In a recent piece I wrote on Forbes I discussed the importance of influence on the various stages of the buyer’s journey. In the Nielsen study I referred to it showed unequivocally that the expert was far more influential in building brand awareness than a brand could ever be. Further, the expert drove better results in the middle and late stages of the journey as well.
The Student Becomes The Teacher and The Expert Becomes The Influencer
Now that brands are latching on to the fact that people are influenced to buy based on what those around them are saying (this is nothing new by the way) they have taken to their CFOs for budgets to expand their influence programs. I can hear hundreds of CMOs running to their CFO and saying:
“Look at this study, it says experts drive awareness, affinity and purchase intent. Let’s hire experts to write content about our brand to help drive more revenue.”
CFOs being rigid number crunchers, these studies would undoubtedly lead them straight to the checkbook and away we would go, but as they skip hand and hand down the road of influence, are they asking all the right questions and considering all of the facts?
Moreover, are influencers really experts and how does money exchanging hands impact their effectiveness?
Real Influence Is Advocacy
When your neighbor pulls into the driveway in the car that you are thinking of buying and you walk over and ask them their thoughts, what they say next is probably going to carry some weight.
If they turn to you and say “I love this car” and then they go on to share how great their buying experience was, what a fun car it is to drive and how the service is second to none, that is going to make a big difference.
On the other hand if they tell you that it is the biggest piece of junk they have ever driven and they wish it would vanish in a flood, that is going to make a difference too, but not in a way that helps the brand.
Either way, the real influence is in having real people that we know and trust helping to reduce buyers dissonance and making the journey more satisfying. This can be done by informing the potential buyer and driving confidence that they will be satisfied with their purchase; regardless of whether they are buying a car or signing up for a new cell phone plan.
Why I don’t Want To Be An Influencer
Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in influence marketing, but there is a reason I don’t want to be an “influencer.”
In the above sentence, buried in the subtleties of the parenthesis lies the “Why.” It is because I want not to be an influencer, but an evangelist for the brands I may consider working with. I want to be able to put my head down at night and know in my heart that those people who may make a buying decision because of me have made a great choice.
In the day of social networks and unprecedented content at our disposal everyone to some extent has influence, but what brands really need are advocates. Whether they pay them or not they need people who would have said great things about them for free.
And in that is the litmus test for influence, if you are only saying because they are paying… then your doing a disservice to the brands that you represent and the consumers by which you engage.
Call it influence if you want, but make sure to know the difference. Brands don’t need influencers, they need advocates; otherwise they may be putting the core of their brand into the hands of hucksters in disguise. If influence is the result you seek, then advocacy is the road to hoe.