2016 Was A Helluva Year For Influencer Marketing. What Will 2017 Bring?

The headlines seemed to be filled with "influencer marketing" this year. From mergers and acquisitions, like Collective Bias' own with Inmar, Inc, to Google's purchase of Famebit, and companies like Conde Nast partnering with IBM's Watson to find influencers, there has been a scramble on all fronts to jump on the influencer marketing bandwagon. Fueled by success stories and ad blocking, influencers became the answer to so many brands' needs. So, we asked some industry pundits to lend their opinions for what's in store for 2017.

Allisha Watkins, Mars Chocolate NA, Shopper Marketing Team Lead, Walmart
Influencer marketing will continue to be an important component of CPG's shopper marketing strategies in 2017. It's proven to be a powerful engine for shopper marketers to connect with consumers on an emotional level. As the market becomes more saturated with content, we continue to rely on targeted paid media to get the right content in front of the right audience at the right place and time. Shopper behavior will continue to evolve in 2017 as new technologies emerge, but I believe one thing will remain the same - the power of leveraging influencers to drive business results.

Rick Wion, Kellogg, Senior Director of Consumer Engagement
Influencer marketing will continue to be a key aspect of social marketing for many organizations, but as with any popular mechanic of engagement, a rush of "me too" type of activations will lead to poor executions. Influencer marketing is already at a saturation point, which creates risk for both influencers and marketers. Influencers need to be very discerning and only accept programs and concepts that are a good fit for their individual brands and audiences. Brands also need to be discerning in selecting influencers that share their values, build toward their goals and will execute in a way that creates positive experiences for their audiences.

When it comes to measurement, influencer marketing should be evaluated based on what metric is most important to a particular brand or program. For tracking sales, influencers should be equipped with tracking pixels, discount codes and other conversion tracking tools. For measuring things like perception changes, influencer marketing programs should include audience surveys to understand what type of impact was achieved.

Aki Spicer, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Chief Digital Officer

Influencers are increasingly the new freelance creative army to the agency. We are quickly going beyond the Celebrity-Endorser/Distributor Model - where we used to just plant the product inconspicuously on the "influencer" in their photo...it is empty brand presence and audiences see through it. We have increasingly brought influencers closer in to truly co-create ideas with the agency (and clients). Like freelance creatives. Many influencers are experts in a category, on the product and we have started to tap their value as co-creatives. It's really taking some our work to deeper levels of insight and authenticity.

Phil White, Geometry Global, EVP, Head of Strategy, New York
One of the challenges with influencer marketing has always been proving the direct impact on behavior change and sales. Word of mouth is still disproportionately more influential than other "touchpoints" across most categories (especially high value or high risk purchases) than "word of mouse" - but is almost impossible to quantify and validate at scale. In other words, what people say, talk about and recommend to each other is still much more influential in daily dialogue than the tsunami of content and distractions we encounter in the never ending show-reel of social media, but is still largely immeasurable.

But times are-a-changing. The ability to tag, track or trace a referral, recommendation, like or impression as a distinct "event" that triggered a decision, action, online purchase or even at shelf can now be evaluated, dash-boarded and dissected. As traditional bricks and clicks retailers vie for omnichannel supremacy and try to out-Amazon Amazon, the ability to drive conversion from a conversation is fast becoming the only real cultural and commercial currency that matters.

Faith Popcorn, Brain Reserve, Founder
Influencers are brands within themselves. The problem with having PR or social media companies manage them is that companies are not owning the whole brand. In our omni-channel world, you need an integrated message across social media, PR, events, content - everything. We're pioneering a holistic approach that works better - one that lets us drop the DNA of a brand into the culture. In this InCulture work, we are the managers for the strategy and it's our job to be sure all the other agencies are doing a fab job messaging for a client via their channels.

Of course, sales and brand health is mega-critical but in our current and emerging climate, likes, follows, reposts/shares and comments determine whether your business will be here in two or 10 years. You've got to do both brilliantly.

David Armano, Edelman, Global Strategy Director

Influencer Marketing, not unlike Content Marketing, is today's jump ball for innovators both on the brand and agency side. The reality is that it's way more complex than it seems and requires integration to do right. Contracts must be bullet proof, brands must be comfortable co-creating with influencers and it must become part of a brand's modern marketing mix. Leadership must come from either the communications or marketing side of the house and can collaborate with multiple disciplines and specialties. The best leaders will end up driving influencer marketing strategy and execution.

No doubt, 2017 will be an interesting year with a continuous stream of social platform updates and new features. We're already seeing live streaming on Facebook quickly becoming popular with influencers. And with all the buzz about virtual reality (VR) content there will definitely be a rise in VR influencers as it continues its trajectory to change consumer experiences forever.