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The influencer equation: LIP = Lust + Investment + Proximity

One book every marketer should have on their bookshelf is Influence by Robert Cialdini. The author writes extensively on the six principles he believes underpin ‘influence’ –reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. And in 2016, he added a seventh: unity. The unity principle posits that the more we identity with others, the more we are influenced by them. Authority figures have the power to sway us.

We’re seduced by powerful stats from experts. According to a 2015 Schlesinger Associates study for Augure (now LaunchMetricscom), 81% of marketers believe influencer engagement is effective. It begs the question of what “effective” really means because with enough money, brands can pay influencers to get their message out to the masses and create ‘talk-ability’. This can be disastrously effective.

It’s a fact social media influencers have changed the marketing game and given brands access to people in ways businesses could have never imagined.

The Influencer Marketing 2018 research report[1] by Business Insider Intelligence reckons ad spend generated by influencers will reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. This represents a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38%.

With numbers like that in play, it’s no wonder influencers are a vital part of any marketing plan. But like everything else, there are good, bad and ugly sides to the influencer story which is why cutting through the clutter of influencer jargon and fluffy research stats is important to understanding a proven model of success that’s worked for banks, handsets, cellular providers and alcohol brands.

While there’s a lot of hype, there is in fact a science behind crafting a successful influencer campaign. We call it the LIP influencer model: LIP = Lust + Investment + Proximity.


  • Lust

Influencers must have a strong desire of affinity for what they are endorsing. It’s that simple. Find influencers passionate about your brand, let them fight to be on your team, and watch the magic unfold. While many marketers will hunt for influencers with large followings and approach them for endorsement, we recommend reversing the process by getting influencers to fight for why they should be chosen by you. It’s a bit like the dating game, except the influencer has to make the first move.

A brand that got influencers to make the first move was Vodacom, which tapped into the power of South Africa’s hottest young student influencers to drive their youth package, NXTLVL. Thousands of students applied to be an influencer for Vodacom and go through rigorous interviews on campus to qualify. Passion for the brand was the primary metric for fit.

Tip: Don’t get lulled into followers as a primary metric. Spend the time discovering if your influencers have a connection to your brand before taking the conversation further.


  • Investment

Investment wears three hats – Time. Training. Financial.

The Vodacom brand team knew that investing in influencers wasn’t a once-off exercise and committed to a year-long influencer programme. A longer timeframe meant that service provider could take a constant barometer of the team’s progress and make adjustments as the campaign grew. And the results speak for themselves: Vodacom exceeded its original target of NXT LVL customers.

Training was another crucial element and Vodacom understood that they were investing in influencers as if they were extensions of their own marketing team. The time spent training influencers on the brand’s vision, objectives, and products were crucial. This meant bringing influencers into its inner circle.

Tip: Brands taking influencer marketing seriously know that investing for the longer term must be a consideration in the annual budgeting process.


  • Proximity

A 2015 Schlesinger Associates report into influencer marketing alludes to the power of proximity, stating that 92% of consumers trust earned media such as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family. In other words, the closer the proximity of a trusted group, the higher the sphere of influence. Having a favourite celebrity or supermodel recommend switching cellular networks doesn’t have the same credit as a best friend’s recommendation.

Looking specifically at university students (Fig 1), we see that peer groups have more influence on each other. Not only that, but as the sphere of influence expands outwards, the degree of trust drops and scrutiny rises. We have discovered that Afrillennials (African Millennials) are natural-born sceptics about celebrities endorsing multiple brands.

Authenticity is a big factor, and the youth have their eyes trained like a hawk for the inauthentic and will make sure to let everyone know when it’s absent. Just look at the global outrage over the Pepsi commercial in which celebrity Kendall Jenner brought a political march to a standstill. It was slap-in-the-face inauthentic.  She’s a supermodel and a reality TV celebrity, not an activist or social change maker. But it went viral. It got engagement.

In contrast, Vodacom won the authenticity race by infiltrating and activating at every touch point of a student’s world, thanks to influencers taking the brand to social events, showcasing it on campus, and boosting the offering on their social media platforms. The tight proximity of their influencers to the student market meant more authentic engagement.

Tip: Choose Influencers from a market that is closer to the sphere of influence in your target market. If you’re targeting youth then seek out young people with influence.


Final point

Influencer marketing is here to stay. Effectiveness takes time and effort and a process of steady accretion. Brands who succeed in bringing influencers into their circle of trust do so by walking the journey together as opposed to seeing them as just another billboard.