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December 20, 2010
Who’s the Decider?: Influencer Marketing in a Poor Economy
 
When determining how a brand should focus its marketing efforts, it is important to diagnose that one’s target market, the ones who actually consume a product, may not be the ones actually making the buying decisions. In some cases, even, it may be in the best interest of the brand to bypass the decisions of the product’s end-user altogether.
 
As the saying goes: “Behind every great man, there stands a great woman.” Some may agree or disagree with this actualization, but there is a more certain reality to the statement when it comes to buying decisions and behavior. A study from many years ago underscored an interesting phenomenon:While the majority of car purchases were made by men, the driving influence (forgive the pun) over which car to buy was very heavily premised upon, or completely decided by, his female counterpart.
 
Toyota has done an excellent job of making simultaneous appeals to both the male “buyer” and female “influencer” categories in their series of commercials featuring the Toyota Sienna Family. These commercials connect very well with the population segment that feels there is an “uncool” stigma against minivan drivers, male and female alike. In this series, the mom shows that she still feels young and hip driving the van (saying “I get ‘hot babysitter’ a lot” and “So I drive a van … but it’s not like I’m rocking ‘mom’ jeans”) while displaying the versatility and comfort of the product.
 
Women having either a very strong, direct (what is his wife, girlfriend, or female friend instruct him to do) or indirect (how his wife, girlfriend, or potential companions will react to such buying decisions) influence men’s buying behavior is a reality that most men have already come to realize. From a branding perspective, though, this actualization has the potential to have exceptional impact .This female buying influence can potentially extend to the point where the man’s buying decision is taken away completely, circumventing his behavior,with him relinquishing control to the female influencer entirely.
 
This usurpation was masterfully demonstrated in the Old Spice commercials that became popular this year starring Isaiah Mustafa. While Old Spice is one of the most well-established brand names for male fragrance, the series of entertaining commercials chooses to speak directly to women, suggesting that he (the Mustafa character) is the epitome of the kind of man that she should want her significant other to be. As a result of this effort, data from July of this year showed“overall sales for Old Spice body-wash products [are] up 11 percent in the last 12 months; up 27 percent in the last six months; up 55 percent in the last three months; and in [June], with two new TV spots and the online response videos, up a whopping 107 percent" (according to Nielsen data provided by Old Spice).
 
The brilliance of speaking directly to women in advertising a product only consumed by men has an additional side-benefit. In such appeals, the male ego is threatened his physical prowess is challenged. If a man seeing this commercial buys into the stimulus of the message, then he will be more likely to preemptively purchase the product himself, both in fear of losing control over how he bathes and to hopefully garner some of the same excitement generated by the commercial’s character.
 
Not only does the woman want her man to be more like the character, but the man instinctively wants to be like him to maintain his significant other’s attention. Purchasing this product is now a way for a woman to engage in the same fantasy generated by the commercial; and for a man, it is a representation that he has received the message and is making a conscious effort toward self-improvement that will be pleasing to his partner.
 
Beyond the male-female relationship, the execution of simultaneously marketing to parent and child together has proven extraordinarily successful. Game systems, whose sales were led by Microsoft’s Xbox 360 for the sixth consecutive month (followed closely by Nintendo’s Wii), have executed this formula very well to the tune of $2.99 billion in sales. This sales total brought in the highest total sales dollars in industry history, despite a still-floundering economy.
 
Much of this sales growth is based purely on positioning strategy, and perhaps less significantly on innovation. While Playstation 3 positions itself as the device that “can do everything,” Xbox 360 and Wii both position themselves as gaming systems in which all members of the family can participate. This positioning is, arguably,a technology-based reinvention of Hasbro’s Family Game Night. The benefit for the child is now having a cool gaming console that he can enjoy with friends and siblings; the benefit for the parents is being able to enjoy the system with their child, spending more time together as a family.
 
As brands are fighting even harder for a shrinking amount of disposable income, connecting with as many of the influencers towards a major or even minor purchase becomes that much more crucial. While money may be tight, a parent can justify spending a few hundred dollars on a game system as a gift for the whole family,since each member will enjoy it both collectively and on an individual basis. Similarly, if a family can only afford one new, much-needed vehicle, the vehicle must meet the needs of every party involved.
 
During times of struggle, it becomes much more critical to ask: If a person or family can only afford to buy one [fill in the category here], which brand or product will he or she pick? This answer holds even greater significance during a poor economy, since there is a much greater likelihood that he, she, or they will not have the opportunity to consume a second option. As a result,the answer may come down to brand that takes the time to gain a broader perspective on the purchasing influences, influencers, and end-users before determining the product positioning or the marketing message. Who is the true purchaser of your product, and how can you best speak to that individual… or are you better off speaking to the buyer’s key influencers? 

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Jared Kohn is a marketing professional in Tampa, FL who spent five years studying consumer buying behavior with top companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Sprint. More recently, he has developed both regional and national new product launches for Coca-Cola.  Contact him on LinkedIn or friend him on Facebook.
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