Experience matters. Every single touchpoint – be it live, digital, social or virtual – that a consumer has with your brand, leaves a lasting impression.
I’ve worked for many years in an industry that centres around the delivery of memorable brand moments. I’ve seen time and again the remarkable impact that a positive brand experience can have on individual consumers. But in this world of digital connectivity, what about how these personal experiences can also now influence others?
Our research of 1,000+ UK consumers aged 18-40 set out to explore just that.
Looking directly at the rich connection that exists between experience and influence, the results that our whitepaper uncovered were both intriguing and revealing.
The waning influence of ‘mega-influencers’
There’s no disputing that influencer marketing is a massive growth area. In recent years we’ve all witnessed the explosion of both social media superstars and famous faces extolling the virtues of brands and experiences to thousands and as often to millions of followers.
But there has been a breakdown in the power of influence of celebrities and mega-influencers. Simply put, they are losing their grip. Marketers are increasingly realising that just because an influencer has reach, this does not mean they have impact or are able to change behaviour.
Jonah Berger is a best-selling author and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on word of mouth, viral marketing, social influence, and trends. His latest book, Invisible Influence, recognises that consumers want to be connected to groups of people like them, and our research backs this up.
People are increasingly looking to find and follow real people, with relatable, genuine interests.
The power of influence now resides at the periphery. Brands need to reach out further to create an impactful, ripple effect.
The micro-influencer to watch: The Experiencer
We found, through our direct research, that the key influencers on purchasing decisions are now friends, just ahead of partners and spouses. The pendulum has clearly swung on the sphere of influence.
But we also identified a consumer profile that’s often currently not on brand radars – ‘The Experiencers’. And this group is not who you might (stereotypically) think they are. They are the go-to person for recommendations about products, services and experiences. They are extraordinary in their relentless pursuit of new experiences. And, surprisingly, they are more likely to be male, aged 25-34, and married or in a relationship.
With so much current focus placed on celebrities and high-profile influencers, ‘The Experiencers’ group is at risk of being overlooked by brands attracted by the numbers game.
A micro, not macro, approach gets better results
The following of these ‘Experiencers’ is typically much smaller than macro-influencers and celebrities. But their following is also much more engaged and loyal.
Why? Because of what they bring to the table. Heavy users of social media, ‘Experiencers’ are twice as likely to post their own content on social media, and far more likely to use visual platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Flickr. Crucially, ‘Experiencers’ are three times more likely to broadcast their brand experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – widely and passionately, with nearly one in five telling as many people as they can.
91% of those questioned said ‘the best way to sell me a new product or service is to allow me to experience it.’
But their engagement isn’t always easy to measure. The combination of so much dialogue now taking place on ‘dark social’ channels such was WhatsApp, Snapchat, email and text, alongside face-to-face being ‘The Experiencers’ preferred mode of communication, is a huge challenge to say the least.
What is crystal clear is that experiences are the primary motivator for this group, and not money. These people want authentic, uncontrived interactions, and are likely to switch off if a brand is perceived to be cashing in.
We found strong evidence of the powerful influence of both personal and third-party experience when it comes to buying and recommending brands. 91% of those questioned said ‘the best way to sell me a new product or service is to allow me to experience it,’ whilst 90% believed that ‘you have to experience a product or service before recommending it to someone else’. 84% of consumers admitted to someone else generally influencing their buying decisions, yet 80% say there are only a few people they trust to recommend things to them.
Here are three key take-outs as to what this means for brands and marketers:
- True influence is driven by experience, not reputation. Consumers are seeking out recommendations before purchasing. And increasingly, they are looking for recommendations from people they can relate to at a more human, credible and personal level. Be committed to providing great brand experiences to all customers, at all times.
- Mega-influencer power is waning. There is still, of course, a place for brands to associate themselves with social superstars and famous faces to generate widespread awareness. But when it comes to true influence, those eye-watering sums charged for sponsored tweets or Instagram posts are starting to be called into question. Focusing attention instead on winning over micro-influencers, with modest but fiercely loyal followings, could prove to be a more prudent investment.
- Be authentic. Our research has clearly shown that it is the human touch that makes the difference when it comes to influence in today’s world. It will be the brands that fix their sights on creating engaging, personal and most importantly authentic experiences that will maximise their budgets with real, tangible success.
About Sharon Richey
Sharon Richey is CEO of Because, a creative experiences agency, with studios around the world. The agency helps brands around the world realise their marketing ambitions through magical, memorable and meaningful live, digital and virtual experiences. BEcause works cross-channel and has creative studios in London, Ascot, Sydney, Auckland, Dublin and Dubai.