Consumers Reveal Their Commitment to Social Commerce Through Influencers

They’re called social media influencers for a reason. In a recent consumer survey, 95% of respondents said they looked to influencers for product inspiration, and 64% said they followed influencers specifically to learn about new products. So why do only one-third of retail marketing executives call influencer marketing “very” or “extremely” important to their strategy?

Consumers Reveal Their Commitment to Social Commerce Through Influencers

Our newest survey report reveals a big piece of the puzzle: Most marketers find it difficult to connect influencer marketing with sales and measure the impact of investing in an influencer program. But that discounts the “concert effect,” which acknowledges that different touch points work in tandem. Our report reveals more:

  • How retail marketing executives are measuring influencer marketing and sales
  • The hurdles marketers are facing in measuring influencer impact
  • Why marketers misunderstand the impact of influencers on sales
  • Which platforms marketers say are influencing social commerce most

Content Summary

Marketers are defining social commerce too narrowly
Marketers are minimizing the power of influencers
Marketers are discounting emerging social platforms
Marketers Must Prioritize Their Investment in Social Commerce

As a consumer yourself, you’ve likely been moved by the power of social influencers for inspiration and product recommendations. But did you realize how fast the segment is growing? There has been a dramatic rise in social commerce, with sales expected to grow 35.8% to $36.62 billion this year, according to an eMarketer report.

While we see shoppers making purchases through social commerce channels, marketers are leaving money on the table. To get a pulse on brands’ commitment to social commerce strategies, Inmar Intelligence partnered with Retail Dive’s studioID to survey more than 200 brand marketers for insights into how they use the power of influencers in their social commerce strategy and the tactics they find most effective when leaning on influencers to drive sales. Inmar Intelligence also conducted its survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers to find out the impact that influencers and social media have on their purchase decisions.

We found some surprising disconnects that illuminate three key opportunities marketers might be missing — but that they can take advantage of today.

Marketers are defining social commerce too narrowly

Marketer Survey: How do you define social commerce for your organization? Percentages rounded to nearest whole number:

  • 23% We define social commerce as purchases that specifically take place on social platforms
  • 22% We define social commerce as purchases through other digital and/or instore channels that result from social media or influencers’ referral/recommendation
  • 9% Not sure
  • 1% Other
  • 45% We define social commerce as both of these things

Source: Inmar/studioID survey, 210 respondents, April 2021

Marketers are undervaluing the role influencers play in driving sales because up to 70% of marketers are looking for a linear connection between a post and a sale.

Measurement is a key part of any marketing program, but it is only as powerful as the metrics you use to indicate success. And that starts with pinpointing what you mean by social commerce. In the studioID survey, fewer than half of the executives who responded (45%) said they considered social commerce broadly enough to include purchases made both directly through social media platforms and also purchases that came through other digital and/or in-store channels that were influenced by social media or influencer marketing.

“The fact that more executives don’t buy into a broader definition of social commerce shows they are not thinking of influencer marketing as a comprehensive solution,” said Leah Logan, vice president of media products and influencers with Inmar Intelligence.

With this narrower view of social commerce, marketers are apt to underestimate the effect influencers have on their campaigns. And that leads many of them to characterize the success of influencer campaigns primarily through awareness rather than sales, given that it’s an easier KPI to measure if they are not using a robust multi-attribution tracking system.

Marketer Survey: What hurdles are you facing in tracking your influencer strategy as it relates to social commerce? Percentages rounded to nearest whole number:

  • 39% Too hard to track the deciding factor in a multi-touchpoint path to purchase
  • 29% Attributing influencer content exposure to sales is difficult
  • 19% Not enough budget to track effectively
  • 30% Influencer measurement isn’t standardized
  • 28% Not enough technical resources to track results effectively
  • 6% Walled gardens make it hard to get the data we need

Source: Inmar/studioID survey, 210 respondents, April 2021

“Social media is about inspiring people and taking them from browsing behavior to buying behavior.” – Leah Logan, Vice president of media products and influencer, Inmar Intelligence

A previous Inmar/studioID survey reflected this challenge. It found that 60% of marketing executives said increasing sales was the main goal of influencer marketing, but 44% said they believed the top hurdle curtailing their spending on these programs was the ability to quantify ROI in the same way they do with other marketing techniques. This study also discovered that the majority of marketing executives said they would devote more of their budget to influencer marketing if they could better quantify its success, with more than three-quarters noting they would increase spending on influencer marketing 11% to 25% if they could prove better ROI by tying influencer marketing to sales.

