Should Small Business Entrepreneurs Use Influencer Marketing?

Stephanie Trinh, CEO of Trinh International, on Why SMBs have Always Used “Influencer Marketing”

As you can see in the above Google Trends graph, “influencer marketing” has become a hot buzzword in the last two years.

The idea behind influencer marketing is simple. In a nutshell, it is simply focusing on key “influencers,” or leaders with influence, to deliver a message to your target market. Unlike traditional marketing, influencer marketing pays key influencers to do the marketing for you, instead of marketing directly to consumers.

So why has this concept taken off so much in the last few years?

Simply put, it relies on a simple insight about social psychology: consumers trust product recommendations from leaders they admire and want to emulate.

It’s also efficient — why spend hundreds of dollars and hours building trust and authority with an audience when there are thousands of influencers who already have massive audiences that trust them?

But while there are hundreds of agencies and consultants that specialize in influencer marketing for large brands and enterprises, there are unsurprisingly few that provide influencer marketing services for SMBs (small and medium sized businesses).

My cofounder Patrick and I decided to talk to Stephanie Trinh, CEO of Trinh International (a marketing consultancy for Fortune 100 brands), to learn if influencer marketing is a high-potential channel for SMBs. Here is a short recap of our conversation:

Patrick Han: I noticed larger corporate brands are really embracing influencer marketing, but SMBs have not really caught up to this trend. Do you think SMBs influencer marketing makes sense for SMBs?

Stephanie Trinh: To put it as succinctly as possible: SMBs (that manage to grow and scale) have only ever relied on influencer marketing. Though “influencer marketing” is just a buzz phrase that has popped up recently, every business in its formative years has always thrived on word of mouth.

The definition of a SMB today versus 50 years ago has changed immensely. A kid with a smartphone can run a business from virtually anywhere with no employees, little to no inventory, and generate the same revenue as, if not more than, a steel factory. We live in a gig economy, where power is lent to the individual more so than ever before.

The gap between large corporate brands and SMB is closing because we live in an era of more access to information than ever before — our society is prone to information overload. Advertising doesn’t work like it used to; consumers are now empowered to change trends in the marketplace.

More access means more options for consumers. More access means more competition for companies large and small. More access means everyone is vying to earn everyone else’s business — and keep it.

Technology has leveled the playing field, and businesses are now realizing that PRINCIPLES never change. Businesses are built on trust, value, service, and a sense of community — cornerstones for why influencer marketing works. For large corporations, that sense of loyalty from influencer marketing may be more visible through the lens of social media, but SMBs need only get into the hearts of their customers to have the same effect.

The only suggestion I can give to SMBs looking to influence their markets is to network, network, network, with the intention of finding a need and filling it. With time, and experience, the SMB can then fine tune its brand/identity/product/service to suit its target audience — to know what it stands for, who as an entity it is, and isn’t — and cut out all the fluff.

Bottom line, it’s mutually beneficial relationships that make a business thrive. Period.

PH: I think you make a great point that SMBs have always used “influencer marketing” in a sense, but I was curious, do you see them identifying internet personalities with a social media following, and then offering them free products/services in exchange for a shout-out on their channel?

ST: I think it would be an option to consider, but it would also depend on the SMB’s budget. My philosophy is that one cannot expect to receive without giving, but it is up to their discretion. It takes a bit of faith to reach out to an internet celebrity with promotional products with a hopeful anticipation of return, but sometimes not every seed sown grows as expected. It is also hard to track.

You can learn more about Stephanie Trinh on her website at about.me/steph.trinh. You can find her on LinkedIn at this link. Thanks for sharing your insights with us Stephanie!