Augmented Search Queries Using Knowledge Graph Information

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What are Augmented Search Queries?

Last year, I wrote a post called Quality Scores for Queries: Structured Data, Synthetic Queries, and Augmentation Queries. It told us Google may look at query logs and structured data (table data and schema data) related to a site to create augmentation queries, and test information about searches for those queries by comparing them to original queries for pages from that site. If search results from the augmentation queries do well in evaluations compared to search results from original query results, searchers may see search results combine results from the original queries and the augmentation queries.

Around the time that patent was granted to Google another patent that talks about augmented search queries was also granted to Google, and is worth talking about at the same time with the patent I wrote about last year. It takes the concept of adding results from augmented search queries together with original search results, but it has a different way of coming up with augmented search queries, This newer patent that I am writing about starts by telling us what the patent is about:

This disclosure relates generally to providing search results in response to a search query containing an entity reference. Search engines receive search queries containing a reference to a person, such as a person’s name. Results to these queries are oftentimes not sufficiently organized, not comprehensive enough, or otherwise not presented in a useful way.

Augmentation from the first patent means possibly providing additional information in search results based upon additional query information from query logs or structured data from a site. Under this new patent, augmentation comes from recognizing that an entity exists in a query, and providing some additional information in search results based upon that entity.

This patent is interesting to me because it takes an older type of search – where a query returns pages in response to the keywords typed into a search box, with a newer type of search, where an entity is identified in a query, and knowledge information about that entity is reviewed to create possible augmentation queries that could be combined with the results of the original query.

The process behind this patent can be described in this way:

In some implementations, a system receives a search query containing an entity reference, such as a person’s name, that corresponds to one or more distinct entities. The system provides a set of results, where each result is associated with at least one of the distinct entities. The system uses the set of results to identify attributes of the entity and uses the identified attributes to generate additional, augmented search queries associated with the entity. The system updates the set of results based on one or more of these augmented search queries.

A summary of that process can be described as:

  1. Receiving a search query associated with an entity reference, wherein the entity reference corresponds to one or more distinct entities.
  2. Providing a set of results for the search query where the set of results distinguishes between distinct entities.
  3. Identifying one or more attributes of at least one entity of the one or more distinct entities based at least in part on the set of results.
  4. Generating one or more additional search queries based on the search query, the at least one entity, and the one or more attributes.
  5. Receiving an input selecting at least one of the one or more additional search queries and providing an updated set of results based on the selected one or more additional search queries, where the updated set of results comprises at least one result, not in the set of results.

The step of generating one or more additional search queries means ranking the identified one or more attributes and generating one or more additional search queries based on the search query, the at least one entity, the one or more attributes, and the ranking.

That ranking can be based on the frequency of occurrence.
The ranking can also be based on a location of each of the one or more attributes concerning at least one entity in the set of results.

augmented search queries matt damon

This process can identify two different entities in a query. For instance, there were two versions of the Movie, the Planet of the Apes. One was released in 1968, and the other was released in 2001. They had different actors in them, and the second was considered a reboot of the first.

When results are generated in instances where there may be more than one entity involved, the search queries provided may distinguish between the distinct entities. They may identify one or more attributes of at least one entity of the one or more distinct entities based at least in part on the set of results. Augmented search queries may be generated for “one or more additional search queries based on the search query, the at least one entity, and the one or more attributes.”

This patent can be found at:

Providing search results using augmented search queries
Inventors: Emily Moxley and Sean Liu
Assignee: Google LLC
US Patent: 10,055,462
Granted: August 21, 2018
Filed: March 15, 2013


Methods and systems are provided for updating a set of results. In some implementations, a search query associated with an entity reference is received. The entity reference corresponds to one or more distinct entities. A set of results for the search query is provided, and the set of results distinguishes between distinct entities. One or more attributes for at least one entity of the one or more distinct entities are identified based at least in part on the set of results. One or more additional search queries are identified based on the search query, the at least one entity, and the one or more attributes. An input selecting at least one of the additional search queries is received. An updated set of results is provided based on the selected additional search queries. The updated set of results comprises at least one result not in the set of results.

Some Additional Information About How Augmented Search Queries are Found and Used

A couple of quick definitions from the patent:

Entity Reference – refers to an identifier that corresponds to one or more distinct entities.

Entity – refers to a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well defined, and distinguishable.

