4 Questions You Should Ask Before Investing in Influencer Marketing

There are more resources, tools and case studies available than ever to help build a successful campaign.

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By William Harris

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Influencer marketing is alive and well. It's thriving, in fact. According to Mediakix, "89 percent of marketers have reported that ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels" they invest in.

Still, I'll admit, when influencer marketing first became a thing, I wasn't sure if the trend would last as long as it has. But I've been happily proven wrong again and again, as it continues to be a worthwhile channel to invest in for ecommerce brands of all sizes.

If you haven't learned whether influencer marketing can help you connect with new customers, drive sales and grow your business, now is the perfect time to find out. There are now more resources, tools and case studies available than ever before that can teach you everything you need to know to build a successful campaign.

After spending part of the year talking with and learning from successful marketers about how to get the most out of working with influencers, I've come to believe that there are four main questions every marketer should ask before getting too far along in the process. Those questions are as follows....

Related: Influencer Marketing Really Is a Game-Changer

1. How well do I really know my customers?

Before investing in any new marketing channel, it's important that you take a step back and think about who your customers are and what matters to them. Knowing your customers and their motivations will help you throughout the development of your campaign — everything from deciding which platform to focus on and which influencer to hire to what kind of content to create and promote.

There are a lot of different exercises you can go through to put yourself in the shoes of your customers, but one of my favorites is known as empathy mapping. The purpose of an empathy map is to try to better understand what your customers think, how they feel, what they say and what actions they take. It's similar to a customer persona, but the creation process is often quicker and more collaborative. When you build an empathy map, you can choose who you want to gain insights from. It could be your marketing employees, some of your best and most loyal customers, other employees across other departments at your company or a blended group comprised of all three groups.

By the end of the process, you should have a better understanding of who your customers are, what their goals are and what they are motivated by.

To plan your first empathy map exercise, use this helpful step-by-step toolkit from IBM.

2. What message am I trying to send?

You can hire the most popular influencer in the world, but your efforts are going to be fruitless unless you have a firm grasp on the specific message you're ultimately trying to send to your audience. Remember: You're not hiring influencers to sell for you — at least not directly. Instead, you're partnering with them to help you build relationships and establish trust with people. To do that, you need to have a clear idea of the message you're trying to get through to people.

For example, when Sprint launched a marketing campaign that leveraged influencers, they didn't make the message all about phones and phone service. Why? Because it's a message that ultimately won't resonate with people. Instead of focusing on themselves, Sprint worked with influencers to create a viral video that helped promote their #LiveUnlimited hashtag, which encourages people to follow their dreams and work hard for what they want.

Think about what message you want to send to your customers. What matters to your customers, and what beliefs or motivations could you tap into with the help of the right influencers?

3. What kind of person do I want to partner with?

One of the hardest truths to understand when you're new to influencer marketing is that not all influencers are created equal. This was one of the most common pieces of advice I got when talking with more than a dozen experienced marketers who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring influencers to help promote products and brands. Everyone said the same thing: You have to really know who you're working with and how they can help you.

Things aren't always what they seem. Influencers can buy fake followers and make themselves appear bigger and more popular than they really are. Some social sites are working to crack down on the problem, but it hasn't been completely solved yet. You can waste a lot of money hiring people that won't actually be able to bring any sort of value or ROI back to your business.

The best way to avoid this is to think of influencers as business partners, not simply people you pay to promote products. A partner will ask questions, seek to understand your customers and your goals and help you develop a campaign that hits the mark. If you reach out to an influencer and all they care about is getting paid, it's probably worth finding someone else to work with.

4. What will success look like for me?

Influencer marketing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It's not the golden goose that will lead to an instantaneous influx in sales as soon as you hit go on your campaign. That's why it's important to think about how else you can track success along the way. You should know before launching a campaign how you'll measure success. If it's not immediate and direct sales, what does success look like for you? Maybe it's related to increases in engagement or website traffic. Maybe it's a boost in followers. Maybe all you want is to align yourself with a well-known person in your industry that you know your prospective customers like and trust.

Related: 4 Influencer-Marketing Secrets Entrepreneurs Need to Know

Thinking about the bigger picture and all the ways you can measure success will prevent you from getting too discouraged or giving up before you find out what kind of impact influencer marketing can have on your business.

William Harris

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

CEO and Entrepreneur

William Harris has been critical to driving growth for multiple startups in ecommerce and SaaS, has helped facilitate both sides of acquisitions, and consults for the CMOs of multi-billion dollar Fortune 1,000 companies — all while running Elumynt, an advertising agency.

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