How much influence do “influencers” have over a business’ customers?
Probably more than you think. As more and more consumers turn away from advertising, influencer marketing is among the fastest growing marketing channels. It was valued at more than $1.7 billion in 2016, $9.7 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach $13.8 billion this year. Business leaders who ignore it do so at their peril.
That is the impetus behind a new program from Northwestern’s University Kellogg Executive Education. Influencer Marketing Strategy launches December 9 and is the first-ever exec ed program focused on the channel, according to a school release. And despite what you may have heard, there’s more to it than finding a fresh-faced TikToker to promote your wares.
The eight-week course is taught by Professor Mohanbir Sawhney along with adjunct lecturer Amanda Russell, a pioneer in influencer marketing. Special guest speakers are names you likely recognize from television, top brands and media: Jesse Itzler, Founder of NetJets; Abigail Posner, blogger and Brand Director at Google; Nigel Barker, judge on “America’s Next Top Model”; Larry Namer, founder of E! Entertainment Network; and best-selling author Erik Qualman.
‘ATTENTION WITHOUT TRUST IS SIMPLY NOISE’
Influencer Marketing Strategy is not a course to teach companies how to launch social media campaigns across the plethora of platforms, but rather a framework for using social influence to build brands and drive growth, says Russell, consultant and author of The Influencer Code.
“We created this course because we wanted to empower passionate leaders with the tools to succeed with influencer marketing, because at its core, it’s about people and relationships. It’s not about creating buzz or garnering attention – attention without trust is simply noise. The secret comes in understanding true influence,” she says.
Russell, a distance runner who earned an automatic spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympic trials before a career-ending injury, built her career through influence marketing. By 32, she had built and sold two successful businesses and leveraged YouTube to build an online fitness community with more than 80,000 subscribers. She now advises some of the top companies in the world on influencer marketing, including Lamborghini, Cedars Sinai, and Lionsgate. She has taught at Harvard, Wharton School of Business, Stanford University and other top B-Schools.
Poets&Quants spoke with Russel to talk about influencer marketing – what it is and what it is not – and why company executives need to pay attention. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Find course details on the course here.
Why a course on influencer marketing?
When people hear the term “influencer marketing,” they associate it with a picture of Kim Kardashian or an Instagram fish lips selfie. It almost has the effect of an eye roll in a roomful of executives. It’s very buzz worthy, but it feels tacky, like it’s for teenagers on TikTok and Instagram. But thinking that way, we are putting blinders on.
This course is not a social media course. We’re not going to tell you how to build your TikTok following. Influencer marketing is really, “How do you influence people? How do you influence your audience?” Could that be a social media start? It could be, but it could be a million different things as well. It could be an Oprah’s Book Club sticker, which is not even a person or a company. It’s a sticker. But that little sticker, for the right audience, sways their behavior, actions and thinking.
Think about your first job and all the things that got you the first job. Was it your degree? Was it a special certificate? Was it because you had a connection? Or was it a perfect storm of all of those forces of influence?
Why is now the right time for a course like this?
There’s a really great study that McKinsey did over 10 years ago, and it’s largely ignored by a lot of marketers because it kind of shifts the way that we are trained to do things. It basically states that two thirds of marketing is now done without marketers and without the brands. So that means that two thirds of marketing is all done by, essentially, what we call influencer marketing — that’s word of mouth, that’s consumer reviews. The consumer is now in control. Before we could arm people with the information, now people decide where they’re going to get their information. People source their information where they trust it, and we need to be able to influence those sources.
Influence is different than persuasion. It’s different than interruption. It’s more like a gravitational pull. So how do you create that? As leaders of companies, we need to understand how to influence the influencers of our audience.