In every community of any size — online or off — there are influential voices. Some have a following and a reputation large enough that they monetize it — charging brands that want to connect with their audience fees. It’s often referred to as “influencer marketing.”
Many financial brands have held back from influencer marketing, but that could be changing quickly, as more institutions follow in the footsteps of early pioneers, matching themselves with social media influencers who can help bust through modern communications clutter.
The internet and social channels have turned everyone into a potentially powerful publisher, according to Jason Falls, Director of Digital and Social Strategy at the Cornett agency. You could call it the “democratization of marketing.”
“There’s a lot of noise out there,” says Falls, speaking at an AdWeek webinar. “Influencer marketing is about finding the signal among all the noise, and finding out how to attract the eyeballs and the attention span of the audience that you want to reach.”
In the “Influencer Marketing in Financial Services” report from Mintel Comperemedia, analysts says that relevance, credibility and authenticity determine whether or not a relationship between an influencer and a bank or credit union brand will work.
A strong brand+influencer match can score well on multiple levels, according to Troy Janisch, VP/Director of Social Intelligence at U.S. Bank. In a typical month, he says, U.S. Bank’s brand garners 15,000-20,000 social media mentions in total. But when an influencer hits the right note with a mention, that single reference can up the reach by as much as 30,000 additional mentions. And that boost continues paying dividends for months as other followers share the item with their friends and followers.
“Conversations with influencers who are authentic create a lot of momentum,” Janisch explained in a webinar with Talkwalker.
Ultimately, tapping influencers is a form of word-of-mouth marketing. It’s part of a broad category of marketing psychology that behavioral scientists call “social proof” — making something look popular so that consumers “follow the herd.” According to research by Nielsen, the power of influencer marketing to change perception of a brand is an average 60% stronger than other traditional forms of advertising.
“The true power of influencer marketing stems from its ability to win over the hearts of consumers and shift perceptions of brands to boost its affinity,” the research report states.
A-List Fame Isn’t the Name of the Game
By 2020 spending on influencer marketing will be in the billions, estimates indicate. At first glance, the technique seems like an iteration of the celebrity endorsement, another twist on the classic Wheaties box. But endorsements usually involve big names that every household knows. By contrast, influencer marketing often relies on people you may never have heard of— but who are followed by thousands out there on the web on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, their blogs, or all of the above.
Celebrity endorsers may go social for you, but a single post may cost a fortune, experts point out. Singer and actress Selena Gomez reportedly charges more than $500,000 per social post. Influencers can be more believable and often much less expensive. A survey of Association of National Advertisers members found that 62% spend under $100,000 annually compensating influencers.
Have you ever heard of fly fishing expert Maddie Brenneman? Travel blogger/photographer David Jones? Women’s lifestyle blogger Monika Hibbs? Gluten-free chef and wellness expert Phoebe Lapine? Family travel expert Eric Stoen (“Travel Babbo”)?
Maybe. But in today’s highly fragmented range of interests, chances are, maybe you haven’t. But thousands have, and care what they say. Each of those influencers mentioned has obtained some financial services company’s influencer marketing sponsorship. Some influencers’ efforts are more subtle than others, but the money is out there and the connections waiting to be built upon.
Celebrities sell on fame, but influencers sell on trust, according to Falls. They have built trust in their sphere and the financial brand partnering with them piggybacks on that.
Financial Brands Snatch Up Influencer Tool
“Influencer marketing is something you can’t avoid,” says Janisch. “It’s something you need to proactively develop in order to generate engagement, but it’s also a defensive tactic.” During the Talkwalker webinar, Janisch — a scheduled speaker at The Financial Brand Forum in 2019 — indicated that financial companies’ involvement in influencer marketing is building up rapidly. U.S. Bank has been expanding use of paid social media influencers and formalized use of employees as influencers.
“Influencer marketing is something you can’t avoid. It’s something you need to generate engagement, but it’s also a defensive tactic.”
— Troy Janisch, U.S. Bank
Mintel Comperemedia’s report recounts influencer marketing efforts by such major financial brands as American Express, for its cards and its Small Business Saturday program; JPMorgan Chase for its Sapphire banking products and Slate card; Capital One for its “Financial Superhero” experience at its Cafes; Bank of America, for its small business community efforts; and Citibank for its N.Y. Mets “Private Pass Post-Game Catch Experience.”
