Forget influencer marketing! But what’s next?

Influencer marketing is heading to a crisis: Consumers increasingly perceive influencers as inauthentic. As a recent report shows, ​only 23% of people believe content from celebrities and influencers is influential​. As skepticism grows, how do you engage and resonate with consumers?

Brands can escape the “inauthenticity trap” of influencer marketing by focusing on good old organic word of mouth. But this is easier said than done: Instead of simply buying reach and resonance via influencers, brands have to find ways to build their own multipliers.

It might not be easy, but hard is good. Returning to organic word of mouth gives marketers something that is missing with influencer marketing: A true differentiator that provides a sustainable competitive advantage. While influencer marketing is often a race won by the brand with the deepest pockets, returning to organic word of mouth puts the emphasis back on creating strong brands that excite customers. And this excitement is hard to copy by your competitors.

How can you excite customers so that they happily engage in word of mouth?

Align your brand with cultural values that are central to your customers’ lives.

In this article, we explain how Allbirds gives other sneaker companies a run for their money by staying true to their values in everything they do. Through this genuine and authentic approach, customers fall in love with the brand and won’t stop talking about it.

Good-bye influencer marketing, hello brand advocates

Allbirds customers serve as brand advocates, engaging in word of mouth online. ​The brand has almost exclusively relied on word of mouth marketing. This word of mouth is evident across social media platforms, especially Twitter.

Though Allbirds use influencer marketing, there are far more posts by ordinary consumers sharing images of their shoes. With skepticism in influencers rising, organic word of mouth reaches users through those they trust.

While influencers prompt skepticism, organic word of mouth inspires trust

When a brand resonates with consumers, they post content as a result. But how do create a brand that resonates? Your brand has to become value-oriented rather than being stuck on touting the functional benefits of your product.

Allbirds achieves cultural resonance by focusing on sustainability as their core value, and consumers take notice (see tweet below). Your brand might embrace a different value system: equality, freedom, fighting against big business, you take your pick. Just make sure that you really establish this value to be the core of everything you do.

Become value-oriented

Going cold turkey on influencer marketing requires you to rethink what your brand stands for. Allbirds is famously known as “The World’s Most Comfortable Shoe”. But that’s only half of their story.

When efficient and well-designed products are commonplace, you must position your brand in more meaningful ways. Functional attributes alone aren’t enough to stand out.

Your value system should align closely with that of your customer, leading to a relationship in which customers adopt the role of brand advocates. Particularly as Millenials come to dominate the marketplace, it’s vital to take a stance in order to engage with them.

One way is to connect the functional attributes of your product to your core values. Allbirds focuses heavily on sustainability in its messaging. By adopting a topical issue you can become a culturally relevant brand. See below how their marketing materials emphasize their commitment to sustainability.

Allbirds explain their product’s benefits in a humorous video.

Stay true to your values

Allbirds is a brand that embraces its values completely: it has a minimal environmental impact, uses all-natural materials, and is a certified B corporation. All this demonstrates Allbirds commitment to sustainability. And in an age where so many brands claim to be “green”, consumers really want to see commitment before spreading word of mouth.

By driving word of mouth to spread awareness of product materials, Allbirds communicates its environmental impact to consumers. The values highlighted in your marketing campaign should encourage consumers to share the brand with one another.

organic content is more authentic than influencer marketing

All this helps Allbirds to drive organic word of mouth, and so can your brand. The key thing to remember is: By focusing on cultural values over functional attributes (“The world’s most comfortable shoe”), your brand story gains authenticity in consumers’ eyes and thus encourages conversation about your brand.

Not influencers, but partners

Allbirds also demonstrates its values by forming partnerships with non-profit organizations. For example, they partner with Soles4Souls, an organization that distributes shoes to people in need.

By partnering with an organization with shared cultural values to yours, you emphasize your commitment to the causes your customers care about. On top of this, partnerships increase the size of your potential market. They allow you to attract supporters you may not reach otherwise.

Stay committed in every detail

In order to really show your commitment, you must weave your values through your entire value chain. Just posting some “woke” pics on Instagram and donating some money to a non-profit is not enough!

Allbirds demonstrates its commitment to environmental values not only through their product design, but also through their product packaging. That’s right, we’re talking about shoe boxes. Allbird’s packaging uses 90% recycled cardboard and it does double duty by also serving as the shipping box. This saves waste when shipping the shoes and demonstrates the brand’s commitment to sustainability right at the moment when consumers have their first experience with the actual product. What great timing!

So here’s another key thing to remember for your own brand: To create cultural relevance and drive word of mouth you must be consistent in every detail of your offering.

Influencer marketing is in trouble

Influencer marketing is in big trouble as more and more consumers wonder how much influencers are really using the product – let alone loving it! Millennial consumers look for authenticity in brands, and Gen Z consumers do it even more. All this means that it’s soon going to be game over for influencer marketing strategies that treat influencers as just another communications channel.

You need a new gameplan. By embracing cultural values, you can create a resonating brand story that connects with consumers in a deeper way than brands that focus on functional attributes alone. You can turn your customers into brand advocates, thus unlocking a competitive advantage that is hard to copy by your competitors.

Does your brand embrace a certain cultural value? Reach out to us, we would love to hear about it!

This post was written by Sam Toland, Cecily Saunders, Caroline Ster, Marisa Savage, and Dr. Joachim Scholz. The authors thank Archie Mitchell for his help in editing this article. Please follow MKTGsquad and the authors on Twitter for more information on this topic.

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