Gemma Shannon
Gemma Shannon 18 November 2014
Categories Advertising

Influencer Marketing, 'The Soft Sell'

By adopting the ‘soft sell' approach, you will better target the right kind of influencers.

Remember those heady days of ‘push marketing’? When brands pressurised and cajoled consumers into purchasing from them? ‘Interruptive’ marketing was the order of the day, epitomised by glaring TV advertising that disrupted our viewing with demands to buy a product or service and to buy it now. Things have changed a lot since the advent of Digital Marketing. The changeover to a ‘digital way of doing things’ came in tandem with new legislation regarding Data Protection which meant that brands were now obliged to seek the explicit permission of the consumer before they signed them up to email newsletters. No longer could brands bombard unsuspecting consumers with unsolicited advertising messages. A new dawn had indeed come.

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Changing Times


This change in style of advertising brought with it other changes to other aspects of the marketing game. Brands started to approach ‘Influencers’ or ‘Thought Leaders’ to see if these influencers could blog, tweet and post about their products/services to their network of followers. This heralded a ‘softer’ approach to the business of marketing your brand; instead of ‘interrupting’ consumers with marketing messages, these marketing messages were now repackaged and reformatted on the basis of the opinions of the influencers in the online world. Consumers trusted influencers more readily than brands because of their expertise. Instead of trying to win over the consumer directly, the new approach meant trying to win over the influencer first who would then win over consumers in turn to your brand.



Presenting ‘Good Value’ In A Deluxe Package


According to Margherita Zama writing on, German supermarket Lidl led the way in winning the hearts of influencers with a ‘good value for money’ meal at London’s prestigious Victoria & Albert museum in September this year. The food was delicious notwithstanding the fact that it was ‘good value’ and inspired the 185 journalists and bloggers who had been invited to take pictures of the menu and tweet and blog about the culinary delights.


The Editor of also commented on the excellent standard of the food, stating that the menu included smoked Scottish Salmon with rhubarb and cucumber tartare, asparagus panna cotta and roasted fillet of Scotch beef with bubble and squeak croquettes.   According to Margherita Zama, at the end of the dinner, a receipt was given to each of the diners showing the cost of each ingredient at Lidl, driving home the message that the delectable 3 course menu had cost less than £10 per head. A powerful message to communicate indeed.


Taking Sponsorship To New Levels


A number of high profile sponsorship campaigns in recent times have also adopted a very different approach; generating brand awareness through positive associations with a charismatic persona via social media channels.  This signifies a departure from the ‘hard sell’ of bygone days.

At a recent seminar, Content Creator, Coach & Consultant, Lorraine Griffin cited an example of a sponsorship campaign which made space and social media history in 2012; the ‘Space Jump’ by Felix Baumgartner when daredevil Felix skydived from 39km above the earth on 14 October 2012. Felix was sponsored by Red Bull, but  Red Bull opted to publicise the daring aspect of Felix’s space jump challenge, the training he undertook, his accomplishments to date and the association of their brand with Extreme Sports in general - rather than label their association with him a ‘sponsorship campaign’ according to Jennifer Rooney writing in Forbes.


This was a clever move. By becoming the brand that was synonymous with Extreme Sports in the popular consciousness – Red Bull succeeded in generating massive positive associations with their product as well as creating massive brand awareness – all by association.


 According to Natalie Zmuda writing in Advertising Age,  Red Bull was an early adopter of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Social media helped propel Felix Baumgartner and his daring feat to the forefront of our minds and Red Bull reaped the benefit of it. As Natalie Zmuda commented in Advertising Age, 5.2 billion cans of Red Bull were sold worldwide in 2012, a 13% increase over the year prior – a significant leap in sales for the brand, no doubt helped by Baumgartner’s amazing freefall from space and the social media buzz it generated.



Bringing The ‘Human touch’ To Business


Adopting a persona to represent your brand is a tried and tested marketing technique, but social media brings it to a whole new dimension. Richard Branson’s blog on LinkedIn is an example of how a charismatic persona can fuel awareness of a brand through regular posts on social media. Again Richard doesn’t do a hard sell on Virgin, he pens engaging articles about ‘Luck in business’, Start-ups and Entrepreneurs, the Environment, Employee satisfaction and more. His posts reinforce the Virgin brand without doing a hard sell because he espouses a certain set of values, is regarded as ‘cool’ and dynamic and because he has a strong sense of adventure. From hot air ballooning around the world to Space Travel, Richard’s daring adventures have captured the imaginations of millions and so doing he has stamped the Virgin brand undeniably on our minds.



So What Is The Most Effective Way Of Doing The ‘Soft Sell’?


First you need to understand what your brand values are.  Ask yourself:

  •          What does your brand represent to the world at large?
  •          What does it mean to your employees?
  •          What does it mean to your customers?
  •          Does it need to change to be the kind of brand you want to resonate with your customers and if so, how?

Answering these questions is a good starting point. Once you have your answers ready and are clear in your mind about your brand values, you need to identify your customer personas. What is their demographic profile? What is their psychographic profile – likes and dislikes? It can help to name your customer personas to make them seem more real. When you’re clear on whom you are targeting then you need to take the next step and think about what kind of personality would resonate with those customer personas.

  •          Should your representative be a figure of fun, a cartoon character who comes up with witty one-liners that are just begging to be            tweeted?
  •          Should your representative be an adventurer like Richard Branson and daredevil like Felix Baumgartner?
  •          Or should your representative be someone who stands for family values and a sound work ethic like Bill Marriott the charismatic          figure behind the blog ‘Marriott on the move’?

The answer to these questions will depend on your understanding both of your brand values and of your consumer personas. Don’t forget to take into account your own internal data – feedback from consumers via your customer service channels, engagement with customers on social media as well as your website analytics are all rich sources of information about what your customers are likely to buy, when to target them as well as crucially what will convince them to purchase from you.


Targeting Influencers


When you have identified the influencers you wish to target, you should work at developing a relationship with them.


  •          Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn etc
  •          Engage with them; comment on their content, like it, share it, retweet it and so forth
  •          Only after you have been building this kind of engagement with them over a prolonged period of time is it appropriate to suggest to          them that they share some of your content in return
  •          Remember to provide them with valuable content that they will benefit from, if you take the step of asking them to share your          content.


By adopting the ‘soft sell’ approach, identifying the right kind of influencers to approach in order to better target your audience and building a relationship with them over time, you could potentially achieve a much higher ROI than by relaying on ‘traditional’ methods of marketing alone. What are you waiting for?



Related Links: 

Margherita Zama Augure




Lorraine Griffin 


Red Bull Stratos


Jennifer Rooney Forbes


Natalie Zmuda Advertising Age


Marriot on the move


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