This patent is all about augmenting a set of query results by providing more information about entities that may appear in a query:

An entity reference may correspond to more than one distinct entity. An entity reference may be a person’s name, and corresponding entities may include distinct people who share the referenced name.

This process is broader than queries involving people. We are given a list in the patent that it includes, and it covers, “a person, place, item, idea, topic, abstract concept, concrete element, another suitable thing, or any combination thereof.”

And when an entity reference appears in a query, it may cover a number of entities, for example, a query that refers to John Adams could be referring to:

  • John Adams the Second President
  • John Quincy Adams the Sixth President
  • John Adams the artist

Entity attributes

In addition to having an entity in an entity reference in a query, we may see a mention of an attribute for that entity, which is “any feature or characteristic associated with an entity that the system may identify based on the set of results.” For the John Adams entity reference, we may also see attributes included in search results, such as [second president], [Abigail Adams], and [Alien and Sedition Acts].

It sounds like an entity selection box could be shown that allows a searcher to identify which entity they might like to see results about, so when there is an entity in a query such as John Adams, and there are at least three different John Adams that could be included in augmented search results, there may be clickable hyperlinks for entities for a searcher to select or deselect which entity they might be interested in seeing more about.

Augmented Search Queries with Entities Process Takeaways

When an original query includes and entity reference in it, Google may allow searchers to identify which entity they are interested in, and possibly attributes associated with that entity. This brings the knowledge graph to search, using it to augment queries in such a manner. A flowchart from the patent illustrates this process in a way that was worth including in this post:

augmented search queries flowchart

The patent provides a very detailed example of how a search that includes entity information about a royal wedding in England might be surfaced using this augmented search query approach. That may not be a query that I might perform, but I could imagine some that I would like to try out. I could envision some queries involving sports and movies and business. If you own a business, and it is not in Google’s knowledge graph you may end up missing out on being included in results from augmented search queries.

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Content Marketing: it’s All About Targeting

Early last year, content marketing surpassed link building, when it comes to search volume. It’s not something new, but apparently, the term is sufficiently self-explanatory at CEO- and manager level to have earned content marketing a place on the product menus of sales-driven SEO and online marketing agencies.

In my opinion, there are two types of content marketing. The traditional, century-old form is to publish content to acquire customers. More recently, publishing content to acquire links has also been labeled as content marketing, but I think that this is fundamentally different from the original. Sure, it can eventually lead to the same results (more sales), but the initial goals are different. You’re either marketing your product through content, or you’re marketing your content. Followed the best Telegenic Marketing.

Build it, and they will come?

Simply create compelling content and links will follow, right? In an ideal world, yes. But not in the real world.

I often see people trying to use content in their marketing strategy, then struggling with it, quickly followed by giving up when the results are unsatisfying and finally stating that “content marketing doesn´t work for them”.

Well, everyone can use content to effectively build links in a profitable way, but only with the right strategy. When defining the most suitable approach, this is the process I always follow.

Step 1: Situation analysis

Different situations require different approaches. Try to find out what you need most in your situation, by taking a close look at your competition with tools like CognitiveSEO or MajesticSEO. Not to see what you can copy, but for a SWOT analysis. You know, just like in old school marketing. To identify weaknesses in your link profile that need to be addressed, but also to spot opportunities or threats.

If it turns out that your link profile lacks relevance (you’ve got lots of links, but almost zero from your own industry), you’ll need a different approach than when you simply need volume. And the needs of an established, authoritative website are different from a relatively new site.

If you have defined your needs, you can move on the the next phase.

Step 2: Concept

With a clear SWOT in mind, you can try to come up with an idea that might help you to reach your goals.

Why do people share?

Before you start thinking about ideas that you can use, it is very important to get a crystal clear image of your target audience. Who are they and, more importantly, what makes your audience share stuff?

This usually differs between industries and between website types. For example, a travel affiliate site shows linking and sharing behaviour that is different from a finance blogger. And keep in mind: websites or companies don’t share things, people do, and that’s why there are so many blogs online now a days, since is not difficult to create one, and there are sites like that help people that want to create a blog and share their thoughts and content.

In general, there are five reasons why people share stuff. Self definition is without a doubt the most important sharing motivator. You are what you share, and people continuously build their personal brand online. Just take a look at what you share online. I can probably get quite a good picture of who you are just by analyzing what you’ve shared in the past.