The conundrum persisted in the current studioID survey, which found that the main hurdle executives reported in influencer marketing was the difficulty in tracking the purchase driver in a path to purchase with multiple touchpoints, cited by nearly 40%.

That flaw often comes from overlooking the bigger picture of how consumers shop. Logan encourages marketers to embrace the “concert effect,” which acknowledges that different touchpoints work in tandem. For example, you might see a friend post about a new face mask, then see an influencer’s YouTube video talking about the same product, then be persuaded by a promotional campaign in the store, where you finally toss it into your physical cart. While the in-store advertising might have been your final touchpoint, there’s no doubt the influencer helped put the item on your radar.

“Social media is about inspiring people and taking them from browsing behavior to buying behavior,” she said. “Looking at tactics in isolation means you’re discrediting the fact that inspiration and purchase can happen completely separate from each other, but in a concert effect.” And, she added, that means as a marketer, you’re not getting credit for the effort you’ve expended in developing this data-driven, personalized approach.

Marketers are minimizing the power of influencers

Often marketers hesitate to embrace a tactic and make it a part of their ongoing marketing strategy if it’s challenging to prove the ROI. And while 44% of marketers believe that influencer marketing is somewhat impactful in driving purchases, the difficulty in measuring that impact has led only 33% of marketers to cite influencer marketing as either very important or extremely important to their companies’ current marketing strategy.

But, consumers feel very differently about influencers. Inmar’s consumer survey found that 84% of respondents had made a purchase based on an influencer’s recommendation and that 68% had spent over $150 on products based on an influencer’s recommendation.

Consumer Survey: Have you ever made a purchase based on an influencer’s recommendations? Percentages rounded to nearest whole number:

  • 84% Yes
  • 16% No

Source: Inmar Intelligence Consumer Survey, 1,000 respondents, April 2021

“You work with an influencer ideally because they are a trusted source of information for their followers, so you can solidify that trust in your product.” – Jennifer Voegele, Vice president of marketing communications, Midwest Dairy Association

An overwhelming 95% looked to influencers for product inspiration, and 64% of respondents followed influencers specifically to learn about new products.

Marketers wading into the influencer ecosystem are finding great success. Take Midwest Dairy Association, a nonprofit group that represents 5,800 dairy farmers across a 10-state region. According to Jennifer Voegele, the group’s vice president of marketing communications, they recently achieved an almost two times return with an influencer program designed to reach the millennial and Gen Z population.

While influencer marketing makes up a relatively small percentage of Midwest Dairy’s overall marketing budget, the results have been compelling. “Younger audiences aren’t as trusting of traditional media and are more likely to pay attention to their friends and family, but we have seen they trust influencers,” Voegele said. “Even when an influencer does a paid endorsement rather than an organic mention, they see that influencer as credible and authentic enough for them to buy in.”

In a recent activation, Midwest Dairy invited influencers to create recipes that showcased milk as the hero product. While the campaign specifically tracked milk sales, they saw additional benefits through a halo effect in a sales lift for a wider amount of dairy products. “We learned that when people were putting ingredients into their shopping carts, they were not just choosing milk but also other dairy products,” she said. Through Inmar, it was able to derive the impressions and attain the number of dairy products put in shopping carts and the total media value.

Voegele said this was the first time Midwest Dairy could tie influencer content directly to sales. “Our organization’s mission is to drive trust and sales of dairy, both of which are vital and which work hand in hand. You work with an influencer ideally because they are a trusted source of information for their followers, so you can solidify that trust in your product. But then to show a sales result was huge,” she said. The activation resulted in its highest sales lift ever, as the best-performing one-time driver of milk sales.

