The topic of influencer marketing has reached epic levels of discussion and as marketing communications professionals, we need to help codify and clarify the process for our clients. Before discussing best practices, here are some facts.

Based on the findings from a recent study conducted by Nielsen, YouTube and Carrat, celebrity marketing and influencer marketing offer fundamentally different benefits for brands. According to the study:

  1. Celebrities were more effective at driving recall than YouTube creators (84 percent versus 73 percent).
  2. Creators were four times more effective at driving lift in brand familiarity.
  3. When it comes to purchase intent, the research found that influencers were just as likely as celebrities to drive buying decisions.

This means that if your objective is increasing awareness, then celebrity marketing rakes in higher scores. If you need to make your audience more familiar with your product, its attributes and its benefits, then influencer marketing reigns supreme. While this study saw no difference in purchase intent, a recent survey from Collective Bias found that nearly 33 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase a product by a non-celebrity blogger than a celebrity.

An article from WWD reported similar findings in terms of sales. The publication noted that a NPD spokeswoman was able to confirm that “certain influencer collaborations have generated more in sales than the more traditional celebrity collaborations.”

So, what’s the verdict? Should companies trade in celebrity marketing for what may seem like greener pastures?

Not necessarily. The choice and path forward depends on a variety of factors, all which should start with a set of measurable objectives based on a realistic budget. Influencer and celebrity marketing doesn’t need to be one or the other. Depending on the scenario, it can be a combination of celebrity and super influencers as well as micro-influencers.

A successful partnership with either a celebrity or an influencer hinges on three things: authenticity, trustworthiness and believability for the brand.Click To Tweet

One common denominator is that a successful partnership with either a celebrity or an influencer hinges on three things: authenticity, trustworthiness and believability for the brand.

The best celebrity marketing programs are structured in the vein of partnerships. It’s all about matching the right product with the right celebrity. When the celebrity feels invested in the brand’s success, the results will follow suit. For instance, sales of  Stephen Curry’s signature basketball shoe for Under Armour were up 350 percent in 2016. This beats the sales of all of Nike signature shoes, except for Michael Jordan’s.

It makes perfect sense for a basketball star to promote a basketball shoe. But when Sofia Vergara promotes Head & Shoulders, I personally do not believe that this is her product of choice. Brands frequently make poor decisions when selecting celebrity partners or even choosing to go down the path of celebrity. Because of user error, one can speculate that celebrity marketing is often managed poorly and thus yields disappointing results. But when it is done well, it can be a game changer.

The best influencer programs put the influencer in the driver seat in terms of content creation. And the best influencers are masters of creation. They find a way to insert brand recommendations that feel authentic and resonate with their dedicated and highly engaged followers.

Brands that want to control everything and script the process will not find success through influencer marketing. The output will lack credibility and the audience you were hoping to convert will disengage.

Additionally, influencer and celebrity marketing doesn’t need to be an either-or scenario. Building your entire brand around a single celebrity can be risky. We’ve seen too many takedowns lately.

That’s why diversifying your cadre of brand ambassadors, or working with a variety of influencers at different levels of reach, has a multitude of benefits. These benefits include increasing awareness, increasing familiarity, connecting with new audiences, re-engaging current users and even increasing purchase intent.

This diversification is the easy part. Achieving authenticity, believability and trustworthiness is the hard part, because it requires a significant amount of research and vetting, relinquishing a bit of control, deviating from those scripted key messages and being far subtler than makes most brands comfortable. Companies and organizations that master these fundamentals will succeed and see the results that they are hoping to achieve.