Another sharing motivator is Personal benefit. This does not necessarily have to be a financial payment, but sharing something because you want to get something in return, to create goodwill, or simply to get noticed are personal benefits as well.

Altruism (often reciprocal altruism, since real altruism is very scarce), Connectedness (maintaining relationships) and Evangelism are other reasons for people to share things online.

If you’re interested in finding out more about why people share stuff, I’d recommend reading this study from the New York Times.

Not all shares are created equal

With that in mind, it is also important to think about what attracts the right kind of shares. A photo of a cute cat might get thousands of likes on Facebook without attracting a single link, while an extensive resources earns hundreds of links but only a handful of shares or tweets.

Just take a look at the list below and ask yourself what you’d prefer. Usually the more effort a share takes, the more valuable it is.

* Facebook Like: “Here’s another photo of a cute cat.”
* Retweet: “Someone I trust likes it, so it’s probably awesome.”
* Facebook share: “It’s good enough to make me break my pattern of clicking the like button.”
* Tweet: “You’ve made me say something on Twitter.”
* Facebook post: “I have been triggered enough to create a post on Facebook.”
* Regular link: “I just logged in to WordPress / Tumblr / used DreamWeaver / whatever and unleashed my HTML-knowledge on something that exceeded 140 characters.”
* Google Plus: “Oh Google, I love you.”

I’m not saying that you should focus on links only, but selecting a concept that’s only capable of getting Likes or Shares on Facebook is probably not your best option, and the use of marketing strategies, like the use of digital menu boards displays to show products and services to the public so they can learn find the best services for their needs.


For individual content items, you probably don’t need to create full-blown persona profiles, but you should definitely think about it.

Ask yourself this: “If I create this, who will link to it? And why?”. If you’re not able to answer this straight away, you’re probably better off creating persona profiles first.

Step 3: Creation

Once you have a clear picture of your target audience, you will be able to create content that is much more effective.

Content requirements

You need content that is made to stick. Or rather, content that is made to be shared.

Success is almost a guarantee when your content is:
Recognizable / identifiable
Unique / unexpected
Commerce is secondary (at most)
Triggers action-emotions

There’s already been written a lot about these concept requirements (I’d recommend checking out Ross Hudgens’ Content Marketing Checklist), but the last one could use some additional elaboration.

Target emotions

If you analyse different examples very succesful content, you will find that there’s one common denominator: they all trigger action-emotions.

Our normal behaviour is to digest content. Read, see, view, move on. But strong emotions can make people act different from their normal behaviour. It can make people take action, in stead of proceeding with their passive, digestive behavior. The stronger the emotion, the more effort someone will take to get the word out (Like vs. Link).

If you target the right emotions, you might be able to (subtly) persuade them to take action, by sharing your content. This might sound manipulative, but this is all what marketing is about: persuading people into taking specific actions.

There are dozens of different emotions, and some are more easy or effectively to target than others. In general, most emotions can be devided into six different categories; Pride, Pleasure, Passion, Fear, Anger and Sadness.


Keep in mind that there are also a few emotions that you rather want to avoid, including Lust, Relaxation, Boredom, Regret, Stress, Guilt and Embarassment. These are all emotions that most people prefer to exerience privately, and not in public.

Step 4: Promotion

If you have put enough effort in the first three stages of this process, the promotion will be a breeze. You knew from the start who you’d be targeting, which made it easier for you subtly make them share your content by triggering their emotions.

Sure, you’ll still need to send out dozens of emails and make a few promotional calls. And you’ll probably also want to spend some ad budget on Facebook, StumbleUpon, Outbrain or whatever is relevant in your situation. But all of this will be much more effective and lead to better results when your content is carefully crafted for your situation, and properly targeted at the right audience. Which will save you time and budget for the next content item.


1. Define your needs
2. Find out what makes your target audience share (and link!)
3. Create something that matches #1 with #2
4. Promote the hell out of it
5. Rinse and repeat

Need help?

As you can see, content marketing is a *lot* more than just ‘creating good content’. Especially when you don’t have a lot of experience with creating and promoting content, it can definitely be overwhelming. It is also something that you have to budget for carefully, otherwise you could incur a debt right off the bat, which is no good. If this were to happen don’t let it get out of hand, specially if you’re just getting started. Businesses are very volatile at the very beginning.

