Can I Be an Influencer When I Grow Up?

By Shelly Murphy
Media Center of Excellence, IRI

Not everyone dreams of being an advertising market researcher when they are a child as I did. (Yes, I really and truly did.) Lying on the floor with my family, watching TV commercials and analyzing why the message and creative were done a certain way was great fun! When my grade school peers were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they typically responded with one of three things: fireman, policeman or doctor. Asked the same question today, children might say anything — from a famous YouTuber to a blogger to a makeup artist on Instagram — or perhaps even the Duchess of Sussex.       

How does one become a social Influencer? I called my friend Maria Long in West Virginia to find out firsthand. Maria runs the Instagram blog and website Close to Home and earns money from advertisers. Influencer marketing has exploded and is a phenomenon that I, as a researcher for consumer packaged goods, attempt to measure in my everyday job. CPG manufacturers frequently ask me: Does this type of marketing impact offline sales of my product?

So how did Maria became an influencer? “It started when I was looking for an outlet in 2009 after being a stay-at-home mom for eight years,” she said. “My Nonni taught me gardening and cooking when I was young, and I was looking to emulate her ability to prepare food for guests — often without a moment’s notice. My friends were also asking for recipes, party ideas and kids’ craft ideas, and it evolved into blogging with 6,000 followers on Instagram.”

When Maria is recruited to be part of an influencer program for CPG product, she very well might be part of a campaign that my company is commissioned to measure. IRI serves as an unbiased third-party measurement partner that provides a sales lift and return on ad spend due to the influencer program.

There are three best practices for measuring a campaign such as this:

Feasibility: Ensure there is a sufficient concentration of influencers in the analysis geography to have an impact on the sales of the featured product. For instance, Maria was a recent ambassador for Aunt Nellie’s Vegetables. So marketers need to make sure there are enough “Marias” opting in to promote their brand and look at the sales of their product in the stores where the influencer’s network of followers shop (i.e., grocery stores). 

Analysis Design: IRI leverages a test/control design in which the test equals influencers in market and the control equals no influencers in market. Ensuring the test and control are as similar to each other as possible is critical to measuring a difference due to the influencer campaign. Historical data for the analysis product, the category and key competitors is analyzed for this purpose. The geography also should be representative of how the campaign is typically conducted so results are projectable.   

Accurate Measurement: Most of us as consumers have shopped in brick-and-mortar stores. We all know that factors in a store can have an impact on what we ultimately buy, regardless of our intent going into the store. Retailer tactics such as price reductions and in-store displays might impact our purchasing of Aunt Nellie’s Vegetables, which have nothing to do with the influencer marketing program. These in-store variables will be controlled for through an analysis of covariance model. The end goal is to provide CPG manufacturers with an accurate offline sales lift and return on ad spend due to the impact of the phenomenon known as influencer marketing.


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