

GoodStudio/Shutterstock.com

There are Nano influencers. Mega influencers. Celebrity influencers. Even virtual influencers. Every one of them is available for hire. Yet one influencer category can't be bought, but can have more impact on your brand than any paid influencer.

They're called "advocacy influencers" — concerned, activist citizens who are motivated by a cherished cause or ideology, a sense of social justice and fairness. Instead of funneling their passion into hawking brands, they post, tweet, vlog, and podcast to change the world.

This is particularly important in 2019 as consumers consciously choose brands with whom they share common ethics and social values — and reject brands that have policies they find noxious.

 

Consider the Basics of Branding

We want consumers to develop an emotional connection to our brands so that we can hold a meaningful place in their lives. Hence brands are becoming activists, supporting social, political and even religious causes to demonstrate they share the same values as their core customers. Delicious chicken sandwiches are one good reason to eat at Chick-fil-A. But the fact that all stores are closed on Sunday, one of the most lucrative weekdays for a QSR, demonstrates their deep religious convictions.

Now consider that advertising is less effective than ever: consumers are actively avoiding paid brand messaging and seeking unbiased, unfiltered recommendations from friends. So media planners are shifting budgets from traditional one-way channels into interactive digital channels, especially social and mobile, where sharing and conversations drive brand engagement.

We also know that one of the most potent digital strategies in 2019 is influencer marketing. By the end of 2019, an estimated $6.5 billion will be spent on influencer marketing, up from $4.8 billion spent in 2018.

 

Traditional Influencers Have Sway, Advocacy Influencers Have Credibility

A recent survey by Sideqik reported that 70 percent of respondents trust the opinion of the influencers they're following on social media more than they trust their friends. And 78 percent trust influencer opinions more than traditional ads. Logically then, those influencers who support issues instead of brands carry the most authority.

Let's say you're a cruelty-free cosmetic brand that's building an influencer marketing program. You could contract with a fashion YouTuber to create content around your brand. Or you could engage an advocacy influencer who blogs about animal rights. Which influencer — the YouTuber or the animal right advocate — would your customers (and maybe even your employees) consider more authentic? Which influencer sends the message that you hold the same values as your customers? Which influencer engenders a deeper emotional bond between your brand and the consumer?

 

Motivated by Cause, Not Cash

Advocacy influencers are focused on change, not profit, so the hurdles to engagement are high. Brands must demonstrate their commitment to an advocacy influencer's cause to prove those principals are ingrained in the business.

There are advocacy influencer databases, but that doesn't mean they're all "for hire." You should approach the discussion as a collaboration, not a negotiation. Be prepared with concrete examples of how your brand is furthering the advocacy influencer's cause. A few paragraphs on your website are not enough. Actions speak louder than words.

REI closes their retail stores on Black Friday because they believe people with a day off from work should be enjoying the great outdoors, not wandering a mall. advocacy influencers are motivated by this kind of commitment. And commitment is the ideal word. This is not a one-time activity, but a sustained program that's part of the DNA of REI.

Want to engage and advocacy influencer? Influencer marketing expert Julie Treacy Lander gives this advice: Know that advocacy influencers won't sacrifice their principals to make a buck. They won't "sell out." They're suspicious. But once you prove your mettle and demonstrate your authenticity, they'll partner with you with passion. When they care, they share.

The negotiation will be difficult. But if your brand genuinely cares about the cause and you're looking to make purposeful impact, partnering with an advocacy influencer may be the most potent approach to influencer marketing. And that's a reward money can't buy.

Neil Feinstein is an assistant professor at St. John's University and a principal and strategic consultant at Zezo Digital. He is a faculty member of the ANA's Marketing Training & Development Center and teaches workshops on digital marketing.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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