How To: Leverage Celebrity Influencers to Grow Your Brand

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By Courtney Moser

Nike does it. So does Apple. Disney was one of the first to do it. Microsoft is paying the NFL more than $100 million dollars over the next five years to do it for them.

Celebrity influencer marketing is wide spread, but not always clear cut. It’s not about who you know, but how much you’re paying them to know you. This type of influencer marketing can be effective, particularly if you’re a billion-dollar brand looking to stand out in a crowded market.

But what if you’re not a billion-dollar company? Is celebrity influencer marketing still a viable tactic for you?

SMBs and Influencer Marketing

Let’s be clear – influencer marketing works for all company sizes. And by offering an ROI of 6.5:1, influencer marketing can quickly become a marketer’s best friend. So why add a celebrity – and the risk that comes with that publicity – to the mix?

“The whole concept of celebrity is very different than it was just a few years ago,” said Jamie Reardon, CEO of Find Your Influence. “Even five years ago, you would never have seen movie stars making commercials or endorsing brands stateside.”

The concept of a “celebrity” is certainly evolving, as the phrase is no longer limited to high-profile athletes and movie stars. Celebrities now run the gamut from YouTube sensations to reality TV stars. In fact, a celebrity is no longer defined solely by how “famous” they are, but instead by how motivated their audience and fans are.

“As content – and the way people receive that content – continues to personalize to an audience, so does the nature of celebrities and their relationships to consumers,” said Reardon. “There are a lot more ‘celebrities’ today than ever before – and given the increasingly fractured nature of the market, more celebrities are extending beyond their ‘fame,’ and building brands.”

Personal celebrity brands have become an alternative revenue stream to traditional celebrity-status, and are valuable if audience relationships are nurtured properly. Ryan Brunty, head of Social for Zappos COUTURE, agrees with this evolution: “We are living in an incredibly interesting time in which we are hyper connected to not only each other, but the pop culture icons we love and adore.”

Never before have we been able to connect on such a personal level with our chosen celebrities. Whether they’re a famous singer or a successful blogger, we’re connected to these ‘celebrities’ (or influencers) online in a way that blurs the lines of real-life relationships. We are now able to witness personal vignettes of their lives – to chat, comment on pictures, share stories – as though they’re close friends.

And who do consumers trust when it comes to what they purchase? Friends, of course!

“Consumers are now able to get styling tips, shopping advice directly from their pop culture icons,” said Brunty. “Interestingly enough, celebrities are now becoming their own pseudo-retailers as well, creating a personal shopping experience plugged into their blogs/websites.”

In that sense, celebrity influencer marketing is an extension of the circular marketing experience. Marketers are challenged with aligning trust with celebrity endorsement’s demographics while also staying true to their own brands.

Why are celebrity endorsements so valuable?

Celebrity brands are a multi-billion dollar business today, but there are only so many mega-brands to go around, which makes celebrities more accessible to smaller brands than ever before. Given this increasingly fractured marketplace, it’s becoming difficult to continue using traditional (think direct mail, or even email) marketing methods.

So instead of a one-at-a-time approach, marketers are learning the benefits of influencer marketing, or leveraging an individual with an audience.

“Influencer marketing is the new word-of-mouth marketing, but scalable – and cost-effective,” said Reardon. “SMBs don’t have the resources to market one-at-a-time, so influencer marketing makes a lot of sense – communicate to a large group who share a common interest through a mutual thought leader, and you’ll see a much higher conversion rate.”

Zappos COUTURE began their first celebrity marketing campaign working with Lauren Conrad and the LaurenConrad.com team.

“It has become very important for our Zappos COUTURE marketing initiatives to add influencer marketing to our yearly budget,” said Brunty. “It’s important for anyone in the retail space to highly consider this outlet as consumers look to celebrities for style tips, and we as advertisers want to ensure were aligned with where our customer’s interests are.”

Their relationship with Lauren Conrad has certainly paid off for the retailer, leading to a redux for their spring line.

“It’s exciting to see just how wonderfully these campaigns have affected our strategy in ways we couldn’t have even forecasted,” said Brunty. “It’s especially exciting for me, because of the fact that I championed this project; it was very near and dear to me and was important to implement.”

Zappos had originally allocated budget toward a display buy, but Brunty tweaked tactics at the last minute to sanction off a portion of the budget to experiment with influencer marketing.

“It took some convincing to the rest of the team, but in the end, we are so happy with the results that we just completed our second campaign with Lauren Conrad,” said Brunty. “Buyers are informing me of sold out and low inventory SKUs which is always exciting to see after a campaign execution.”

It turns out that even other celebrities are not immune to celebrity influencer marketing.

“For me, the biggest success story comes from Sarah Jessica Parker being so excited about her SJP Collection being featured in the blog post that she sent a note to Lauren personally,” said Brunty. “It doesn’t get any cooler than that!”

Pieces of the Pie

Social media spending in the U.S. is expected to reach $27.4 billion by 2020 and continue growing at a five-year annual growth rate of 17.4%, according to Forrester Research. The way marketers slice their pie is getting more complex, with more offerings – and influencer marketing can check off a number of boxes for most brands.

While celebrity influencers are more expensive than a traditional influencer, they offer a greater megaphone that some brands desire to amplify their reach.

“The key to influencer marketing is target audience reach. It wouldn’t make sense to use Lauren Conrad as a brand ambassador for beard wax, because that’s not where her target audience lives,” said Reardon. “By the same token, you wouldn’t have the Duck Dynasty guys selling women’s shoes… the audience fit is critical for brands.”

That’s not to say marketers should completely abandon all other marketing strategies to jump on the celebrity bandwagon.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say celebrity endorsements ‘rather than’ any other form of marketing, as much as in addition to,” said Brunty. “It’s important to have a well-rounded strategy and this form of marketing falls directly in line with what we are trying to accomplish with our social marketing strategy.”

Want to learn more about how celebrity influencer marketing can boost your marketing strategy and efforts? Contact the Find Your Influence team today. 

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