Consumer Survey: Why do you follow influencers on social media? Percentages rounded to nearest whole number:

  • 65% To learn about new products
  • 35% Recipe inspiration
  • 54% Reviews of products or services
  • 44% For discounts, offers and promotions
  • 41% Fashion and beauty inspiration
  • 41% To learn about new trends

Marketers are discounting emerging social platforms

Facebook and Instagram still reign supreme with marketers and consumers, but TikTok and YouTube offer major opportunities to influence purchase decisions that are being overlooked.

Consumers spend massive amounts of time on social platforms, with Gen Z, for example, saying they’re active about 4.5 hours a day. Facebook and Instagram remain top platforms for driving interaction and commerce, not surprising given that both platforms offer a seamless shopping experience. Consumers can see an influencer post and shop from within, swipe to shop or check out right in messenger.

But these platforms aren’t the only places consumers interact with influencers, and that might mean marketers are losing out on a potential gold mine on other channels.

Marketer Survey: Which platforms do you think are most impactful in driving social commerce? Percentages rounded to nearest whole number:

  • Instagram 86%
  • Facebook 61%
  • YouTube 28%
  • TikTok 28%
  • Pinterest 20%
  • Twitter 10%
  • Blogs 10%
  • Snapchat 2%

Source: Inmar/studioID survey, 210 respondents, April 2021

One emerging favorite is TikTok; while many people associate the short-form video app with viral dances and other similar content, subgenres of TikTok, such as “cleaning TikTok” or “tax Tok,” can make for organic brand integrations. Amazon even hosts a page where consumers can find “internet-famous” products. Nearly half of TikTok users said they have purchased a product or service from a brand after becoming aware of it through advertising or a promotion or review on the site, according to an Adweek-Morning Consult survey.

“We see shopping engagement on TikTok but it’s important to note that platform users are looking for stand-out items. There are several channels around Amazon finds you didn’t know you needed and special deals, but your average pantry staple would be more focused on driving awareness play rather than a ‘swipe to shop.’” – Leah Logan, Vice president of media products and influencer, Inmar Intelligence

On the other hand, Logan believes YouTube may be undervalued, particularly when it comes to bigger-ticket purchases, where consumers want to see the item in action before opening their wallets.

Consumer Survey: What platforms do you prefer to use to engage with influencers? Percentages rounded to nearest whole number:

  • Facebook 73%
  • TikTok 42%
  • YouTube 68%
  • Twitter 49%
  • Snapchat 36%
  • Blog 18%
  • Pinterest 28%
  • Instagram 74%

Source: Inmar Intelligence Consumer Survey, 1,000 respondents, April 2021

Marketers Must Prioritize Their Investment in Social Commerce

As marketers continually fine-tune their strategies, they would be wise to prioritize the potential of social commerce. While the studioID survey found marketers were heading that direction — 86% expected their investments in social commerce to increase a little or a lot — they might still end up leaving dollars on the table if they can’t identify measurement and attribution metrics.

That’s where Inmar’s data intelligence platform, ShopperSync™, can create a targeted customer experience that includes social, promotional, and other marketing touchpoints and then provide an unmatched level of attribution. “We know attribution has been a missing capability in the industry, and we invested in the technology to use our data to make it possible. But, there are several different ways we measure the success of influencer programming, and the real key is organizational alignment on determining ROI,” Logan noted.

For example, one client designated the number of exposures a consumer likely needs before buying a specific product and agreed internally to an attribution rate for influencers by tying together the exposures with one overall purchase.

“Through ShopperSync, we can look at purchase behavior outside of a linear tracking process,” Logan said. “Marketers might not know which specific person was exposed to an influencer, for example, but they can see a sales lift in a specific campaign,” Logan recommends leadership teams buy into overall ROI reporting through a conversation that accurately reflects how consumers shop — and put influencers’ impact into that context.

“Marketers must employ a multipronged strategy that spans the full shopper funnel from awareness to consideration to intent, all the way to purchase.” – Leah Logan, Vice president of media products and influencer, Inmar Intelligence