How to leverage the potential of influencer marketing without falling prey to its pitfalls.
After being bombarded this past week with a look back at 2023, I was inspired to write about influencer marketing and tips for reaching your target audience in the new year. Be prepared; this is as much a marketing blog as it is an editorial about humanity.
Influencer marketing has exploded in recent years, shaping consumer trends and brand narratives. But with great power comes great responsibility, and in the whirlwind of likes and follows, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
As you think about your 2024 marketing plan, let’s take a critical look at the influencer phenomenon, dissecting its potential, pitfalls, and the path to authentic partnerships.
The Potential Power of Social Influencers
We can’t talk about influencers without mentioning 34-year-old Taylor Swift.
With enough followers to be the 5th largest country, she has enough loyal followers to sway sales and TV ratings on a national scale. From the political landscape to the football stands, if you get the right person in front of a product, service, brand, or movement, it can be magic.
It certainly has been for Kansas City’s economy — from a 400% increase in #87 jersey sales to increased hotel bookings and Uber drivers — being a Swiftie is nifty. The total economic impact to host cities of Swift’s concerts on her current tour is expected to hit $5 billion.
Whether you like her music or her boyfriends or not, it’s crucial to remember that Taylor Swift isn’t just a face – she’s a powerful brand built on authenticity, talent, and unwavering values. That’s the secret sauce.
While influencer marketing might seem synonymous with mega-brands and astronomical budgets, the truth is smaller brands can reap incredible benefits on a smaller scale via:
- Micro-Influencers: Forget A-listers and mega-influencers. Those with 10k-50k followers have highly engaged communities, often more focused on specific niches, and typically charge far less. Partnering with a few relevant micro-influencers can be much more effective than one big shot, creating targeted buzz and driving real engagement.
- High-Quality Content: Focus on creative collaborations, like product reviews, tutorials, or behind-the-scenes glimpses, showcasing your brand story through the influencer’s unique lens. This authentic, engaging content can work wonders even with a smaller reach.
- Local Impact: Local influencers in your target market have deep community connections and understand the local vibe, allowing you to tap into a specific region’s preferences and build genuine relationships with potential customers.
Remember, influencer marketing is about fostering relationships, not just broadcasting deals. Smaller brands can leverage this powerful tool to punch above their weight and achieve real growth by focusing on authenticity, targeted partnerships, and creative content.
Humans, Flawed and Fabulous: The Risk Factor of Collaborating with Influencers
I’m a golfer, but you needn’t have ever held a golf ball to know who Tiger Woods is.
A teenage prodigy turned golfing legend, Tiger captivated the world with his talent, taped finger, and fist pump dating back to 1996. He shattered records, dominated tournaments, and transcended his sport, becoming a global icon. His endorsements with Nike, among others, raked in millions, making him one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
But even the GOAT’s meticulously crafted image crumbled as his personal life unraveled. Endorsements dried up, sponsorships were dropped, and he was ostracized.
Through sheer grit and determination, Tiger defied the odds. His comeback story resonates with anyone who has faced adversity and persevered. As a result, brands have cautiously dipped their toes back into the Tiger Woods pool. At the December 2023 PNC Championship in Orlando, Woods was still wearing Nike products despite recent rumors of his 27-year-old contract expiring.
Tiger’s influence extends far beyond the greens. He has broken racial barriers, inspired countless young athletes, and redefined the sport’s image. His legacy, however, is a reminder that even our greatest heroes are only human.
Know Thy Audience & Be Prepared for Backlash
One of the year’s most public PR campaign fallouts involved Bud Light.
In March, the company sent personalized beer cans featuring Dylan Mulvaney’s face to celebrate her year-long journey since coming out as transgender.
Bud Light, historically associated with traditional masculinity, sought to evolve its image and connect with younger, more socially conscious consumers. They believed partnering with Mulvaney, a relatable and outspoken advocate with a significant social media following and influence, would demonstrate genuine support for LGBTQ+ rights and help Bud Light reach a new audience and expand its customer base and sales.
