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RIP Influencer Marketing. Long live Influencer Marketing 2.0.

Mark Henshall

October 29, 2017

A guest post by Mark Henshall

Mark will be on a panel of speakers at World Travel Market to discuss the subject: Is Influencer Marketing the Way Forward for Destinations? It will be held on the WTM Global Stage at 2pm on Wednesday November 8.

Influencer Marketing continues to grab travel headlines in 2017, but often for the wrong reasons as issues of transparency, authenticity, disclosure and trust came to the fore.

Warnings from The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) in the form of new influencer and brand guidelines highlighted this relatively new marketing discipline has a way to go in getting its house in order. Reports of influencer click farms, bogus social media accounts and woolly metrics didn’t help the case of winning consumer trust.

As part of an agency that’s hosted influencers for clients on destination trips I’m familiar with this ground: the opportunities and the challenges. It’s certainly true that overall that the influencer industry needs more rigour.

But I’m also hopeful, as I believe we’re just at the very beginning of realising the full breadth and depth of influencer marketing.

Until now the spotlight has been narrowly on influencers (YouTubers, Instagrammers and bloggers) with huge reach. But a well-publicised report by Markerly, an influencer marketing company, shows a clear downward correlation between follower size and engagement. Hence the rise and traction of “micro influencers” who have smaller but more engaged communities.

The effectiveness of these niche influencers rings true as it helps brands maintain good reach, while honing in the exact nature of their audience – something bigger influencers would find hard to achieve with a less engaged community and dissipated message.

The difference between the two sets of influencers throws up questions about what an influencer is. As an agency, we’ve had success with influencers and micro-influencers – we’ve also had mixed results – but what’s been consistent through the years has been the power of customer and employee advocates for brands.

A travel customer passionate about your brand and prepared to recommend you to others is a very strong endorsement. Equally, an employee of a travel brand who is passionate about their role and knows your products and services inside out is also an incredibly strong brand ambassador.

These advocate groups within influencer marketing reframe the idea of what influence can be and in this sense it isn’t really anything new – it’s word-of-mouth marketing, arguably the oldest kind of marketing in the book.

According to a McKinsey study, marketing-inspired word-of-mouth now generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising. It states: “Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions”.

McKinsey also state that: “the impact of social media on buying decisions is greater than previously estimated and the pool of the most effective in influencers is largely untapped”.

As brands struggle with the organic reach of platforms such as Facebook and the severely diminishing returns of paid media – with people putting up ad blockers in their millions – the appeal of word-of-mouth social media marketing is now more appealing.

In travel, there is no denying the power of online reviews and recommendations as we have seen from the popularity of sites such Expedia, TripAdvisor, Feefo and TrustPilot. Naturally, people seek assurance on their travel buying journey given the money and time they are investing.

However, I don’t believe we have even touched the tip of the iceberg in brands switching on their customer fans and employee advocates at scale, something now possible with new tech platforms.

These individual fans and advocates may not have the reach of an influencer, but they are extremely well trusted within their networks. They share for passion not payment, and if brands can turn on these groups in their thousands they will be truly powered by the people, both retaining customers and winning news ones.

RIP Influencer Marketing. It’s time to wake up to Influencer Marketing 2.0.

Mark Henshall is Head of Content for Qubist and and WAVE 2017: The Influence 2.0 Marketing Summit

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