I would suggest that you are all three – for different reasons and at different times. I have had two recent experiences which have made me realise just how important the role of an influencer is when it comes time to purchase a product or service.
The Indirect Influencer
These are people who will indirectly influence a purchase decision – usually pier based.
My son recently needed new sneakers. These were to be used for school sports as well as tennis. I immediately went to Athletes Foot as I know that they have a great service offering where they run a test to show how the person is walking and where their pressure points are. From there, and with the direction of knowing what the shoe is being used for, they find the perfect fit for your foot.
Tennis shoes are far more robust and hardy than running shoes, which are different again to cross trainers, and as such aren’t as attractive. My 15-year-old son was not very responsive to any of the shoes. For me it was a no-brainer – get the right shoe for the foot and for its purpose. But as the morning unfolded I realised that there was more to this pair of shoes than functionality.
We left the store empty-handed and it took me a while to uncover the cause of the problem. Essentially his old tennis shoes (though functional and practical for their purpose) were not very cool, which resulted in my son getting teased at school. He got quite upset and told me that unless they were Nike’s he’d be ridiculed by the other kids. Not one to easily stand down from my high horse, I tried to relay the importance of having comfortable, functional shoes, rather than ones that looked good.
Who was I kidding? He’s a teenager, and the influence from his peers far outweighed the practical thinking of mum. In the end, I relented to the influence that his friends had on him and bought him a pair of shoes that would make him feel as though he fits in. To be fair, they do look good and they cost me less than tennis shoes, so everyone was happy in the end.
But my point is that the indirect influencer has a massive role to play when building a brand. Nike has done an incredible job with their branding to create a community of wearers who want to be and perform at their best. The Nike swoosh has become a tick of approval, especially amongst the younger generation.
Indirect influencers are everywhere. They could be work colleagues, friends, family or professionals. We use them all the time to get referrals and to avoid making bad decisions when we buy. Businesses should look at how they can create brands that are inclusive, easy to reference.
The Direct Influencer
This is a person who directly influences and directs the decision maker to make a purchase. At home it could be your children while at work it could be your co-workers or if you’re the boss, it could be your gate-keeper.
My daughter recently turned 12 and as such received her first phone. I was reluctant as I felt that she needed to be at least 13, however with high school looming, the fact that she takes the bus, trains at gymnastics 14 hours a week and is becoming more sociable, it is a necessary evil.
My husband and I were talking in the kitchen one night discussing the pros and cons of her getting a phone which lead onto the topic of which phone. We threw up a few brand names and it was like we conjured up a genie, as she miraculously appeared in front of us exclaiming that if the phone wasn’t an Apple, then she didn’t want one.
Really? An iPhone or nothing? My first instinct was to suggest that she get what she gets and she doesn’t get upset. But I stopped myself and decided to ask the question ‘why’? Why not a Samsung or a Blackberry? Actually, does anyone still use a Blackberry?
The reasons for an Apple were endless and included that it was easy to use, looked great, would sync with her iPad and laptop and I would be able to track her on the ‘Find my Phone’ app. SOLD!
The truth is that I don’t need to be sold on the benefits of Apple. I have been an unashamed fan since the early 1990’s and to be fair my whole world is Apple. I just couldn’t justify the expense of buying a 12-year-old an iPhone. Time to compromise.
My daughter, the direct influencer was able to convince my husband and I (the decision makers) to buy her a second-hand iPhone 6. She didn’t need it to be new, or for it to be the latest model (although she would have preferred that). Apple has built a brand around forward-thinking technology wrapped up in beautiful design, functionality and easy to use products.
This is usually someone who you trust to give you sound advice when deciding on a purchase. You may defer to someone due to their experience, their connections or their general knowledge.
I was recently looking for a new gifting company to use for our ’Sweet Referral’ program. We’ve been sending out the same chocolate bouquets for years, so it’s time for a change. A business coach that uses our space to run her networking group by chance brought in a box of sweet goodies from one of her clients. After seeing the presentation and hearing a bit about the business, I have decided to give this new company a go.
Referrals can be a very powerful way of building a brand. Do you do anything in your business to actively promote referrals? We have our Sweet Referral program which results in a sweet treat being delivered to the referrer if their referral becomes a sale.
Another way to encourage referrals is to create a loyalty program – the more they buy the more they receive. The reality is if they are using your services or buying your product regularly you are likely to stay front of mind when it comes time to purchase.
You could also build your brand as being the referrer – the go-to business who has such a good reputation as a connector that others defer to you for your expertise. Google has built a massive brand on this single principle.
The decision maker is ultimately the one who has to spend the money. This is the fundamental difference between the influencers, referrers and decision makers. You may want to argue that the above examples make my children the decision makers, but the reality is that if I didn’t make the purchases, they wouldn’t have received the items.
In business, I have to make a lot of decisions. Some of these I ask my team their opinion on, other times I defer to colleagues but many decisions have to be made entirely by me.
I recently went through the process of trying to find a CRM for my business that would help manage our communications and tasks all in one easy platform. I spent months doing research, I asked colleagues and associates what they used, I read countless blogs and I tried out a few systems. In the end, I needed to choose one that was right for my business. I had to make the final decision.
When building a brand for your business, you need to ensure that you talk to influencers, referrers and decision makers. They all look at the reason to purchase in slightly different lights, so having a marketing mix that can connect with different people at different times of day, highlighting your different selling points is essential to growing a strong, well-balanced brand.