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Breaking down the push and pull of expansion, consolidation across the martech app ecosystem

Everyone in our industry knows that the growth rate among marketing technology applications has been exponential for years now. The 2020 Marketing Technology landscape released last month included 8,000 solutions. There were fewer than 200 logos on the chart in 2011, which means we’ve seen a 5,233% increase in martech solutions in less than a decade.

Even in the current economic crisis and the impact it will have over the next 18 months, some martech companies may see gains. Forrester reported this month it expects marketing spend to drop 28% in the U.S. by the end of 2021, with CMO budgets losing $222 billion. And yet, Forrester predicts tech spend will not only hold, but expects data and analytics, advertising technology and marketing automation to grow by 2% — a very slight growth, but still growth.

And within all of this growth across our industry, two (what seems like) opposing realities exist, according to MarTech Conference Chair and editor of Scott Brinker: There is a massive consolidation in platforms; and there is a massive expansion and diversification of apps.

The push and pull of consolidation versus expansion

“Everyone is surprised by how fast it has grown,” said Brinker about his Marketing Technology Landscape super graphic, “One of the questions I’m constantly asked is why?”

Brinker doesn’t believe there is a single force that can explain the massive growth across the martech industry, and that if you try to attribute it to one driving factor, the evidence won’t support it. Instead you have to take multiple factors into consideration. There is also the another layer to this growth: the birthrate of martech apps versus their death-rate.

“Anyone can launch a software product. The question is can anyone sustain a business,” said Brinker.

And then there are the two driving forces that keep showing across the marketing app ecosystem: The push and pull of consolidation versus expansion.

“The ‘paradox’ of consolidation and expansion, in martech and in SaaS more generally, is then simply explained by math,” writes Brinker in his deep-dive exploration of the platform dynamics driving martech app expansion and consolidation, “Platforms consolidate while spawning more apps than they remove. The net number of apps in the world grows, even while there is intense competition driving consolidation further down in the spectrum.”


Brinker notes that one of the key ways platforms compete with each other is by enabling more apps than their competitors, “The more intense the competition is between platforms, driving their own consolidation, the more apps they help create.”

In other words, the industry simply can’t help itself — as long as major platforms continue to compete, the app economy will grow.

“Its not a paradox,” writes Brinker, “It’s the very structure of business in the cloud.”

What does it mean for marketing technologists

One way to consider what’s happening across the martech app landscape is to think of it in terms of our media and entertain options. Once upon a time, consumers had four channels they could access through their television, along with maybe a few local studio channels that came in fuzzy if your TV antenna wasn’t placed just right. And then, cable and satellite TV came along — bringing with it an explosion of entertainment options.

And now? There are streaming options, OTT platforms, social networks pushing out original content. YouTube channels. TikTok. Quibi. All exponential growth that has resulted in the ability to both layer and integrate these options, and if you’re a content producer all you need is a smartphone — much like the developers building specialized apps that don’t necessarily even have to know how to code with so many cloud platforms offering no-code and low-code capabilities.

In the same way we get to pick and choose our, sometimes very niche, entertainment viewing options, marketing technologists have a smorgasbord of solutions: Starting with their foundational platforms and building out to the various specialized and custom apps that can be integrated.


“Platforms have truly embraced being platforms,” said Brinker, “With third-party integrations, we all end up making the customer happy. Instead of looking at [other martech] companies as competitors, they see them as complementary integrations.”

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Managing Algorithmic Volatility | SEO Book

Upon the recently announced Google update I’ve seen some people Tweet things like

  • if you are afraid of algorithm updates, you must be a crappy SEO
  • if you are technically perfect in your SEO, updates will only help you

I read those sorts of lines and cringe.

Here’s why…


Different businesses, business models, and business structures have varying degrees of fragility.

If your business is almost entirely based on serving clients then no matter what you do there is going to be a diverse range of outcomes for clients on any major update.

Let’s say 40% of your clients are utterly unaffected by an update & of those who saw any noticeable impact there was a 2:1 ratio in your favor, with twice as many clients improving as falling.

Is that a good update? Does that work well for you?

If you do nothing other than client services as your entire business model, then that update will likely suck for you even though the net client impact was positive.