Experts say that influencer marketing works best after a brand has done enough social listening to determine which influencers make the best match for their messaging. But the tie-in rarely stands out for banks and credit unions as “I’m a financial genius and that’s why people follow me and why you should pay me to mention your name.” In fact, “on Instagram we are looking for influencers who don’t talk about banking at all,” says Janisch. Even if they discuss financial decisions that affect their lives, the bank prefers they not specifically discuss U.S. Bank products. Influencers with other brands are not bound by such policies, making mention that they’ve just charged some pastry or other item on their sponsor’s credit card, for example.
Banks and credit unions venture onto new ground. “It comes down to offering something of value to the audience, and not just advertising,” states a whitepaper by social media monitoring firm NewsWhip. “To be successful, it’s important to adopt the mindset of your audience — what would you want to see in your news feed and engage with?”
( Read More: Tips to Winning With Social Media Influencers )
Getting Started with Influencer Marketing
Many of the figures mentioned thus far work at the national or international level. But experts point out that there are influencers who have impact even at the community level — defined geographically or otherwise. Thus smaller banks and credit unions can try their hand at this technique.
1. Define the audience and scope out influencer partners.
Deciding which influencer to team with hinges on who you want to reach, and there may be multiple answers to that question.
“An influencer should have at least 15,000 to 20,000 followers on a particular social network to be considered.”
Frequently just jumping into the social pool and selecting influencers is a mistake. Marshall Kirkpatrick, Senior Director of Influencer and Analyst Relations at Sprinklr, suggests a heavy dose of social listening to determine who really rates among the potential partners. The influencer should be reaching the target audience and be consistently generating content that appeals to it. Falls suggests that an influencer have at least 15,000 to 20,000 followers on a particular social network to be considered.
(Also, note that influencers fall under “endorser” rules and guidance issued by the Federal Trade Commission. FTC has issued warning letters to influencers who fail to make their relationship with a brand clear.)
2. Vet your potential influencer.
You should be able to probe all the kinds of data necessary to be sure that your pending partner has the reach and impact you hope for. “There’s no reason that an influencer should be hiding their metrics from you,” says Falls. If they aren’t forthcoming, move on.
Vetting also entails looking at the content. Janisch recommends going back six to nine months before hiring an influencer. This helps avoid embarrassment.
Another key policy for U.S. Bank is maintaining a selection of influencers. “We have a stable of influencers so it’s clear that they don’t represent our brand nor the voice of our brand,” says Janisch, as opposed to an official spokesperson. “For us, they are just an active member of the internet community who has intersected with financial content through a relationship with us.”
3. Reach out with an offer.
Falls suggests not making the whole point of outreach to potential influencer partners about money. He likes to talk in terms of partnership and mutual value to be had by establishing a connection.
“If there’s not the perception of value in the influencers’ minds, if it is just about money, that comes off as kind of cheap and superficial”
— Jason Falls, Cornett
“If there’s not the perception of value in their minds, if it is just about money, that comes off as kind of cheap and superficial,” says Falls. “They need to buy into what you are doing.” The value may be a coupon code for the influencer’s followers, backing for a cause, or materials for a project, for example. Some type of trade might even be considered. NewsWhip’s paper also notes that influencers may insist on editorial freedom. This is not like buying ad space or a sponsored section. “Understand that influencers talk to their audiences on a peer-to-peer level,” the paper states.
In fact, to a degree, influencer irreverence represents part of the follower-influencer trust equation.
“Irreverence strongly suggests independence, and it’s this that builds trust,” writes Sanjay Nazerali, Chief Strategy Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network, on Think with Google. “It can also be incredibly valuable for brands. If a creator usually ridicules things they don’t like, you can be sure that when they praise something, they really mean it.”
4. Produce compatible content.
When an influencer is interested, Falls says, the brand should be able to follow up immediately with assets like graphics, videos, research, and other materials that can make their work easier.
“When you provide value to your audience, that provides value to us,” is a pitch that resonates with influencers, says Falls. Further along, after the partnership is seasoned, content generation may be collaborative.
Respect is also critical, according to Falls. One point is to respect the influencer’s time, not hogging their schedule. Another is to respect the rules of each particular online community they are part of. Don’t ask them to do or say anything that is out of bounds there for the sake of your brand.
5. Determine key performance indicators and measure results of the partnership.
Experts agree that goals are essential before launching into an influencer campaign. Without clear targets, suggests Influencer Marketing Hub in a white paper, “you are truly engaging in ‘hope’-marketing.” Its guide says that typical metrics include audience reach, impressions, engagements — comments, likes, and shares, conversions, brand mentions, and growth in followers. Brand awareness, calibrated by mentions, is important to U.S. Bank, for example.
Falls cautions newcomers that adopting influencer marketing won’t necessarily “revolutionize your traffic.” However, he adds, influencers should be held accountable for producing some results for the value they’ve received from the brand.