The Business of Influence: 5 Principles of Successful Influencer Marketing


Today, every business is in the business of influence. More and more organizations are working with people who can influence desirable audiences to connect, engage, and make decisions—and purchases—on a powerful scale. However, unlocking the massive potential of influencer marketing in a networked world requires understandings and focuses that are eluding many organizations. As digital analyst Brian Solis reveals in his report ‘Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing’, a reassessment of the value chain is vital for organizations to avoid lagging behind as the future of influence unfolds. Here are 5 key principles to help organizations re-evaluate the causes and characteristics of successful influencer marketing.

1. Effective relationship management is the driving force of influencer marketing

Relationships underpin the influencer marketing process, in which marketers borrow social capital from the relationships between influencers and their followers. However, as Solis emphasizes in the ‘Influence 2.0’ report, “You must do more than use the relationships of others to broadcast on your behalf, regardless of payment exchanged.” Instead, successful influencer marketing revolves around mutually beneficial relationships: connecting with the right people to create value not only for your brand, but also for the relationships influencers maintain with their communities.

In order to strengthen relationships and value creation, organizations are moving away from short-term, influencer-led campaigns towards more meaningful, long-term relationships that build trust and foster greater opportunities for ROI. According to Solis:

“The concept of Influence 2.0 is to help strategists envision a future of influencer marketing that aligns with the objectives of business, influencers, and customers. This is why…Influence 2.0 is centered on relationships…It’s time for brands and agencies to think beyond traditional endorsements and campaign-driving thinking.”

Recasting influencer marketing as “influencer relations” could, Solis suggests, create “a new discipline that transcends all relationship-driven marketing”. This would entail “not just a simple ‘rebrand’ of existing PR resources,” he stresses, but “continuous care through an influencer relationship management (IRM) platform and dedicated resources to connect customers with the people who influence them every day”.

2. A human approach to understanding customers and influencers can strengthen mutual value and social capital

An influencer and his or her community produce rich exchanges of mutual value and social capital, based on personal and professional ties. Executives can better capitalize on these ties if they invest in understanding how and why a particular influencer has actually earned their community, and what a mutually beneficially relationship might involve. As Solis points out, “few people actually read the work of influencers before reaching out to them”, an oversight which can reduce the uptake, quality and results of an influencer-brand relationship.

Likewise, deep customer understanding is essential for organizations to make the most of influencer marketing. According to executives surveyed for the ‘The 2016 State of Digital Transformation’ report, the top driver of CX-led digital transformation was understanding “evolving customer behaviors and preferences” (55%). At the same time, the top challenge was “understanding behavior or impact of a new customer” (71%). In-depth customer insights, therefore, remain crucial to help companies close the gap between what they assume customers value, want or do, and what customers actually value, want and do. As Michael Troiano, Chief Marketing Officer of Actifio, puts it:

“What customers want is intimacy…they expect to be understood as individuals, and to be treated like people. What marketers want is scale, the ability to touch lots of people at the most efficient CPM possible. The reason to get excited about social marketing is that it offers the promise of “Scalable Intimacy,” really the first medium to do so. And authenticity is the currency of this medium. You can’t “fake it,” by definition.”

Empathy and a focus on human to human (#H2H) interaction can foster the authenticity that organizations need to better understand and reach crowds with common values.

3. Influence requires championing and cross-functional leadership

In the ‘Influence 2.0’ report, a clear majority (71%) of surveyed brand marketers viewed influencer marketing as a strategic or highly strategic marketing category. Despite this, influencer marketing typically remains an add-on to a paid endorsement or PR program, rather than a standalone program with executive sponsorship. Indeed, 65% of surveyed companies assigned engagement with influencers to PR, but only 16% cited PR as the owner of their influencer marketing. This disconnect between the departments that own influencer marketing and those that execute it, is, according to Solis, stunting the growth of influence programs:

“To become more prominent within the marketing mix, influencer programs require someone to make the case, uniting stakeholders to lead a cross-functional initiative.”

Below is the Cross-Functional Influence Model Solis proposes in ‘Influence 2.0’:

By having a dedicated team that coordinates with various departments—for example, with Public Relations, Marketing, Digital Communications, Client Relations, IT, Sales, and HR—influencer relations can earn executive attention that transcends business functions. This, in turn, may benefit an organization’s larger digital transformation efforts by improving customer experience, since, as Solis puts it, “Customers don’t want to see the ‘cogs,’ they want to believe that businesses operate seamlessly and effortlessly to serve their needs.”

4. Influence never stops, and should be integrated with all touchpoints of the customer journey

Customer journeys are “always on”, and people are constantly turning to trusted others to help them make informed decisions. Therefore, Solis recommends mapping influencer relations against all stages of the customer journey:

“It’s uncommon for executives to live the business the way their customers and employees do, so escalating influence requires marketers to expose how, where, and why digital customers and employees seek information.
Where do they derive value?
Who do they trust?
And, how does engaging with your company affect each step of their decision-making journey?”

A successful influence program, in Solis’s view, “must consider outcomes across the board and then reverse engineer programs to deliver against them”. Business outcomes must be aligned “with influencer and customer objectives in each moment of truth—from awareness, to consideration, to decision, to overall experience”. This approach helps organizations clarify what factors are really driving their relationships forward and creating mutual value.

