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One of the most important discussions marketers are still having to have is around the capabilities of influence marketing. It’s a relatively new system, but this is why you mustn’t confuse it with traditional marketing.

To understand the difference between traditional and influencer marketing, let’s consider the evolution of media as influencers have developed over the past ten years.

Influencers were an inevitable side effect of social media, but their contribution to marketing is a young area still being explored by the majority of brands.

Considering how they have come about will help us understand their core features and how these differentiate them from traditional marketing routes.

Previously you could sit in a pub and tell your five closest friends about your views on the new car you just bought; they might even tell a few more people and be influenced by your perspective themselves. They might even trust your recommendation more than all the posters and television adverts as they know you, and they know you had a good judgement of other cars in the past so why would they not trust you now?

But this is small scale word-of-mouth marketing. For brands, this is gold but this was only achievable on a very small scale and it couldn’t be tracked.

But then along came social media...

Much like when TV came along, when social media gained popularity it revolutionised the media world. Instead of media sources being owned and managed by a select few, influenced by their own agendas and information passed through filters to ensure it fit their agenda, media was now in the hands of the public.

All of a sudden anyone could create a website, anyone could create a profile and start sharing their views, opinions and experiences with the world. They could share their opinion of their latest car purchase on these platforms.

And those people were growing their audiences. Instead of reaching five mates down the pub, you had a network of over 1000+ people who could see your opinions within a click of a button. Then, you had people following you just because of your views and perspectives on cars. As your following grew, more people would start to find an following, you create more and more content, share more information and all of a sudden, you are the leading online expert for car purchases.

Your opinions hold weight because they are unbiased to the degree that they don’t come from the car manufacturers themselves. Your views aren’t filtered by a few people, you are able to share your own opinions and grow an audience off the back of it.

Thus… you are now an influencer.

Now, why is this important to understand and differentiate from traditional marketing? Well, when you are looking at TV, billboard, any other OOH, radio, direct mail and other traditional routes, you are looking at media space. You are purchasing a much more straightforward idea - you buy ten billboards for four weeks around Shoreditch, a number of people will see that and you hope for an uplift in sales off the back of it. This works, it gets your content in front of people and the right creative that appeals to the masses is effective. But… what if you could break down that audience, not just push marketing onto them but serve it via someone they trusted? What if you could target your content according to not just location, but by interest, age, gender and other demographics.

When purchasing influencer media space, you are not just buying a media space. You are paying someone for an honest review of your product or service, you are paying for their content creation skills and for access to their specific audience. You are able to customise according to much more specific niches and gain their audience’s trust and respect through their proxy. You are able to break down your marketing into niche, customisable content pushes that are more effective that one broad push message.

Ideal influencer strategies work with influencers at the strategy stage right through to the tracking sales and re-engagement stage of any campaigns. Think of them as not just a distribution channel but a collaborative element feeding back into your strategy to improve it.

Only a few brands are using influencers in this way. The majority of people approached it as a media space to use as distribution of your messaging. But as the industry matures and we understand more about the nuances of influencers, it’s clear that this media channel sits apart from any other form of marketing. It is not just a media space, it is a holistic strategy that can play so many more roles within your business.

Esme Rice, is marketing director at Tailify.