Opinion

The Science of Influencer Marketing and its Impact on Influencer Measurement

Ian Forrester, the SVP of research and analytics at Whalar, tells us how science impacts how we measure influencer marketing.

In the immortal words of Don Draper: “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” The maverick TV character, speaking in the 60s, would have been well ahead of his time; among the first in the world to understand that effective advertising evokes intense emotions. Prior to joining Whalar, I spent seven years at video ad tech company Unruly exploring the impact of emotions in advertising. We found that intense positive emotions are strongly correlated to brand outcomes and that the method of action lies in emotions’ creation of memories. 

This quote from Maya Angelou neatly encapsulates this concept: “People will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

How advertising works

Advertising works by evoking intense positive emotions and attaching those emotions to the brand in consumers’ memories. When a consumer then sees the brand’s logo at the point of purchase, she might not consciously remember the ad she saw but she does remember the positive emotion the ad made her feel. This positivity attached to the brand increases her likelihood to buy it. 

Upon joining Whalar, I was intrigued to see if these core tenets of advertising held true in influencer, so we set out to test two hypotheses: that influencer marketing (when done right) evokes intense emotions; and influencer marketing is very memorable. 

There’s no better way to test emotions and memory than using neuroscience, with Neuro-Insight’s Steady State Topography methodology being the best in the market. Their technique is complex and nuanced, but essentially they measure respondents’ brain waves as they interact with content. This is the gold standard of testing because it goes straight to the source of truth – the brain. They don’t measure secondary biometrics like expressions or heart rates, nor do they ask questions, which provoke a system 2, measured response. Instead, they measure the brain’s response to content, which controls all other responses. 

Key outputs from the analysis are valence of emotions (positive or negative), the intensity of emotions, and memory encoding. Memory encoding is calculated by measuring the parts of the brain which are activated when whatever is experienced is being encoded into long term memory; you can literally ‘see’ the brain remembering – pretty cool stuff.

The neuroscience study of influencer marketing

For the study, we measured the brainwaves of followers of influencers while they interacted with different content. We tested responses to Instagram, TV, Facebook and YouTube ads across six different campaigns. We’re calling the results “The Science of Influencer”, and they are truly astonishing.

First, we compared influencer ads with TV, Facebook, and YouTube ads. Here’s the overall brain response to TV ads and influencer ads. Blue indicates very little brain activity, green is average, red is high and pink very high:

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Broadly, looking at the brainwave charts, it’s clear that there’s a stark difference – the response to TV ads is weak, with lots of blue and green, compared to influencer ads, where there is a lot of red and pink.

By comparing key metrics across the formats, we can quantify the differences in response. 

Influencer ads were significantly more emotive and memorable than TV:

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These results were repeated when we compared influencer ads to Facebook ads:

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And to YouTube ads:

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It’s important to point out that we haven’t simply cherry-picked the worst TV, Facebook and YouTube ads we could find to put into this test. All ads were part of six brand campaigns, which were selected for our study on the basis that they comprised a TV, Facebook, YoutTube and influencer portion. When we consider that the brand and messaging are the same across each format, these results are staggering.

How does this affect measuring campaigns?

This study has significant implications for how influencer campaigns should be measured. The metrics presented by most influencer companies are very basic, with likes being the most interesting engagement metric. Likes are probably indicative of an emotional response but they say nothing of the type or intensity of emotion, and they say nothing of the extent to which a viewer has remembered, or is likely to buy, the brand which sponsored the post.

Whalar has developed a unique testing system to move beyond likes and generate much more interesting metrics such as emotions evoked, brand recall, search, recommend, purchase intent, and much more. 

Join Whalar at 10.30am on 23rd October at the Influencer Marketing Show, when Ian will be going through the results of the neuroscience study in more detail and describing the future of influencer research and measurement, the Whalar way.

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