Influencer marketing is nothing new: companies have been using celebrity endorsements to promote products for decades, if not centuries. But the rise of social media has inspired a new generation of brand ambassadors, and they are real people.
I can still hear Paul Higham’s voice resonating in my mind, “Real People, B.J., Real People.” Paul was the CMO of Walmart at the time. After analyzing over 2,000 touch points of influence, Paul was confident that “Real People” were the best ambassadors for the brand. In those days (1989), the internet was not as influential as it is today. So, Paul created a strategy featuring real customers on National TV; this allowed the brand to share 30 seconds of fame with its best customers. Ten Countries and $200 billion in sales later, Paul’s “Real People” strategy was a complete success.
In an amusing side note, most of the TV commercials did not win any awards. However, they did win where it counted most: at the cash register.
The Power of Authenticity
Authentic, customer-led storytelling enhances brand awareness and influences purchasing decisions. We recommend starting small by building relationships with a few carefully selected Brand Lovers—your best customers. Embracing your Brand Lovers and giving them a stage can accelerate your business growth.
Let’s take a quick look at influencer marketing by the numbers:
- Consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth marketing generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising. (Source: McKinsey)
- 81% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on friends’ social media posts. (Source: Market Force via Forbes)
- 43% of social media users buy a product after sharing or “liking” it. (Source: Vision Critical)
It’s easy to see that people trust themselves and each other more than they trust advertising. Once a person validates his or her choice socially, the purchasing follows.
Here is how three top companies have augmented their traditional marketing messages by partnering with Brand Lovers to share brand and product stories:
Zappos’ VIP fashion and style bloggers
To promote its offerings beyond shoes, the digital retailer engaged with influential fashion and style bloggers, giving the VIP group $300 in shopping credits each month to purchase and design an outfit from Zappos.com.
The strategy paid off. After just a few months, the top referring blogger had generated $9,000 in trackable revenue.
Pottery Barn’s holiday influencers
The beautiful images in Pottery Barn’s catalog can be inspiring, but the level of perfection can also be a bit intimidating.
Brand Marketing Director Kris Mulkey wanted to expand the company’s holiday marketing to show what items could look like in real homes.The brand worked with 12 influencers to show how different types of customers across the country celebrate and decorate for the winter holidays.
“When we’re posting things that are real and feel authentic, people respond,” Mulkey said.
ThredU, Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Marino builds the brand by showing customers that the company “gets it.”
“We have a campaign right now running on the site … where we profile some ‘badass moms’ —moms who are makers, breakers, strivers, doing great things in their communities who’ve had some fascinating lives,” Marino says. “We’ve found this has been an incredible bit of storytelling that helps our customers see the types of other moms [who] get involved in ThredUP and how they choose to live.”
The allure of Hollywood stars and charismatic athletes is far from over, but for many brands, the realness and authenticity of everyday customer stories hold powerful marketing potential.