When & where to use influencers — with special guest dispatcher: CAPTAIN GARY!

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When & Where to Use Influencers -- with special guest dispatcher: CAPTAIN GARY!

Hi all, Gary here.

“Those influencers at your lunch didn’t care about your brand. I respect what they do but they’re driven by self-promotion and swag bags.” – Emily in Paris

The recent launch of Emily in Paris on Netflix brought increased attention to advertising, social media, and the role of influencers in marketing. The show has been both a hit and a cause for much grumbling.

Let’s be honest, Emily is to marketing what The Avengers are to crime-fighting, a stereotyped comic book caricature. There may be grains of truth buried in the portrayal of influencers, but the reality is more nuanced and should be guided by clear aspiration and pragmatic choices over time. Influencer marketing is a craft that benefits from consideration and refinement more so than gumption and a script that needs to wrap things up by the end of an episode.

Many in the influencer space act in a manner that feels “transactional.” An individual accrues a following on social media, likely with particular characteristics. A brand marketer wants to reach this audience. An influencer is paid to advocate, they do, and sales are (hopefully) generated. Move forward, repeat.

This approach is not new. Channels of communication have evolved and the cycle time from concept to communication has dramatically accelerated, but gift bags at the Oscars and celebrity spokespersons have been around since before the rise of “marketing” in the modern sense (for history buffs:

At Mercury Marine, we take a different approach to our influential relationships, with individuals, with entities, with production franchises. We build long-term affinities, with authenticity and a higher sense of validity associated with the advocacy. When we add to Team Mercury, the new member benefits from the equity we’ve built, from the cultural norms with which we associate. We want influence to be observable not just in what folks recommend or post on social media but integrated into their actions in the real world. Did they win using our product? Do folks see them with Mercury Marine on their boats in a marina? Is the sense of mutual commitment between the influencer and the brand tangible?

We ask our influencers to promote new product and highlight consumer offers, but we resist one-time pay-for-a-mention tactics with other influential personalities. We play a different game with different rules. We want more “it’s gotta be the shoes” and less “talentless” in Mercury Marine Instagram posts.

For a brand with over 80 years of legacy, it is crucial to ensure continued relevance and increasing appeal. We manage over 1,800 influencer relationships. Most are of local importance to consumers. A smaller set of nationally recognized personalities provide access to broader yet still targeted audiences. These folks compete in events like the Bassmaster Classic or Major League Fishing. Some produce television shows. In all cases we look for marketing symbiosis, both burnishing the Mercury Marine brand and lending our Go Boldly equity to members of Team Mercury.

An advantage of this approach can be tenure. We grow relationships, in some cases, over decades while constantly nurturing up-and-comers, maintaining appeal with both new and existing customers. We also gain continuity for the brand even as marketers rotate through the team. Our influencers truly carry and pass along the passion for the brand, and we the marketers can tap into them for debate as we evolve our strategies. It is a less visible, but no less important benefit of how we engage with Team Mercury.

This brings us back to Emily’s observation. What does your brand need? If you are looking to grab a moment of attention to generate trial of a new product, perhaps a high visibility, short-term influencer arrangement is appropriate. On the other hand, if you want to grow appeal, equity, and brand commitment over time, put the swag bags aside and consider investing in long term relationships. You may prefer an enduring team of influencers all working together to build your brand even as they build their own.