What if I told you that you could market your product or service to a handful of key individuals and be just as successful, if not more so, as you would casting a wider net to reach a bigger audience? Would you think, “Paul’s been spending too much time on the volleyball court” or “What’s the catch?”

Well you can, and it’s really not a new idea. Influencer marketing has been around “formally” since at least the 1940s and 1950s (I say formally, because it’s my opinion, influencer marketing has always been around, but not necessarily recognized as such). Essentially, when you engage in influencer marketing, you identify the people who have influence over your prospects and customers, and then you market to these influencers, knowing they will, in turn, influence a wider audience into buying or using your product or service.

Paul June

Do you know this monkey influencer?

Years ago, a colleague of mine was faced with the challenge of marketing a membership-based product to a mostly-skeptical prospect audience of more than 65,000 individuals. He had a limited budget; really no more than what would support a couple of simple direct mail pieces. What he really needed was a sales force and a way to sustain the effort . . . and the survival of his company depended on the success of his marketing efforts.

Rather than go “all-in” with a direct mail piece, he instead identified a core group of key individuals, recruited them to a series of educational briefings/breakfasts on the membership product, and then enlisted them to spread the word to their respective circles of colleagues, friends, and family members. Coupled with a simple Q&A direct mail piece, the efforts of these 17 “influencers” soon helped to recruit and convince more than 10,000 people to enroll over a 6-week period. True story . . . and what made it even more amazing was that the influencers were not paid for their actions. They volunteered their time and efforts because they believed so strongly in the product.

Who are the influencers in your market? Have you ever given thought to who those people in your community, your business circle, or your industry might be?

They may be people who are customers already, or people familiar with your product or service. They could be public figures, athletes, journalists, researchers, industry experts, or others whose opinion and recommendations hold sway over your prospects and customers. Essentially, you’re looking for those people your target audience thinks of as rock stars when it comes to what you’re selling. They are folks who are connected, trusted, and tend to be viewed as trendsetters by their peers.

Still not sure who your influencers might be? Try asking your customers with a quick survey. Ask them how they heard about you and who influenced them most to buy your product or service.

An influencer is someone who, by virtue of his or her perceived expertise or standing within a particular industry or business community, can help raise awareness of your company or product/service and become an advocate among other influencers as well as to your broader target market.

I’m not talking about getting Oprah (http://www.oprah.com/) to attend your next charity horseshoe event, though that would be pretty cool. I’m talking about someone or some people your target audience looks up to or respects. Think in terms of what Tony Hawk (http://tonyhawk.com/) is to skateboarders, or Shaun White (http://www.shaunwhite.com/) is to snowboarders. Now think in terms of your particular marketplace. Maybe it’s the local weather guy or gal, or a high profile executive, community leader, or consultant. Even bloggers and social media aficionados can rank high on influencer lists.

Influencers don’t even have to be individuals. An influencer could be a group or organization. When PC Magazine recommends a product, does anyone listen? Of course they do (but keep in mind that organizations are still made up of individuals. To get a group or organization’s backing, you still need to connect one-on-one with a decision-maker and get him or her on-board).

Influencers can be paid as well. Take book recommendations, for example. Ever wonder where all those quotes on book jackets come from? Most are organic and authentic, but quite a few are paid for. Sometimes well-known authors and experts will charge other writers for their recommendations. Similarly, company spokespersons rarely pitch products out of the goodness of their hearts. Consider Alex Trebek, William Shatner (http://williamshatner.com/), and other such “pitch men”—the vast majority of which are paid handsomely for their time and efforts.

While there’s nothing wrong with making some cash by peddling your influence over others, as a marketer and a consumer, I’ve got to believe recommendations that are genuine carry more clout with intended audiences (for example, public figures and athletes who attend charitable events).

What has your involvement been with influence marketing? Have you engaged in it?

Share your experiences here.

And if you haven’t, why not? If you have a minute, I might be able to influence you to give it a try!