Many businesses are hurting after the Covid-19 crisis. Entire categories have been gutted & many people are looking for any reason possible to pull back on budget. Some of the clients who won big on the update might end up cutting their SEO budget figuring they had already won big and that problem was already sorted.

Some of the clients that fell hard are also likely to either cut their budget or call endlessly asking for updates and stressing the hell out of your team.

Capacity Utilization Impacts Profit Margins

Your capacity utilization depends on how high you can keep your steady state load relative to what your load looks like at peaks. When there are big updates management or founders can decide to work double shifts and do other things to temporarily deal with increased loads at the peak, but that can still be stressful as hell & eat away at your mental and physical health as sleep and exercise are curtailed while diet gets worse. The stress can be immense if clients want results almost immediately & the next big algorithm update which reflects your current work may not happen for another quarter year.

How many clients want to be told that their investments went sour but the problem was they needed to double their investment while cashflow is tight and wait a season or two while holding on to hope?

Category-based Fragility

Businesses which appear to be diversified often are not.

  • Everything in hospitality was clipped by Covid-19.
  • 40% of small businesses across the United States have stopped making rent payments.
  • When restaurants massively close that’s going to hit Yelp’s business hard.
  • Auto sales are off sharply.

Likewise there can be other commonalities in sites which get hit during an update. Not only could it include business category, but it could also be business size, promotional strategies, etc.

Sustained profits either come from brand strength, creative differentiation, or systemization. Many prospective clients do not have the budget to build a strong brand nor the willingness to create something that is truly differentiated. That leaves systemization. Systemization can leave footprints which act as statistical outliers that can be easily neutralized.

Sharp changes can happen at any point in time.

For years Google was funding absolute garbage like Mahalo autogenerated spam and eHow with each month being a new record. It is very hard to say “we are doing it wrong” or “we need to change everything” when it works month after month after month.

Then an update happens and poof.

  • Was eHow decent back in the first Internet bubble? Sure. But it lost money.
  • Was it decent after it got bought out for a song and had the paywall dropped in favor of using the new Google AdSense program? Sure.
  • Was it decent the day Demand Media acquired it? Sure.
  • Was it decent on the day of the Demand Media IPO? Almost certainly not. But there was a lag between that day and getting penalized.

Panda Trivia

The first Panda update missed eHow because journalists were so outraged by the narrative associated with the pump-n-dump IPO. They feared their jobs going away and being displaced by that low level garbage, particularly as the market cap of Demand Media eclipsed the New York Times.

Journalist coverage of the pump-n-dump IPO added credence to it from an algorithmic perspective. By constantly writing hate about eHow they made eHow look like a popular brand, generating algorithmic signals that carried the site until Google created an extension which allowed journalists and other webmasters to vote against the site they had been voting for through all their outrage coverage.

Algorithms & the Very Visible Hand

And all algorithmic channels like organic search, the Facebook news feed, or Amazon’s product pages go through large shifts across time. If they don’t, they get gamed, repetitive, and lose relevance as consumer tastes change and upstarts like Tiktok emerge.

Consolidation by the Attention Merchants

Frequent product updates, cloning of upstarts, or outright acquisitions are required to maintain control of distribution:

“The startups of the Rebellion benefited tremendously from 2009 to 2012. But from 2013 on, the spoils of smartphone growth went to an entirely different group: the Empire. … A network effect to engage your users, AND preferred distribution channels to grow, AND the best resources to build products? Oh my! It’s no wonder why the Empire has captured so much smartphone value and created a dark time for the Rebellion. … Now startups are fighting for only 5% of the top spots as the Top Free Apps list is dominated by incumbents. Facebook (4 apps), Google (6 apps), and Amazon (4 apps) EACH have as many apps in the Top 100 list as all the new startups combined.”

Apple & Amazon

Emojis are popular, so those features got copied, those apps got blocked & then apps using the official emojis also got blocked from distribution. The same thing happens with products on in terms of getting undercut by a house brand which was funded by using the vendor’s sales data. Re-buy your brand or else.


Before the Facebook IPO some thought buying Zynga shares was a backdoor way to invest into Facebook because gaming was such a large part of the ecosystem. That turned out to be a dumb thesis and horrible trade. At times other things trended including quizzes, videos, live videos, news, self hosted Instant Articles, etc.

Over time the general trend was edge rank of professional publishers fell as a greater share of inventory went to content from friends & advertisers. The metrics associated with the ads often overstated their contribution to sales due to bogus math and selection bias.

