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Influencers: Do You Need Them?

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They can raise awareness and boost your marketing efforts, but will an influencer answer consumers’ questions?

Once upon a time there was a process to celebrityhood. It resulted from a hit movie, a TV series, or a record (that vinyl thing). It’s arguable that there were gatekeepers involved. Moguls made movie stars. TV networks determined what we watched. Radio stations manufactured divas.

Once upon a time, celebrity was bestowed by the mass media. Some would argue that mass media has been diminished to a whisper by the internet. Tastemakers got disintermediated. Many of today’s celebrities are self-created. People like PewDiePie and Yuya are followed by tens of millions of people. PewDiePie has nearly 97 million subscribers on his YouTube channel.

And today’s self-made celebrities usually get called something else: influencers. Celebrity endorsements used to be hugely important to brands. Back in the 2000s, Pepsi paid Britney Spears $50 million to endorse their product. Nike paid Tiger Woods $100 million to wear and recommend their sports apparel.

Do today’s influencers have the same ability to sway consumers as the mass media celebrities of yesterday? Do you need them if you are a brand?

Celebrities deliver greater recall among consumers

Celebrity endorsements go back to a time when electricity – let alone the term “brand” – hadn’t even been invented yet. Josiah Wedgwood co-opted English royalty by associating his china tea set with Queen Charlotte. Mark Twain promoted pens with his name on them in the 1900s. Alfred Hitchcock took the mystery out of sending a telegram for Western Union.

Television was a huge boost to advertisers looking for more customers. According to a USA TODAY print archive article, marketing firm J. Walter Thompson went from billings of $78 million in 1945 to $250 million by 1960.

Advertisers saw something then that has been recently established: Consumers have greater recall of products that are endorsed by celebrities. The irony is that these consumers don’t even have to like the celebrity. On the other hand, if they are fans, there’s a higher value placed on the product or service endorsed by the celebrity because the consumer perceives it as advice received from a valued friend. It’s word-of-mouth – kind of – from someone you haven’t met but nevertheless truly admire, or maybe lust after.

Your brain thinks celebrities are your friends

The reason advertisers want to associate their brands with celebrities has to do with how our brains are wired, says bestselling author Jeff Stibel. Our minds, he explains, aren’t good at differentiating between what’s real and what’s fictional. Our favorite celebrity is familiar to us, and therefore, real. So, even though we’ve never met them, our brain regards them like a close friend or family member. If they tell us they like something, we take that as a recommendation with just as much importance as if it was given to us by someone we’ve known all our lives.

We associate the pleasurable positive emotions of our celebrity fantasies with the brand they profess to use or like. Emotions drive purchase decisions.

Stibel’s observations are backed up by recent studies that show adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have increased their efforts in developing identities based on celebrities. Media company Nielsen looked at trust in advertising by age and found that celebrity endorsements resonate with millennials (ages 12 to 24) and with Generation Z (ages 15 to 20).

Stibel explains that research by the Harvard Business School shows that a celebrity endorsement can increase a brand’s sales an average of 4 percent. Company stock prices have been shown to increase when a brand announces the signing of a celebrity or athlete.

But, it’s a double-edged sword. Nike saw its market share skyrocket from 0.9 percent to 4 percent in less than six months when the brand signed Tiger Woods. They lost an estimated 105,000 customers after deciding to retain Woods during his highly publicized scandal.

So, does your marketing campaign need celebrities – or influencers?

Nielsen’s conclusions seem to indicate that you may see success with these types of associations if your brand appeals to Gen Z and millennials. Influencers have an impact on the lives of most consumers. But brands also have discovered that social media has given them a way to connect directly – minus the celebrity/influencer intermediary.

Consumers might be amused to see that they like the same product brand as their favorite celebrity, but they know Beyoncé isn’t going to respond to them via Instagram or Twitter if they have a question or complaint about that product. For that, consumers want the direct access that social media offers. They look to brands for education and perspective. They know it’s the brand that will tell the story and explain the “why.” Beyoncé has other plans for the evening.

We can help you tell the story of your brand in a way that makes you a celebrity to your customers.

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