5. Influencers can align content creation and distribution with customer care and conversions

Integral to influencer relations is a shift from corporate-centric to customer-centric narratives. “Paradoxically, your “story” is not about you—it’s about what you do for others,” writes Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. The customer, consequently, becomes the hero of your story.

A shift to influencer relations could help organizations to integrate customer experience with content strategies and influencer engagement. 80% of the organizations surveyed for ‘Influence 2.0’ describe influencer marketing as most impactful for content marketing. However, relatively few companies (22%) are linking their content strategy to the needs of customers throughout their journey. Influencers can bridge this gap by aligning content creation and distribution with each stage of the customer journey.

In the above framework from ‘Influence 2.0’, influencers produce and share useful and engaging content throughout the customer journey, from introducing new products and answering questions to showcasing new product capabilities and directing customers to points of sale, support and further information.

Innovation over iteration

The ‘Influence 2.0’ report by Brian Solis is valuable for its emphasis on helping organizations align the future of influencer marketing with the objectives of their business, influencers, and customers alike.

Without the shift to influencer relations proposed by Solis, influencer marketing risks becoming a process of iteration, where new tools generate similar results, rather than a process of innovation in which new strategies unlock value.

It will be interesting to see if and how PR can benefit from a cross-functional approach to influencer relations. What does seem likely is that success in the future of influence calls for an adaptive mindset and the ability to work together to optimize—and humanize—outcomes across the influence ecosystem.

Images: andy.brandon50; and concept diagrams from ‘Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing‘ by Brian Solis from Altimeter

Insights into Tomorrow’s Marketing Organizations: The Interplay of Brands and Agencies


As the marketing discipline becomes more fragmented, marketing agencies and internal departments need to take a collaborative approach to achieve success and longevity. Specialists will have a key role working with marketing teams to provide strategic communications counsel for brands who truly understand what they’re all about and who their audiences are, as discussed by three key communications leaders at our recent Sydney meetup.

‘The Marketing Organisation of the Future’ was the hot topic for our senior panel, who addressed the questions: What is changing and is not changing in marketing? What are the characteristics and capabilities of marketing organizations of the future? What can we be doing now to become the successful marketing organization of tomorrow?

Below are the key insights shared by each panellist on shaping the marketing department and agency of the future.

Pru Quinlan, CEO, Einsteinz Communications

  • We will see a more collaborative approach with many agencies coming together.
  • Agencies need to think about how they interact with marketers and employees.
  • The agency of the future will have to be more agile than it is now – navigate 1-to-1 marketing and make quick decisions based on technology and consumer behavior.
  • It’s challenging for brands to invest in long form content … the need is for ‘snackable’ content to be distributed in the right way to reach target audiences.
  • Brands should own the content, not the agency.
  • Agencies need to show and lead by example when it comes to budgets and the value of what we do.
  • Brands need to control themselves but also need to reflect on the workforce of today, including freelancers and contractors; there are many talented individuals who don’t fit in a particular hole but have a role to play within a company, or for a brand.
  • There will be more roles for individuals, on their own or as collectives, to work with brands, work magic, then maybe even leave.
  • Advice: focus on what audiences really want and what your brand means for them … And brands have to open minds to new approaches and play differently to speak to our market.

Ben Shipley, Managing Director, Spectrum Group

  • The market has been product-centric, not audience-centric, but we will move back to being people-centric.
  • Greater focus on useful and quality content designed for niche audiences, but also need to also understand how the content will reach them.
  • Need to aggregate audiences and keep people engaged.
  • Agencies have a role in giving brands an objective viewpoint.
  • Whitepapers are no longer effective and could work better as a series of shorter pieces of content.
  • Building owned homes for content has an important impact on search. There is a split in media: live event content (news) versus distributed evergreen content (broadsheet).
  • Key piece of advice is to be a singular brand – know what you are and why – and consider the different messaging required for different audience segments.

Tony Faure, Chairman, Junkee Media, Stackla, Pollenizer

  • Key piece of advice is to use data to fully understand your customer and be very clear about your point of difference.
  • Brand is going to be even more massive and go back to ‘difficult marketing’.
  • Aggregation of services will be done by technology.
  • We are heading into an era of specialists, not generalists.
  • We will see companies and brands taking back ownership of marketing, which has largely been ceded to agencies.
  • Journalists are not always capable of realizing not everything they write is interesting, so they may not be the best people to produce content.
  • Long-form content can be more difficult to execute … a one-minute video for Facebook is cheaper, measured instantly, and easier to do.
  • Key elements to consider are: Who is the customer? Why is my brand different from everyone else’s?
  • The customer and brand piece needs to be owned by the brand.
  • Less of a believer in big aggregated agencies.
  • The creative agency has more relevance now.
  • There is an increase in big brands wanting specialists.
  • It’s about identifying niche communities within your brand community and understanding the nuances of how to best engage with them.
  • Australian agency versus global marketing agency: main issues are scale; regional Australian clients are less likely to take risks because they’re the brand channel for our market.

Please let us know your thoughts on any of the points raised, or if you have comments to add to the discussion on the marketing organization of the future.

Join our Future of PR – Sydney Meetup Group here and find out when our next meetup will be held.