Beware the ‘binfluencer’

Don’t trust the specious, evidence-free claims of supposed marketing ‘influencers’. Instead focus on real customer truths and spread the word among clients and colleagues.


The internet is great. If you know something and you want to write a blog that 100,000 people read, you can. If you want to do a podcast that 100,000 people hear, you can.

The internet is also great for people who don’t know much, but are good in front of a camera and wear a funny cap. Because it’s easy and free. I call these people ‘bin-fluencers’. They’re entertaining. But a little fact-checking will show that their content should go straight into the bin. Have a look at some of their claims.

“Success is all about great customer experiences”

Well, United Airlines (the one that drags passengers out of planes and kills their dogs) has just announced a record year, flying the most revenue passengers ever. London and New York hotels have among the world’s lowest standards, yet they are packed. And every day, thousands of people queue up for the privilege of being humiliated by Spirit and Ryanair, just to save some cash.

Here’s a brutal truth: customers want more at a lower price. Companies want the same. People love a great experience but depending on the deal, they do without it. It’s not simple.

“Brand engagement is the new currency”

Well, guess who ranks among the fastest-growing food retailers? Discounters Aldi and Lidl. Customers don’t want to engage with the Aldi brand. To make people read an Aldi lifestyle blog, you’d have to pay them a lot. Many would rather hide the logo on the shopping bag. Yet they know that Aldi has good stuff at a good price – every time.

“In modern marketing your goal has to be to get people to spend time with your brand”

Really? Just look at one of the biggest consumer goods successes in recent times: Dollar Shave Club. It made a simple promise: spend less time with our brand.

Ever heard about the ‘elaboration likelihood model’? I might read your brand’s blog when I care; when your perfume, your cream, your gadget makes me look cool; or when the purchase is risky. But if you sell kitchen towels (like I have) don’t fool yourself: people want to spend as little time as possible with your brand. We don’t spend time with brands – we spend time with things we care about. Commercial offers don’t usually top that list, no matter what your content guru claims.

READ MORE: Dollar Shave Club shifts business model as subscription growth slows

“Bricks-and-mortar retail is doomed”

Fun facts: Amazon is opening stores everywhere. Electronics chain Best Buy just reported a record year. And Tesla, mere days after announcing it would go ‘online-only’, made a sharp U-turn and declared that stores will stay. What we are seeing is the convergence of online and offline. You check out stuff in store, buy online, return it in store, pick up something else while you’re there, or vice versa.

Yes, customers have fallen out of love with House of Fraser, Gap and Sears. But retail is detail. In Europe, for example, over 80% of all retail is still bricks-and-mortar. And over the next couple of years, there’s still a lot of revenue (and profit) to be had on the high street. That is, if marketers get it right.

Here is the binfluencer’s dilemma. Most have a product to sell. They own agencies or consultancies. Selling is the only reason why they go online in the first place. What they say has to fit the product. That’s why, success is now supposedly all about ‘millennial engagement’ or ‘digital something’. To get the clicks, an influencer must churn out one, two or three messages every single week. And to cut through the clutter, every message must be big, new and dramatic.

But here’s the challenge: best-selling author Malcom Gladwell takes a day or longer to write just one page of a book. A great London Business School researcher takes a year or longer to find just one new marketing insight worth talking about. Binfluencers don’t have that time. So, they dress stuff up or, even worse, simply make stuff up.

If you take at face value a binfluencer with a funny cap, who sits in the back of a New York cab, and chats into a camera about millennials – if you pass this chatter on, what you become is a chatbot. Programmed by that guy (or girl) whose only goal is for you to keep following. And if you become a chatbot, one day someone will replace you with a better chatbot. Because chatbots can’t think. They are just tools.

Be your own influencer

To make a real dent in the market, you must understand the fundamental truths. The truths about customers, the industry, your client’s industry. Real influencers don’t just have ideas. They have insights. So: start at home.

What are the customer truths? The reasons why they are buying, how much they are buying, why are they coming back?

What are the brand truths? Do people care about brands in your space? How well is your brand doing? What perception change would really propel the business forward?

What are the advertising truths? Take media: Why are credibility-battling Google and Facebook doing massive print campaigns? Because people trust traditional TV or print ads much more than online ads – and consistently so since Nielsen started measuring in 2013. What’s the return of different campaign types for your firm? What’s the right balance of promotional advertising versus long-term brand preference building?

What are the industry truths? Are new players, new products and new offers coming in? What will the next shifts be? You’ll never know exactly. Start with the basic facts every stock market analyst has.

My list isn’t complete. My list isn’t right for you. As an influencer, you find your own truths. You make your own list. Once you have it, spread the word to people above you, to your clients, to yourself.

But watch out. In a noisy binfluencer world, people like you – influencers with substance – might get the label ‘boring’. If being a real influencer will make you less sexy, so be it. You could still wear a funny cap.

Thomas Barta is a marketing leadership expert, speaker and the co-author of ‘The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader’. He has teamed up with Marketing Week to launch the Marketing Leadership Masterclass, a new CPD-accredited online course designed to equip marketers with everything they need to become a better leader. To find out more and book your place visit