Influence stands atop the new world of digital communications. In its rise, it has shattered the traditional world order in the communications industry, claiming new omni-channel powers and remarkable sales potential.
With origins in the world of public relations, influence is bringing new respect to the industry and driving new interest among marketers.
Influence comes from anywhere and everywhere. It’s what your neighbor thinks. What the car reviewer says. What the mommy blogger recommends. These spark trends, cause actions, and can determine the fame and fortunes of brands around the world.
This is not your father’s influence. It’s not even your big brother’s or sister’s influence. It’s totally modern. It’s digital. It’s tech-driven. And yes, it’s based around earned media and content. What’s new is that it means business, literally millions in revenue.
Today’s influence has become so crucial to the bottom line that advertisers, digital experts, and media buyers are all looking at it critically.
The great news is that some of the top thinkers from around the world are engaged. For the PR pro who is not used to this newfound attention, the question is how to best collaborate on joint solutions. For those who are industry insiders, this isn’t surprising. Our content has always been the most credible and authoritative.
Customers are influencers with the power to change your brand’s fortunes
Before social media – and, yes, hard as it is to believe, there was life before social media – customer opinions were certainly vital to every brand, but the avenues by which companies would get that feedback were limited to the store or the phone.
Today, consumers talk about you 24-7, 365. It’s a never ending conversation where opinions and ideas are shared about your brand. Those conversations, which shape fellow consumers’ opinions and can directly impact their actions, take place with or without you – so you better be a part of it and be ready to act upon it.
Why? Because every single person involved in those conversations has influence. Today, customers are influencers with the power to change your brand’s fortunes more than ever before.
Relationships still hold the keys
Above all else, brands must understand that they no longer can control the message because consumers are increasingly skeptical of anything that feels contrived. But even with letting go, brands can maintain enough control to feel comfortable.
The key: relationships. A great way to create relationships with consumers is to build relationships with the right influencers. Obviously, research needs to be done to identify those key individuals, but once you do, you have an avenue to current and potential customers.
One really smart way to go about this is for a brand to hook up with an influencer outside its niche. As Stephanie McCratic, CEO of Acorn: An Influence Company, told PRWeek in it’s “The New Influencers” feature this past February: “Sometimes, when a message comes from an unexpected source, if it is connected to that source in a smart way, it is really strong and lasting.” She went on to note that such influencers can truly impact a broad swath of consumers because any person who would deviate from their usual content to discuss a product outside it must really love that product.
Tell a great story; create a unique experience
One thing a brand can still control directly is the narrative it builds about itself. With brand content, nothing trumps good stories. They are so influential because they tap emotions that stay with a consumer right up until that moment of purchase and beyond. Stories are also a gateway to what consumers really want out of brands – and will want more of in the future: experiences.
Brands no longer sell products. They sell experiences. They offer a path to feel a certain way. They empower consumers to change their worlds. Lists of specs and stats will never accomplish that. Only stories can.
However, stories need to be relevant to each individual recipient. Stories need to be told in a manner that empowers influencers to tell them in their own words. And if brands establish relationships in the manner referenced earlier, they can ensure their stories remain true to the brand, regardless of who is telling them and how they are told.
PR pros are often focused on the initial get – the story, the blog post, the customer or influencer-created content. But what happens when the campaign succeeds and results in some powerful – and influential – earned media or earned content? Most pros today resort to an amplification strategy, ensuring other influencers see and share the post. However, amplification has become much more sophisticated than it was even just a few short years ago. This is where paid media colleagues can come in with advanced solutions – such as programmatic buying – that allow the best content to be properly scaled and targeted to drive commerce.
An exciting new future
A number of rising trends are destined to shape influence in new ways. Authenticity will remain a huge mandate as brands seek to influence consumers – and a key path to authenticity, at least how the public perceives it, is working with influencers to drive consumer trust. Brands will increase efforts to help position influencers in manners that will help both their own brand and the individual influencer stand out.
Taken a step further, brands will increasingly focus on amplifying influencer voices, again, understanding that their messages become more powerful when told by others. Of course, a new mandate brands have to meet is the consistent development of new influencers. Savvy consumers will quickly recognize when a brand sticks with the same influencer for a long period of time. Eventually, people will tune them out, too.
And going back to relationships, a trend that will have to continue in the near and distant future: marketing disciplines will have to increasingly work together to ensure maximum brand influence.
Numerous questions remain. What kind of content delivers the most influence to drive a specific consumer action? What role can technology play in the delivery and spread of influence? How can influence be scaled and targeted to the right consumers? How can it be measured?
The real advancement in the science of influence may come from the sophisticated re-engineering of how influence spreads.
The important new solution Conversation2Commerce is designed to help brands overcome two key obstacles to influence: the lack of scale for the best brand stories and the difficulty in ensuring it reaches the right targets at the right place and time to drive action.
C2C is MSLGROUP’s influence-to-impact performance platform. With earned media at the core, it is powered by the services and newest technnologies from Publicis Communications and Publicis Media.
To learn more about how Conversation2Commerce can boost your brand and commerce, contact: Erin B. Lanuti, Chief Influence Strategist, MSLGROUP.