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Influencer Marketing: The Latest Weapon in the Battle for Eyeballs

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Influencer marketing is having its moment.

Whether it’s a tagged pair of shoes in an Instagram post, or an “unboxing” video on Snapchat, brands are fighting hard to get their products into the hands of social media celebs who can move the needle on their sales numbers.

The Rise of Influencer Marketing

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, over one-third of marketers have a standalone budget for influencers in 2017.

It’s easy to see the appeal as influencer marketing can deliver 11 times higher ROI than traditional brand marketing. As influencer–brand partnerships begin to reach mass adoption, what metrics should markets be looking at? Today’s infographic is good primer on the state of influencer marketing.

Influencer Marketing Infographic

At first glance, influencer marketing sounds like a strange concept, but it’s a natural evolution of content marketing over social media platforms. To understand influencer marketing, it helps if we step back and look at the big picture of how content marketing actually works.

Content Marketing: Fighting for Feed Space

Most social media platforms have the same format – content posted by people is arranged into a customized “feed” for you to consume. Content marketing is simply the process of getting users to follow your brand on platforms so your content appears in their feeds.

In the earlier days of social media marketing, people were more actively seeking out accounts to follow, including brand accounts. Today though, many platforms have hit a growth plateau, so unless your brand already has a large, engaged audience, it can tough to gain any traction. To add a layer of difficulty, many platforms (particularly in the Facebook ecosystem) now restrict the reach of brand accounts in an effort to get them to spend money on advertising.

In short, reaching people (including your opt-in audience) is much harder than it used to be.

The Human Connection

The algorithms that rank posts in your feed are looking for something specific: engagement. And let’s face it, a brand posting about their product is not going to be as exciting as a well-connected personality showcasing their life. It’s the latter example that shows up first in social feeds, and that’s one major benefit to working with an influencer.

As well, peer opinion is a powerful force in purchase decisions. If a content creator is truly influential, they can provide a massive boost to a brand’s profile that would be very difficult to manufacture through other marketing methods.

We see these creators as partners of the brand helping us to build deeper connections with the young millennials who look up to them.

– Obioma Enyia, Head of Brand Marketing at PepsiCo

Demographic Bundling

Smart marketers are always looking for ways to target the right demographics to maximize the efficiency of their spend. Because influencers already have a measurable and observable audience, you can hone in on a specific type of consumer. If you find similar influencers in other regions, you can scale out a campaign in a very effective way.

Bigger brand are often looking for macro impact, and shell out big bucks to work with top tier celebrity influencers, but brands can take a more grassroots approach and partner with content creators at the city or even neighborhood level (often for a fraction of the spend). This is referred to as “micro-influence”, and is a fast-growing segment of influencer marketing.

How Does Compensation Work?

Compensation can take a few forms, but many influencers work on a pay-per-post basis. Experienced influencers will often be happy to receive compensation through referrals, particularly on platforms that have e-commerce integration.

influencer compensation chart pricing

How Do You Measure This Stuff?

Measuring the effectiveness of a campaign always comes down to sales in the end, but an influencer’s contribution to that can take different forms. Some brands are simply looking to align their brand with a “cool personality” who fits with their target audience. Other times, it will make sense to work with people who can drive traffic – and ultimately conversions – to their shopping cart.

influencer marketing measuring success chart

Industry Pushback

Many agencies are skeptical of the influencer marketing trend.

Since there is no industry standard for reporting results, and because certain platforms (e.g. Snapchat) offer scant analytics, it can be tough to calculate ROI or trust the numbers in post-campaign reports.

I have very strong opinions about micro-influencers. It’s basically the biggest scam…

– Anonymous marketing executive (The full interview)

Along with dubious analytics, marketers should watch for fake followers and engagement. Keeping track of average engagement rates and doing a proper qualitative analysis on an influencer’s account should be the first step before working together.

The Evolution of Sponsored Posts

There will be an estimated 14.5 million* sponsored posts in 2017, and by 2019 that number could mushroom to 35 million. This spike in popularity is prompting concerns that we’re reaching a saturation point for influencer marketing, and that consumers will begin to tune out sponsored posts.

One thing is for certain, social media personalities are amassing sizable audiences for their content and are commanding serious marketing dollars in the process. It remains to be seen whether sponsored posts become a ubiquitous part of the social media landscape, or whether it will become a hackneyed tactic.

*This estimate only accounts for tagged, public posts

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How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions

Collectively, the Big Five tech giants combine for revenues of $802 billion, which is bigger than Saudi Arabia’s economy. Here’s how it breaks down.

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How the Tech Giants Make Their Billions

At a glance, it may seem like the world’s biggest technology companies have a lot in common.

For starters, all five of the Big Tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet) have emerged as some of the most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world, with founders such as Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates sitting atop the global billionaire list.

These tech giants also have a consumer-facing aspect to their business that is front and center. With billions of people using their platforms globally, these companies leverage user data to tighten their grip even more on market share. At the same time, this data is a double-edged sword, as these same companies often find themselves in the crosshairs for mishandling personal information.

Finally, all of these companies have a similar origin story: they were founded or incubated on the fertile digital grounds of the West Coast. The company that has the weakest claim to such origins would be Facebook, but even it has been based in Silicon Valley since June 2004.

Sizing Up the Tech Giants

For all of their commonalities, it seems that there is less of a mold for how these tech giants end up generating cashflow.

But before we get to how Big Tech makes its money, let’s start by looking at the financials at a higher level. The following data comes from the 2018 10-K reports filed last year.

