For today’s brands, and the vibrant and unpredictable congregation of stakeholders they seek to engage, influence is everywhere. It’s fueled by content of all kinds and streams from nearly every imaginable source: from smart-phones in pockets and screens in the backseats of cabs, to broadcast, print, and new media bloggers, vloggers, Viners, and YouTube sensations.
Its impact on brands and the agencies that serve them has intensified with the explosion of digital platforms and the rise of consumer participation and, ultimately, authority. Suddenly, stakeholders are no longer target audiences on a new digital broadcast platform; they’re vocal participants and co-creators in a complex ecosystem — pushing content back into deep networks and shifting circles of socialized connectivity that reach and engage consumers with more credibility and relevance than even the biggest brands could hope to achieve.
The velocity of this constantly evolving, digitally driven "ecosystem of influence" can be difficult for marketers to grasp. So how can brands engage differently to more effectively identify and activate influence in their favor?
According to Allison+Partners’ Influence Impact Report, brands must understand the forces that fertilize and shape the influence ecosystem in order to be successful.
1. Understand the flow of influence. As consumers have become increasingly comfortable with connecting, communicating, and even disagreeing with brands and each other, the initiation of influence as an action has shifted. In fact, influence actually begins with the consumer, who actively pulls influence in his direction. This understanding goes against the behaviors and assumptions made by many brand marketers who choose to utilize influencers as a channel for pushing content or to create "influence," the noun.
2. Use the equation of influence. Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. If written as an equation for brand marketers, this would look like: Influence = (Reach + Authenticity) x Power. These elements of influence are helpful in understanding how influence can go from a noun to a verb and become something tangible and useful.
3. Identify influencers who will have the greatest impact. More and more, it’s the "who" that determines the success of content reaching targets, raising awareness, and changing thoughts and actions. By understanding essential "personas of influence," brands can more efficiently tailor content communications strategies.
4. Consider your source. Even though consumers may initiate the process of influence, it remains critical for brands to know which source has the highest level of influence so they’re able to get them to change their behavior most effectively. According to the Influence Impact Report, WOM, traditional media, in-person experiential events, and digital channels carry the most weight.
5. Establish credibility through personalization. To achieve a halo of influence close to what’s seen in WOM relationships, familiarity and trust are the core ingredients to inspire credibility among stakeholders. With that credibility comes an exponential intensification of influence, and beyond that: the potential for true brand advocacy. With a greater understanding of customers — particularly within the persona types — a brand can deliver personalized experiences, develop a degree of familiarity with consumers, and create interactions that have much greater efficiency and authenticity.
Cathy Planchard is the president of All Told, a group within Allison+Partners that combines the agency’s research, content, creative, digital, and measurement expertise. Corey Martin is the managing director of the agency’s consumer marketing practice.