The rise and rise of influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is now the fastest-growing division of many marketing agencies’ businesses according to a new study, reflecting a seemingly insatiable appetite amongst clients for more help with this activity. Indeed, the number of monthly Google searches that contain the phrase “influencer marketing” has risen by more than five times since 2015, from 3,900 to 21,000.

Why bother with influencer marketing? The short answer is because it is proving more effective than traditional marketing endeavours. Recent research suggests that 71 per cent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference. That number is only going to increase as the millennial generation grows up – 70 per cent of teenage YouTube subscribers say they trust influencer opinions over traditional celebrities according to the same research.

If that idea seems a million miles away from the demographic that fund marketers are targeting, it’s worth considering two thoughts. First, today’s teenage YouTube subscribers are tomorrow’s savers, investors and pension plan holders – there is no reason to think the way in which they make purchasing decisions will change in the meantime; and, second, influencer marketing isn’t something that is effective only in this audience segment.

Indeed, as investors become more sophisticated – and more cynical about messages controlled by their asset managers, including advertising and conventional marketing – they will look for an ever-wider array of news and views before committing their money to a fund. The explosion of information and analysis available through social media platforms provides a rich source of these materials, which increasing numbers of investors have already begun to tap.

In that context, fund managers had better start getting to grips with the idea of influencer marketing – and understanding who the key influencers are in their sectors of the market.

Clearly, some of those influencers will be established names in fund management, many of whom will be familiar to marketing departments across the industry. Indeed, Investment Week magazine has been running regular profilers of key investment influencers for more than a year now – they’re almost all well-known and widely-respected fund management figures rather than trendy young bloggers.

Such figures will be an important constituency for fund marketers to address, but they shouldn’t be the only port of call. Consider too the musings of traditional media commentators, who now have a much broader audience courtesy of online channels, as well as the growing number of emerging voices on the web. One recent study of the 50 most influential personal finance blogs found commentators with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook fans.

Not all these potential influencers are necessarily focused on fund management – and even those that are may not be a good fit with every fund manager selling products in the UK. But until fund marketers take some time to understand who these people are, what they’re saying, and who they’re speaking too, they can’t be sure they’re not missing a trick. In the worst case, some of these influencers may be having a negative impact on your brand without you even realising it – in which case, engaging with them positively is crucial.

How do you go about that engagement? Specialists in this area suggest it is a three-state process: first, get to grips with who your potential influencers are; second, find a way to meet and get to know them, including through face-to-face meetings; and third, look for ways to make them feel special. That might mean anything from offering them access to your fund managers to providing them with news and analysis of your own.

Clearly, there will be compliance issues to consider and fund marketers will need to tread carefully. For their part, influencers have to steer clear of contravening rules on proffering financial advice. Still, by engaging with these people directly – particularly the less conventional influencers with whom fund managers are less likely to have other forms of contact – there is an opportunity to build potentially valuable relationships.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that influencers aren’t only important to your customer base – they can also provide inspiration for your own work. A couple of years ago now, Kurtosys published this article on leading influencers in the fund marketing world – it’s still worth keeping a close eye on what they have to say.