CompanyRevenue (2018)Net Income (2018)Margin
Combined$801.5 billion$139.0 billion17.3%
Apple$265.6 billion$59.5 billion22.4%
Amazon$232.9 billion$10.1 billion4.3%
Alphabet$136.8 billion$30.7 billion22.4%
Microsoft$110.4 billion$16.6 billion15.0%
Facebook$55.8 billion$22.1 billion39.6%

Together, the Big Five tech giants combined for just over $800 billion of revenue in 2018, which would be among the world’s 20 largest countries in terms of GDP. More precisely, they would just edge out Saudi Arabia ($684 billion GDP) in terms of size.

Meanwhile, they generated a total of $139 billion of net income for their shareholders, good for a 17.3% profit margin.

How Big Tech Makes Money

Let’s dig deeper, and see the differences in how these companies generate their revenue.

You are the Customer

In the broadest sense, three of the tech giants make money in the same way: you pay them money, and they give you a product or service.

Apple (Revenue in 2018: $265.6 billion)

  • Apple generates a staggering 62.8% of its revenue from the iPhone
  • The iPad and Mac are good for 7.1% and 9.6% of revenues, respectively
  • All other products and services – including Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products, Apple Pay, AppleCare, etc. – combine to just 20.6% of revenues

Amazon (Revenue in 2018: $232.9 billion)

  • Amazon gets the most from its online stores (52.8%) as well as third-party seller services (18.4%)
  • Amazon’s fastest-growing segment is offline sales in physical stores
  • Offline sales generate $17.2 billion in current revenue, growing 197% year-over-year
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) is well-known for being Amazon’s most profitable segment, and it counts for 11.0% of revenue
  • Amazon’s “Other” segment is also rising fast – it mainly includes ad sales

Microsoft (Revenue in 2018: $110.4 billion)

  • Microsoft has the most diversified revenue of any of the tech giants
  • This is part of the reason it currently has the largest market capitalization ($901 billion) of the Big Five
  • Microsoft has eight different segments that generate ~5% or more of revenue
  • The biggest three are “Office products and cloud services” (25.7%), “Server products and cloud services” (23.7%), and Windows (17.7%)

The remaining tech giants charge you nothing as a consumer, so how are they worth so much?

You are the Product

Both Alphabet and Facebook also generate billions of dollars of revenue, but they make this money from advertising. Their platforms allow advertisers to target you at scale with incredible precision, which is why they dominate the online ad industry.

Here’s how their revenues break down:

Alphabet (Revenue in 2018: $136.8 billion)

  • Despite having a wider umbrella name, ad revenue (via Google, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Ads, etc.) still drives 85% of revenue for the company
  • Other Google products and services, like Google Play or the Google Pixel phone, help to generate 14.5% of total revenue
  • Other Bets count to 0.4% of revenue – these are Alphabet’s moonshot attempts to find the “next Google” for its shareholders

Facebook (Revenue in 2018: $55.8 billion)

  • Facebook generates almost all revenue (98.5%) from ads
  • Meanwhile, 1.5% comes from payments and other fees
  • Despite Facebook being a free service for users, the company generated more revenue per user than Netflix, which charges for its service
  • In 2018 Q4, for example, Facebook made $35 per user. Netflix made $30.

So while the tech giants may have many similarities, how they generate their billions can vary considerably.

Some are marketing products to you, while others are marketing you as the product.

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Animation: The Top 15 Global Brands (2000-2018)

This stunning animation shows a dramatic change in the world’s most valuable global brands. Watch tech companies like Apple shoot up the rankings in style.

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Animation: The Top 15 Global Brands (2000-2018)

Time travel back to the early-2000s, and a list of the world’s most respected brands might be surprising.

Tobacco company Marlboro is still one of the top 15 global brands with a value of $22 billion, while companies like Nokia and AT&T also help to round out the group.

Aside from Microsoft, the tech companies at the time were mostly focused on hardware and services. HP was considered a top global brand at the time, and even IBM was still making PCs until the year 2005.

The Platform Revolution

How times have changed.

In today’s animation from TheRankings, you can see how the list of the top 15 global brands has evolved over the last two decades or so.

The visible shift: as soon as Google hits the rankings in 2008 (2:21 in video), it becomes clear that the money is on the software side – particularly in coding software that ends up as a dominant consumer platform.

Shortly after, companies like Apple, Facebook, and Amazon enter the fold, quickly climbing to the top. Here are the final numbers for 2018 in terms of brand value, with data coming from Interbrand:

Top 15 Global Brands in 2018

The Problem with Hardware

What’s the difference between the big hardware firms of old, and the successful ones that dot the list today?

From a business perspective, hardware companies need to have a bold and accurate vision of the future, constantly taking innovative strides to beat competitors to that vision. If they can only make incremental improvements, the reality is that their competitors can enter the fold to create cheaper, similar hardware.

Samsung, which finished 2018 as the world’s sixth most valued brand, is a good example of this in practice. The company has had the top-selling smartphone for every year between 2012-2018 – an impressive feat in staying on top of consumer trends and technology.

Despite Samsung’s success, it remains stuck behind four other tech brands on the list – all companies almost exclusively focused on platforms: Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple.

Why are Platforms so Dominant?

Constant innovation is a good barrier to entry if you can keep doing it – but the platforms have an even more bulletproof strategy: being everywhere at once.

Facebook uses the powerful network effect from billions of people as a moat, and then it buys up-and-comers (Instagram, WhatsApp) to cover even more ground. As a result, competing with Facebook is a nightmare – even if you could theoretically acquire new users at $1 per user at a ridiculous scale, it would require a marketing investment of billions of dollars to make inroads on the company’s audience.

Microsoft owns various platforms (Windows, Xbox, LinkedIn, Azure, etc.) that help insulate from competition, while Google’s strategy is to be everywhere you need to search, even if it’s in your living room.

Because platforms have massive scale and are ubiquitous with consumers, it gives them the ultimate pricing power. In turn, at least so far, they have been able to establish the world’s most powerful consumer brands.

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