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2014: The Year of the Brand Influencer

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We Aren't Influenced By Ads, But We Are Influenced By People. Spending Will Follow.

If there is one thing that I have learned in my career, it is that the money always follows the trends. This can be good when the trend is linear, and it can be quite lousy when a trend is short lived (think Pet Rock).

One thing that is for certain is people by in large are not influenced by advertisements. In fact there isn't a single "true" advertising medium that is trusted at a rate of greater than 50 percent.

In a world gone social, we are influenced by our trusted network at a rate of near 90 percent and that alone speaks volume for where things are heading.

While content marketing is really not new, in the past year it has hit the radar of just about every CMO with a pulse.

Recognizing that content is far more trusted than ads -- with retail sites, brand sites and blogs being the three most influential content vehicles -- brands are going to be looking at a way to move spend from lesser performing vehicles like advertising to greater performing methods like blogging, video and infographics.

Currently, brands are seeing the greatest results in building trust and community through their content efforts; however, their spend still goes more toward advertising.

To be precise, in 2013 nearly 50 percent of brands social marketing spend goes to Facebook advertising and less than 10 percent went to influencer outreach and blogging. Meaning that brands spent 5 times as much on Facebook ads as they did on creating owned content and driving earned media.

Digital Spend Social Marketing

Think about it for yourself. What are you more likely to trust and engage with: A Facebook ad or a blog post written by someone influential about the product or service?

What is even crazier is that these out of proportion spends on advertising were after a 40 percent increase in what companies budgeted for social media in 2013.

I believe this is leading us to a seismic shift in how brands will do business.

With Facebook making it harder for brands to be seen (even paid brands), and the fact that sound "owned, earned" strategies will lead readers to brand owned sites, companies that want to drive influence moving into 2014 are going to have to focus on their influencer outreach.

To accomplish this, brands are going to need to seek out thought leaders and content creators that influence buying behavior in their respective industries.

Who Are These Thought Leaders?

While though leader and content creator sounds fancy, what I'm really talking about here are bloggers.

They are represented by those who write and publish content to the web, most often on their own sites or on a multitude of their own sites.

While brands are enamored with vehicles like Facebook and Twitter to cultivate followers and drive brand engagement, the most influential people are merely using social channels to drive readers back to their sites (86 percent).

This means that those that can influence their brands aren't well represented where the brands are looking for them, making it harder for brands to find influencers that can support their marketing initiatives.

Driving Influence That Pays Off Big

While every brands goals for marketing are a little bit different, I think it would be safe to say that all brands have a goal to drive positive brand sentiment.

This positive feeling toward a brand moves buyers confidence level in making brand purchases higher as they see people they trust supporting a certain product or service.

For many companies that know their target audience, this makes influencer marketing even more valuable. This is because 54 percent of consumers believe a small highly-engaged community is far more influential than a larger less loyal community. In fact, only 12 percent believe a larger community is more influential.

Small Community Large Influence

This data point is incredibly important and, in actuality, is very good news for brands looking to "buy influence."

In short, brands need to seek out influencers that can drive and create very small, yet loyal communities to advocate for their brand.

With so many people through social channels being separated by only one or two degrees, a small, yet highly loyal group can reach far and be much more compelling than a large army of wishy-washy folks who like a brand on Facebook or follow a brand on Twitter.

With buyers being influenced at far greater rates by people within their networks, brands are going to want to figure out how to get closer to the influencer.

Again, for each product and service the influencer may vary, but the data does not lie. People will buy from brands they trust and the trust comes squarely from content generated by the brands intention and unintentional community.

In 2014 influence, will be the great brand equalizer, begging the question: How will your brand use influence and outreach to turn those new to your brand into enthusiasts, and those that know your brand into ambassadors?

Images courtesy of Technorati: Digital Influence Report.  All Rights Reserved.