It started off with a Whatsapp Group (dark social), with a couple of friends organising a drinks & dinner session after work with partners. Someone suggested a venue that I had not heard of previously. But as I was not the only one, someone soon dropped a Whatsapp pin to assist with directions. We could have Googled it, but I guess the pin was easier and with technology, we have got lazier. It was never going to be about the venue anyway, but rather the occasion and all the laughs that it promised.
On arrival, I was surprised. The “no-name brand” venue, unheard of previously, was full of patrons and if someone in our group had not booked, we would have been left stranded.
Next door and across the street, were far more well-known venues. Renowned because of their link to big chains, and on the back of that, the associated large advertising budgets that spread their names across all the most common media platforms. No doubt, these venues ticked the awareness block in the advertising and marketing world, to the point that I asked why no-one had just mentioned that our venue for the night is next door to XYZ. So why were these big names not drawing more patrons? Perhaps awareness is not the only key factor in the journey to change consumer behaviour. But we know this, don’t we?
Back to the popular spot. I asked the owner (who was present, which is in itself was significantly different to the manager-run venues next door) why his venue seemed to be so busy, and on the face of it getting a bigger slice of the cake, literally speaking. What was his secret? What amazing advertising strategy does he have to secure these results? Considering the size of our bill at the end of the evening, it certainly was not a result of any huge discounts on offer.
His response it turns out did not involve any rocket science or mind-blowing advertising strategy based on deep data. He said he focused merely on serving us in a manner that would resonate with us, and in turn trust that I tell other people about my experience. Simple. Possibly the oldest form of advertising – getting your customers to gain you more customers buy just doing the job – well. It works for him, so it should work for others too.
So through this real-world illustration, we are introduced to the notion of influencer marketing. The Cambridge Business English Dictionary describes an influencer as “the individual whose effect on the purchase decision is in some way significant or authoritative”.
Therefore, if the impact on the purchasing decision is not significant or authoritative, can we still call it influencer marketing? Maybe not. But the industry sometimes still does and this often results in awareness being confused with influence. For example, if a leading batsman in cricket (with a gazillion followers on Instagram) posts on social media about enjoying a packet of chips, does he influence me to go and buy it? I don’t think so, and the definition of an influencer backs me up here. Did he reach a lot of eyeballs? Sure, so nothing wrong here with ticking the awareness box, but I have no reason to believe that his view on chips is better than mine. If, however, he posts around his bat brand, or cricket shoe brand, or perhaps even his sunscreen, I reckon he ticks all the boxes in the definition and we can call him an influencer. In the end, it is all about linking the right product with the right influencer and in that way ticking all the boxes of being both significant and authoritative in the purchasing decision.
Brands and advertising people get it wrong by pushing reach for the main criteria and then hoping for influence on the side. That’s not influencer marketing. Influencer marketing flips these two objectives around.
But back to the owner. Interestingly, he did not even mention social media. He relies purely on word-of-mouth and included that I would assume elements of dark social in the form of; SMS’s, Whatsapp’s etc. An example: an SMS that says, “Hi P, where was that spot you guys had so much fun the other night, I want to book a table?”. Whilst social media is closely associated with influencer marketing, purely because as a platform it allowed the sector to grow quickly, it could be that word of mouth is a stronger medium to generate influence. In our case, one person suggested the venue on the back of someone else mentioning it to her; and there we were, occupying a table of 10. Is this not true influence, when the effect on the purchasing decision was that significant?
I guess it may not be long before one big chain approaches our owner, buys his business, changes his advertising strategy, raises awareness everywhere, appoints a manager; and then starts to wonder why the once amazing business has now lost clientele to the new restaurant down the street.