Influencer marketing – for all the hype, it’s not the be-all and end-all

It was fascinating to read an Essential Retail article about influencer marketing – not least when compared to a study we have just carried out.

The article cites research from Rakuten Marketing which showed that the average cost to engage one influencer to support a social media campaign is decreasing, but the amount major brands are prepared to invest in the concept as a whole is dramatically increasing.

However, just because certain brands are prepared to spend a growing share of their marketing budget on influencers does not necessarily mean that all companies are following suit. Discussions about Fyre Festival, fuelled by the recent Netflix documentary, have certainly helped give additional airtime to the potential benefits and pitfalls of influencer programmes – and it would be naïve to suggest that marketers aren’t weighing up their pro’s and con’s.

In our report, we looked at a sample of 50 leading retailers in the UK – and found that less than a quarter (22%) of retailers use influencers to help drive their owned media marketing. It’s far from being a pervasive trend yet. What’s more, when we polled UK online shoppers, they demonstrated huge apathy to influencer marketing. Two in three consumers say they are neither more nor less interested in purchasing from a brand if they see a well-known individual that they respect and like sporting a product online or offline.

Our study doesn’t mean that influencer marketing doesn’t work for any brand – but, it is still worth noting that many retailers aren’t using it – and that a good chunk of consumers aren’t ordinarily bothered by it.

Good news is that influencer marketing is just one form of ‘social proof’ marketers have at their disposal. Social proof describes the psychological phenomenon that people assume others’ actions reflect correct behaviour for a given situation. Other forms of social proof include product ratings and reviews, curation of user generated content from happy customers as well as tapping into FOMO by highlighting product popularity and availability.

We found that consumers believe detailed product reviews from other customers (61%) and star ratings (56%) are the most important social proof tools marketers can display to help them make a purchase decision. In fact, more than one in three (37%) shoppers read three to four product reviews before making a purchase decision and a third (30%) of consumers are sceptical of brands that fail to share product reviews from other customers, believing this means they have something to hide.

Alongside this, more than half (58%) of the retailers we studied were found to be displaying user product reviews or ratings in their online store to help their customers purchase with confidence. It’s encouraging that many retailers are therefore providing consumers what they want - but still highlights that more than a third are still failing to present this information to their customers. Since online shoppers can’t touch or try on items as they can in store, customer feedback could provide a valuable additional source of information to help customers choose the right product and potentially reduce return rates.

With inboxes overflowing, brands have a limited opportunity to capture recipients’ attention and it’s surprising that only a small minority (8%) of retailers are harnessing ratings and reviews in their email marketing. Adding positive customer feedback to cart and browse abandonment emails is particularly powerful and can increase conversion rates by up to 39%. Adoption in email might be slow because marketers fear it would require lots of manual effort to curate the email content. Yet, marketing platforms today offer straightforward tools to automatically pull real-time social proof content into emails, making it a scalable tactic to increase click-throughs and conversions.

Social proof doesn’t have to mean expensive celebrity endorsements – in fact, consumers place more value on organic, easy-to-implement tactics like customer reviews. To meet consumer expectations and increase sales, it’s crucial to understand the tactics available and, above all, leverage data to identify what’s going to be effective.