Influencer marketing, is it clever people conning us out of money?

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Influencer marketing, is it just clever people conning us out of money?



Would you take political advice from a footballer? When writing an opinion-led piece, we need to have power, without power our opinion will be overlooked. In the age of influencer marketing, it is imperative to understand where someone’s influence comes from. Why can they influence us and how do they influence us? Why are certain people effective and yet I’m not? These are all questions we as marketers are baffled by on a daily basis. Here I will dissect the phenomenon of influencer marketing. Anyone and everyone is an influencer, ever posted a tweet? Or tagged your friend in a funny dog meme? You’re an influencer, you’ve appeared on multiple people’s timelines and affected what they see and what they think of it. What do they think of you? That’s probably affected the content they saw because of you. If they like you they’ll like the content, if they don’t like you they won't like the content, even if it was the same.

The first point we subconsciously take note of is power. Power first affects the way we perceive the message, like is it rewarding? Is the Queen making me do something? Almost 60 years ago, psychologists French and Raven developed their 5 bases of power and now it holds more relevance than ever.

Referent and expert power are the holy grail for influence marketers, these relate to the attractiveness and expertise of the individual and what is required to gain any kind of result. Legitimate and coercive power comes from people with the authority to enforce change like the government or council, but you don’t want this. Who wants their customers to HAVE to do something, no-one, we want customers to make their own decision, or at least we think we do.

However, what everyone uses is reward power, how often do you see people on Instagram and Twitter offering money off for using the code ‘Joel10’? All the time. This comes from the combination of reward power and the heavily documented motivation theory from Taylor, that states the only thing anyone cares about is money. And is he wrong? If so why is the primary marketing strategy all based around price? We as consumers love a bargain, so an influencer strategy from a sales-oriented company will be centred around this. High turnaround brands with small margins will take on board this strategy and look to shift mass volumes of product to keep their revenues high.

The other main strategy that influencer marketing is used for is brand awareness. A simple Instagram post from someone using your product immediately puts you in front of their followers and they then are aware of your product, whether they consciously explore it, or it subconsciously drips into their mind for future recall. This is common in high prestige items, where they want to keep their high-end positioning in the market so don’t want to devalue their brand.

Celebrity Endorsement Theory

When firms select an influencer there are a number of factors they need to consider such as will the influencer overpower our brand? Do they hold values we want people to associate with our brand? Are they a relevant fit for us? There isn’t a correct answer for these questions, it’s all dependent on the marketers wants and strategy. But there are certain considerations that need to be made, for example academics have investigated the Vampire Effect. This is when the endorser overshadows the brand and takes the limelight instead of your product that they are supposed to be highlighting. Putting this into perspective, David Beckham would definitely overpower my sister-in-law’s lemonade stand she set up on the corner, everyone would be interested in him and she wouldn’t make any money, poor girl.

However, a way to combat this has been explored through the Match-Up Hypothesis. This states that to reduce the vampire effect, we can select an influencer who is a relevant fit for the organisation. You know you see all those beautiful people who obviously love their fitness promoting diet plans, protein supplements and such? That’s the match-up hypothesis in action. Makes consumers think “Wow they look good, if that works for them it’ll work for me” when in reality we know they’ve probably never used these things in their life.

The next thing to consider is the attitudes and values of the person you’re choosing to influence people on behalf of your brand. Consumers often transfer their thoughts on an influencer onto the brand they’re supporting, McCracken investigated this and proposed Meaning Transfer Theory. This suggests that individuals who support brands put an aspect of themselves into the brand identity. Take Emma Watson for example, she holds many admirable values and works as a female rights activist so if you used her to promote your product, these values would transfer.

What can we do?

What to do to break the mould?

Well there’s a reason they made the mould, it works. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a new mould, a mould that breaks the monopoly held over the strategy.

The principles used in a B2C influencer strategy differ heavily from the B2B environment. Reward power means little, expert power rules the roost, and this is where marketers fall short. B2B marketers focus heavily on the knowledge and functionality aspects and even though these are the more important functions, we are essentially governed by how we perceive things. The reality means little, perception rules. Even though we operate in a B2B environment where knowledge is key, we’re all ruled by emotion right? It’s still an individual you’re targeting at the end of the day and they want to be made to feel like a king or queen, as we all do. We just need to be smart.

My proposal for those looking into utilising an influencer strategy is to be simple and smart. Work smarter not harder, take apart your brand, values and identify individuals who hold similar values. The major metric used is followers, but disregard this and throw it out the window. If you get put in front of 50,000 people but only 10 are interested, you will have paid a lot of money to get in front of those 10 people. Focus on low following opinion leaders, an expert in your field with strong connections and a following of 200 people is going to be so much more valuable to you and it’ll save you an arm and leg to get you the same results.

I'd love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment or drop me an email at or even message me on LinkedIn!

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