Thursday, March 25

Studying Influence: Epsilon Targeting

Last year, we suggested what real influence might mean. This year, ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting, conducted a study that reveals much the same: there is no universal influencer and there are few commonalities exist within demographics for influencers.

Really? Well, there are some characteristics. Influencers, online or offline, tend to make recommendations more often. Forty-five percent of influencers will always recommend brands they like compared to only 36 percent of consumers. Fifty-six percent of influencers believe people follow their advice compared to 45 percent of consumers. The summary concludes that the primary difference is that influencers are talkers, primarily propped up by the frequency they talk.

Key Points From The ICOM Influencer Study.

• Consumers are influencers strictly within product categories, not across them all.
• Few commonalities exist with influencers across gender, age, income and channel.
• Influencers have a tendency to talk a lot in person — at the table, in the aisle, and on the phone.
• Marketers need to understand influencer behaviors as much as demographics or channels.
• Influencers are best engaged across multiple channels (online and off), not just one.
• Influencers are highly motivated to provide feedback to brands and manufacturers.
• Influencers like to be the first to try new products so they can give their opinions.

The ICOM study reminds me of another study conducted by Pollara, a Canadian-based public opinion and research firm. It found nearly 80 percent of people said they were at least somewhat likely to consider buying products based on real-world friends and family, but only 23 percent reported they would at least be somewhat likely to purchase a product by 'well-known bloggers.'

"This shows that popularity doesn't always equate to credibility," said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara said then. "Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there."

The difference is in the intent. One of the most compelling parts of the study suggests 68 percent of social network participants use tools to connect to friends. The remainder, which includes most influencers, use social media tools to be heard. So much for two-way communication.

Experts and businesses are working too hard to be heard, honestly.

We see the ICOM study differently. Marketers don't necessarily have to find influencers as much as they need to help create them, and not by measuring popularity. As mentioned last week, branding is a function of relationships. Influence is equally reliant on relationships.

An online influencer who is privy to reviewing the latest product releases only maintains any semblance of influence as long as they are privy to being the first source of information. An online influencer who writes for a major publication, such as The New York Times, only has influence as long as they write for The Times. A company that relies on establishing a brand culture, only succeeds as long as it remains unwavering in its support of that culture.

When the relationship shifts, such as a self-proclaimed influencer exchanging dialogue for one-way communication because they cannot keep up, they experience a decline in popularity unless they successfully shift to a new relationship. Some can. Some cannot. (This is the very reason MyBlogLog began to fail shortly after being bought by Yahoo. The relationship changed and participants didn't accept the new paradigm.)

The point to consider here is simple enough. Influencers need to understand the relationship they have with people if they hope to retain the moniker (whether they really influence anything at all). And marketers need to reconsider how they think of influencers because social media "experts" aren't hand soap "experts." In fact, among hand soap consumers, they don't even exist beyond being busy talkers.

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