A recent study reveals what all marketers already know: only four percent of consumers trust traditional advertising and marketers. Forward thinking marketers pivoted away from traditional methods, and many found an influencer network to work with, filled with individuals who possess all kinds of metrics to substantiate the spend. But what marketers may not know is influencer marketing is also at risk of losing consumer trust. Consumers have grown weary with this method; a recent Forrester study found that only 18% of consumers trust influencers.
Want to know who consumers haven’t grown weary of? Knowledgeable retail associates. Although online shopping is a dominant force, consumers still want to shop with someone who can help them make an informed purchase. This study found that the majority of consumers still prefer traditional buying experiences, and 30 percent of those surveyed specifically point to the value in receiving advice on a product. Marketers must do all they can to reach these retail associates, because – as opposed to paid influencers – these people carry the weight of authentic influence. Consumers actually trust them.
That trust is critical for retail. Influence is brick-and-mortar’s saving grace, but not exactly the (hyperbolic buzzword) “social media influencer” kind. The future of these retail locations largely rests on the influence their sales associates wield next to the cash register. Yet they are often ignored in marketing strategy. Instead many marketers have prioritized the value of large digital reach over the influential expert standing right in front of them, choosing to believe the more passionate, experienced and knowledgeable associate’s reach is less resonant.
Great retail associates are authentic brand advocates who already participate in passionate conversations about your product and company. And the best retail associates don’t believe their job is just to sell you hiking boots, because they believe their job is bigger – it’s to help you discover a love for hiking. Their passion is conveying the knowledge they’ve developed, and their influence results in a consumer experience far more valuable than the one-off purchase.
Even great social media influencers, on the other hand, have to disclose that you paid for their influence.
Let’s call these highly followed people what they really are – social media “publishers” who create and curate content. For many, the motivation is monetary, and therefore no different from other publishers who make their money from paid media such as Vogue or Real Simple. Unfortunately, being able to reach many people – who may or may not be interested in an actual purchase – doesn’t equate to someone stepping in a store, ready to buy a product. It may be more difficult to measure, but we intuitively know that retail associates have dozens of conversations each week with people actually in the market to purchase your products.
As this Keller-Fay study reveals, influencers make an average of 5.85 recommendations per week. But that pales in comparison to the retail associates who recommend products nearly 18 times in a week.
According to many marketing blog headlines, 2017 is the year of the influencer. It’s not an incorrect statement, but the focus on the Instagram famous – with their emphasis on estimated impressions, reach, and engagement – is where the articles stray. Sure, you can theoretically measure their influence, but good marketing choices shouldn’t rest solely on ease of measurement. And with such a heavy focus on easy-to-identify online influencers, many marketers miss just how obviously ad-like their influencer strategy has become.
Influencing consumers to purchase isn’t novel, and marketers continue to lean on recognizable faces for perceived trust. But as LeBron James’ egregious Kia endorsement proves, the days of believing a celebrity’s opinion to be authentic are long gone. What’s scary is that marketers and brands consider the shift to online influencers more authentic. In reality these social network famous individuals have more in common with celebrities than the real people who actually purchase the products. If you want someone who can actually connect with the consumer, then look no further than retail associates.
An Ad Is an Ad Is an Ad
A major clue into the degeneration of this strategy should have been the FTC’s crack down on blog and social media disclosures. After all, if the FTC says it’s an ad, then by definition it is an ad. And we shouldn’t be surprised when ads that come from online influencers suffer from the same lack of credibility of those that come via more traditional marketing channels.
There is no doubt that an influencer strategy can be important to a brand’s success, but marketers also can’t fall prey to the same old pressures of reach-based marketing. As with other reach-based tactics, the job we expect influencer marketing to do should be to raise awareness, not to influence a lower-funnel consumer action. Influence stems from trust and trust stems from authenticity. Many of the most authentic voices a brand can tap work in retail stores. And these authentic voices, by the way, probably also have loyal social media followers.
As brands pursue a well-rounded influencer strategy, they should seriously consider the numerous individuals who directly influence at the physical point of purchase. It simply doesn’t make sense to only invest in Influencer Jane’s reach, ignoring Retail Associate Carly’s hundreds of in-person conversations with real-life consumers.
Invest in the influencers with authentic voices that people trust. Their resonance will provide far more value than any number a social media influencer can promise.