What’s your influencer groove? Shilling for a product or promoting ideas and change? Robert Rose, author and Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory grabs the mic.


So, yeah, what is an influencer?

In 1750 there were more than 130 potteries in North Staffordshire – an area still known for its ceramics industry. It was a highly competitive time with little differentiation, with the exception that new technology had enabled many of the potteries to start producing cream-colored earthenware. Josiah Wedgewood, one of the many innovators in the space, had developed a new cream-colored ceramic and had perfected a process to produce this “creamware” at scale. In short: he could develop it cheap.

Then, in 1765, as Wedgewood was continuing to perfect and roll out new versions of his creamware, the product caught the eye of Charlotte of Mecklenburg, one of the Queen of England’s most trusted consorts. Wedgewood created a special commissioned set of his product just for her. Charlotte began using the set at official functions, and it wasn’t long before the newspapers began to report that Wedgewood was the “official potter of Her Majesty.”

Subsequently, Wedgewood obtained permission from Charlotte to rename the cream-colored ceramics “Queen’s Ware” propelling it to astronomical success. Ten years later, Wedgewood would write to a friend about just how influential this series of events had been. He wrote, “it is really amazing how rapidly the use of it has spread almost over the whole Globe and how universally it is liked. And how much of this general use and estimation is owing to the mode of its introduction.”

Interestingly, because of “Queen’s Ware”, cream-colored earthenware became so widely used that it simply became known as “Common Wedgewood”. Charlotte of Mecklenburg was an influencer.

IT TASTES THE BEST!

When we think of “influencer marketing” it is easy to fall back upon the idea of “celebrity spokesperson”. We go back to the simpler days of three channel broadcast media, print, and radio and think about how celebrities were used to support brand and product marketing by simply saying “I support it.”  Let’s be honest, it’s a little disturbing to see Sex Pisol’s Johnny Rotten selling you butter.

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But we can learn much from the Wedgewood story, because Charlotte of Mecklenburg wasn’t the Queen, nor did she ever have to say, “I support it.” She simply did what she did, and the story wrote itself. She was an influencer.

Today, of course, we know the world has changed. Today, we know that audiences are fragmented, mass media has been disrupted – and what it even means to be a “celebrity” has changed. In today’s world, it’s possible to be “a little bit famous” or “influential” in a very niche space. An example of today’s Charlotte of Mecklenburg is my friend Wally Koval – also known as AccidentallyWesAnderson.  And there’s Suzanne Wainwright-Evans – better known as “the bug lady” who is helping to sell plant containers.

Today, influencers aren’t celebrities who endorse – they are the amplifiers of our story. As marketers today, this can be one of the core aspects of our programs. We can look to today’s influencers as a means of amplifying and becoming a multiplier of our communications programs. The key, of course, is integrating this program holistically into our story – our strategy – and not just looking for the “endorsement”.

This is a critical difference.  If a brand is going to leverage today’s “influencer”, it’s critical to understand that it’s not really about the endorsement of a product, as much as it is an endorsement of the story – or what the brand stands for. That’s the difference between seeing an influencer as “shilling” for a product, and one who is truly influencing people to get behind an idea.

So – to rock and roll with influencer marketing – we should look for the Charlottes of Mecklenburg -not the Johnny Rottens.

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