The following is an excerpt from Jason Falls‘ Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, which will be released Feb. 23 via Entrepreneur Press. Pre-order your copy now via Amazon | Barnes & Noble| IndieBound| Bookshop.
What do you think of when you hear the word “pudding”? For most people, it probably brings up some childhood memory of after-school snacks (or, unfortunately, Bill Cosby commercials). But one group of people who may have a very different answer is women who love their curly hair. Pantene Pro-V Curl Defining Pudding is a popular finishing-touch item in the brand’s Gold Series of hair care products. It helps curly hair stay moisturized, retaining its natural curl without frizzing.
According to several dozen product reviews I read, it also smells good and leaves hair shiny. The Curl Defining Pudding was often mentioned by influencers in Pantene’s Gold Series campaign in the early summer months of 2019. The Procter & Gamble brand chose 25 Black women who were Instagram influencers, with content centered on beauty, hair and lifestyle. Four of the influencers had a good number, but not millions, of subscribers on YouTube. Each was engaged to place at least one sponsored post apiece on each channel. The goal was to drive awareness of Pantene’s Gold Series Collection, which includes the Curl Defining Pudding.
At the time of the campaign, the online influencers’ audiences ranged from Chizi Duru’s (@chiziduru) 122,000 Instagram followers to Lisa-Jean Francois’ (@lisaalamode) 36,000. (Duru also had 381,000 YouTube subscribers, which were enough to place her on both lists of Pantene Gold Series influencers — Instagram and YouTube.) In total, the potential reach of the influencer effort based on their number of followers was more than 2.5 million people. The proof is indeed in the pudding.
The posts registered 250,000 views on Instagram, earning more than 56,000 likes and 1,600 comments. The overall engagement rate of the program, according to Mediakix.com, was 12.26% — an outstanding ratio of engagements to reach. On YouTube, the influencers produced 287,000 views with more than 1,000 comments and an engagement rate of about 4.5%. Not bad for a platform not always known for driving comments and interactions. These numbers are strong, if not outstanding. More important for the brand, the main talking points and unique selling propositions were called out by each of the influencers. The specific products in the line, including the Curl Defining Pudding, were mentioned. The fact that the Gold Series was developed by a team of Black scientists was prominent in many of the posts. The influencer campaign did exactly what the brand team hoped to accomplish: create greater awareness of the Gold Series Collection within the intended target audience.
This was a Winfluence campaign, not just an influencer marketing one. It leveraged online influencers, but in a targeted manner with strategic purpose that moved the business forward. It wasn’t just buying sponsored posts on famous Instagrammers’ accounts and hoping people would think you were cool by association. Another factor that makes this a Winfluence campaign is its construction. Even the largest advertiser in the world — Procter & Gamble — with its bleeding-edge marketing approaches, didn’t spend marketing dollars on mega-influencers with millions of followers. It focused on midtier and even smaller influencers with engaged audiences who could persuade those fans to take action.
Procter & Gamble reported a 5% growth in organic sales from its products in fiscal 2019. Sales of the Pantene Gold Series contributed to that growth. The world’s largest advertiser turning to influencers to drive success would seem to reinforce our earlier assertion that influence marketing works. But I’m also about to provide plenty of data to back that up.
Fish where the fish are
So let’s take a look at why Procter & Gamble is investing their considerable resources in influence marketing online. They’re doing it because the internet is where consumers decide to buy products. People who buy hair care products don’t watch TV commercials, look for an ad in the Sunday paper or flip through magazines anymore. Instead, they’re looking for information online. And more than any other company in the world, P&G knows to fish where the fish are.
The Columbia Journalism Review summed up the main reason consumers flock to influencers in today’s media world. In a survey conducted for CJR by Reuters/Ipsos in December 2019, confidence in the press was compared to mainstay institutions like the military, law enforcement, universities, the Supreme Court, Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government. The least trusted of those institutions? The press.
The survey also revealed that about 40% of people get most of their news from online and social media; the same percentage get most of their news from TV. Perhaps more shocking, 60% of the 4,200 Americans polled believe that reporters sometimes or often get paid by their sources to write stories.
CJR’s 2019 data follows a long trend in consumers’ deteriorating trust in the media. A September 2018 Gallup/Knight Foundation poll found that 69% of U.S. adults say their trust in the news media has decreased in the past decade. In fact, between 2003 and 2016, the percentage of Americans who said they truly trusted the media fell from 54 to 32%.
Ipsos’ July 2019 “Trust in the Media” report found something more specific: Forty-six percent of consumers around the world say they do not have much trust in traditional media, meaning newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Further, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that 74% of consumers across eight major countries intentionally avoid advertising. Thirty-nine percent said they had found ways to avoid almost all ads.
People don’t trust traditional media. And people demand trust. For several years now, the Edelman Trust Barometer has been the bible on understanding consumer trust. And the special report on brands may as well have been a big, flashing neon sign that said, “Consumers Trust Influencers!” In it, 63% of people said they trust influencers’ opinions of products “much more” than what brands say about themselves. And 58% — almost six out of ten consumers — confirmed they had bought a new product in the past six months because of an influencer’s recommendation.
Read that again. Not because of a recommendation from a family member, a friend or an online review. More than half of people globally have bought something in the past six months based on the recommendation of an online influencer. Consumers also confirm another assertion we’ve discussed: It’s not always about popularity. An influencer’s ability to connect with them in a meaningful way is a better indicator of persuasive success than how many followers they have or how famous they are. Edelman’s namesake president and CEO, Richard Edelman, told Ad Age while discussing the report, “Influencers matter. They’re credible.”
To be fair, Edelman’s 2019 “Global Report” also showed conflicting levels of trust in media, reporting that 64% of people globally trust traditional media, rising to 65% in the United States. Social media, on the other hand, is generally not as trusted, with only 44% globally and 34% in the U.S. claiming it as a trustworthy resource. As an institution, however, “media” broadly scores a 47 on Edelman’s Trust Barometer around the world, meaning that 53% of people globally don’t trust it. In the U.S., that number falls slightly to 52%.
Conflicting Perspectives Advertising agency UM also conducts an annual survey of consumers that asks about influencers, but its “Wave 9 Study” in 2019 revealed an opposing view. Only 4% of the 56,000 consumers it surveyed around the world said they believe information that comes from influencers. Only 8% believe information shared on social media sites.
The poll showed, for example, that only 36% of people in Britain trust influencer opinions on products and services. Globally, trust for their opinions was a bit higher, at 42%. What on earth can explain the disparity between these two surveys? Simply put, the statistics here are answers to different questions that don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. The UM data seems to answer the questions, “Do you believe what you see on social media is true?” and, “Do you believe the information you learn from influencers?” The Edelman data seems to answer, “Do you trust what an influencer says more or less than you trust what a brand says?”
The indicators are there. So is the data. Consumers give a damn about influencers. Enlightened brands know this and give a damn about them, too.