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Does influencer marketing work? Neuroscience has the answers

07 Aug 2019  |  Shazia Ginai 
Does influencer marketing work? Neuroscience has the answers

Neuro-Insight's Shazia Ginai reveals how our brains subconsciously respond to influencer content and the role it can therefore play in the overall media mix

Influencer marketing is a rapidly growing industry, with recent stats on the US and Canadian markets suggesting it has grown 83% year-on-year.

But it has also attracted its fair share of criticism. At last month’s Cannes Lions Festival, Samsung’s global chief marketing officer, Younghee Lee, said she was ‘’pessimistic’’ about its value. Recent research, meanwhile, has found that influencer fraud costs the industry a massive $1.3bn dollars per year.

So why the scepticism? Perhaps it’s because it’s so difficult to measure the value influencers bring to the marketing mix – at least in tangible terms. In an industry as results-driven as ours, the fact that there’s still no real evidence to show that influencer marketing works is a gamble some marketers don’t want to take – which is understandable, given the amount of money often lying on the table during these conversations.

But a recent neuroscience study we conducted with Whalar - which involved measuring people’s subconcious brain responses to quality, creative influencer content, and comparing this to their responses to TV, Facebook and YouTube ads - has flipped this narrative. Crucially, the results showed that people not only respond better to influencer content, but that Influencer has the capacity to boost the power of these other channels as well – ultimately supercharging a campaign’s overall impact.

Why is this? Well, it’s all about how influencers make us feel – or the fact that they make us feel at all, which is something other, more didactic forms of advertising can't always achieve. But before exploring this further, let’s first re-cap on how neuro-marketing works.

Neuro-marketing is a branch of marketing that analyses subconscious brain response. Traditional research methods are reliant on conscious dialogue with consumers - they need to be able to articulate why they make decisions But what these methods don’t consider is that 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously. Neuro, therefore, is an excellent way of getting to the bottom of why we make certain choices – even when we don’t consciously know the answer ourselves.

When using neuroscience to measure the power of marketing channels, the most important metric we’re looking at is long term memory encoding. Driving memory encoding is vital, because it is directly linked to brand recall and future purchase intent.

Different factors can drive what our brains choose to encode into memory, and strength of emotion is one such factor, which we call emotional intensity. The stronger emotional response, the higher the likelihood that the stimulus will encode into memory, and this is exactly what makes Influencer marketing so effective. According to our results, influencer ads elicit 277% more emotional intensity than TV ads, for instance, and are 87% more memorable. When compared to Facebook adverts, they're 64% more emotionally intense, and 182% more memorable, and when compared to YouTube ads, they’re 28% more emotionally intense, and 73% more memorable.

We also discovered a fascinating chain reaction when influencer ads were coupled with other media channels. When exposed to influencer content before ads on these other channels, our respondents were 58% more likely to feel more positive about the subsequent ad and 47% more likely to remember the ads on these channels.

Pictured: Social media influencer Zoella. Source: YouTube

So, what does this mean? Well, not only does this show the merit of Influencer marketing in its own right, but also the pivotal role influencers can play in the overall media mix.

And when you think about it, it makes sense. Thinking back to the embryonic days of influencer – when Zoella (now a millionaire business-woman) was giving makeup reviews through a webcam – Influencer has always been about forging personal connections. Their very appeal lies in the fact that, rather than an obvious marketing ploy, influencers feel like our friends, a part of our inner circle, and people tend to trust their friend’s opinions - which is perhaps one of the reasons why celebrity influencers elicited negative emotions in respondents during the study (while still encoding into memory).

As a relatively new branch of marketing, Influencer is still in the process of maturing, partly due to ongoing shifts in the broader world of social media - Instagram, for example, has already considered dropping the ‘like’ function on its site, in a bid to encourage the industry to become more sophisticated. But despite the teething problems, the evidence shows that influencers really are living up to their name - and it’s important brands take note of that.


Shazia Ginai is CEO at Neuro-Insight UK

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