Well, things didn’t go as planned.
Conservative consumers viewed this as Bud Light embracing “far-left identity politics” and abandoning their traditional customer base. Boycotts erupted, far-right influencers took to social media with MAGA hats and firearms, and it all led to an 11% drop in sales in the week after the partnership announcement and a loss of the top-selling beer spot in the US. Hundreds of layoffs soon followed, including executive changes at its parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Bud Light’s response to the backlash was cautious and ambiguous. They avoided directly addressing the criticism surrounding Mulvaney while distancing themselves from her specific involvement.
Here’s the takeaway. Good for Bud Light to consider a new, diverse audience and an opportunity to increase market share. But when the lion’s share of your existing consumer base is the opposite of that diverse group, you must realize that there will be backlash and fallout. Then, you either need to stand your ground and back your influencer or accept that you made a marketing mistake and absorb the aftershocks.
Beyond Hashtag Holidays: Walking the Talk, All Year Round
Partnering with diverse voices to champion causes like Pride Month, Black History Month, Native American Heritage Month, or even Veterans Day, for example, is commendable. But performative activism (trendivism) rings hollow.
Brands must be prepared to support these communities and their chosen influencers beyond the designated calendar dates or social media holidays. True commitment manifests through sustained efforts, partnerships, and representation throughout the year, not just during designated periods.
Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy to disingenuous marketing tactics, and the consequences of brands being perceived as inauthentic when capitalizing on cultural movements or holidays can be severe.
Potential repercussions include:
- Damaged brand reputation
- Boycotts and disengagement
- Negative media coverage
- Low employee morale, turnover, and difficulty in hiring
Beyond the consequences, it’s crucial to understand why authenticity matters:
- Consumers want to connect with brands that share their values and beliefs. They prefer authenticity over insincere tokenism.
- Supporting cultural movements and holidays should be an organic expression of the brand’s values, not a marketing gimmick.
- Building genuine relationships with diverse communities requires ongoing commitment and action, not just temporary campaigns.
Remember, consumers are the key to success; they know when a brand is genuine. It’s always better to build trust and authentic relationships than risk the consequences of trying to fool them.
We Are All Consumers: It’s Time to Act Responsibly
Influencer marketing is a powerful tool, but let’s not make it a weapon.
Kid Rock shooting Bud Light cans with an expletive-laced rant has nothing to do with his sudden dislike of the actual beer’s taste — only his distaste for the brand’s new influencer. And let’s be honest — wearing a Nike hat won’t make me hit a golf ball like Tiger, but it can make me feel good about myself and my potential as a golfer.
As consumers, we hold the power.
We can choose to speak with our wallets, supporting products and brands that align with our values and rejecting those that don’t. But let’s do it respectfully, without stooping to hateful remarks or inciting violence — online or in person.
When done right, influencer marketing can be a powerful tool for connection and growth. But it’s not a magic spell. Brands must understand the risks, invest in producing quality products, and build authentic relationships. Consumers, in turn, must use their heads and voices responsibly.
This isn’t about blind obedience or fleeting trends. It’s about a handshake, a genuine partnership built on shared values and mutual respect.
So, as we launch into a new year, let’s ditch the hype and hate and focus on creating meaningful connections that allow us to all do well by doing good.
Let’s start now. Connect with us and let us know your plans for 2024.
Happy New Year!
About Incite Creative, Inc.: Incite Creative is a marketing advisory firm that provides outsourced CMO services. In short, we become your company’s chief marketing officer and do so virtually and efficiently — saving you time and money. Since 1999, we’ve enjoyed building and boosting brands for a core set of industries. Our thoughtful process, experienced team, and vested interest in our client’s success have positioned us as one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most sought-after marketing partners for those looking to grow their brand awareness and bottom line. Stop paying for digital and traditional services you may not need. Our retainer, no markup model means our recommendations don’t come with any catch or commission. Our advice aligns with what you need and what fits within your budget. For more information, contact us at 410-366-9479 or [email protected].
* Images created from human prompts and generative AI assistance.