Internet-first publishers like CollegeHumor struggled to keep up with the changes & influencers waiting for a Facebook deal had to monetize using third parties:

“I did 1.8 billion views last year,” [Ryan Hamilton] said. “I made no money from Facebook. Not even a dollar.” … “While waiting for Facebook to invite them into a revenue-sharing program, some influencers struck deals with viral publishers such as Diply and LittleThings, which paid the creators to share links on their pages. Those publishers paid top influencers around $500 per link, often with multiple links being posted per day, according to a person who reached such deals.”


YouTube had a Panda-like update back in 2012 to favor watch time over raw view counts. They also adjust the ranking algorithms on breaking news topics to favor large & trusted channels over conspiracy theorist content, alternative health advice, hate speech & ridiculous memes like the Tide pod challenge.

All unproven channels need to start somewhat open to gain usage, feedback & marketshare. Once they become real businesses they clamp down. Some of the clamp down can be editorial, forced by regulators, or simply anticompetitive monpolistic abuse.

Kid videos were a huge area on YouTube (perhaps still are) but that area got cleaned up after autogenerated junk videos were covered & the FTC clipped YouTube for delivering targeted ads on channels which primarily catered to children.

Dominant channels can enforce tying & bundling to wipe out competitors:

“Google’s response to the threat from AppNexus was that of a classic monopolist. They announced that YouTube would no longer allow third-party advertising technology. This was a devastating move for AppNexus and other independent ad technology companies. YouTube was (and is) the largest ad-supported video publisher, with more than 50% market share in most major markets. … Over the next few months, Google’s ad technology team went to each of our clients and told them that, regardless of how much they liked working with AppNexus, they would have to also use Google’s ad technology products to continue buying YouTube. This is the definition of bundling, and we had no recourse. Even WPP, our largest customer and largest investors, had no choice but to start using Google’s technology. AppNexus growth slowed, and we were forced to lay off 100 employees in 2016.”

Everyone Else

Every moderately large platform like eBay, Etsy, Zillow, TripAdvisor or the above sorts of companies runs into these sorts of issues with changing distribution & how they charge for distribution.

Building Anti-fragility Into Your Business Model

Growing as fast as you can until the economy craters or an algorithm clips you almost guarantees a hard fall along with an inability to deal with it.

Markets ebb and flow. And that would be true even if the above algorithmic platforms did not make large, sudden shifts.

Build Optionality Into Your Business Model

If your business primarily relies on publishing your own websites or you have a mix of a few clients and your own sites then you have a bit more optionality to your approach in dealing with updates.

Even if you only have one site and your business goes to crap maybe you at least temporarily take on a few more consulting clients or do other gig work to make ends meet.

Focus on What is Working

If you have a number of websites you can pour more resources into whatever sites reacted positively to the update while (at least temporarily) ignoring any site that was burned to a crisp.

Ignore the Dead Projects

The holding cost of many websites is close to zero unless they use proprietary and complex content management systems. Waiting out a penalty until you run out of obvious improvements on your winning sites is not a bad strategy. Plus, if you think the burned site is going to be perpetually burned to a crisp (alternative health anyone?) then you could sell links off it or generate other alternative revenue streams not directly reliant on search rankings.

Build a Cushion

If you have cash savings maybe you guy out and buy some websites or domain names from other people who are scared of the volatility or got clipped for issues you think you could easily fix.

When the tide goes out debt leverage limits your optionality. Savings gives you optionality. Having slack in your schedule also gives you optionality.

The person with a lot of experience & savings would love to see highly volatile search markets because those will wash out some of the competition, curtail investments from existing players, and make other potential competitors more hesitant to enter the market.

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How influencer marketing can survive the oncoming recession

30-second summary:

  • The marketing and advertising industry is bracing itself for a slowdown, with analysts steadily adjusting ad spending forecasts. Marketers will keep a close watch to determine what drives the most value.
  • Influencer marketing has surged in popularity recently, and investment was expected to hit $15 billion in 2022, according to pre-pandemic forecasts. However, COVID-19 has skewed the current picture for influencer marketing. 
  • To better understand what survival looks like, we’ll examine two distinct brand scenarios that enterprises are experiencing at this moment, how these different circumstances are likely to impact their influencer strategies, and what they can do to get the most out of influencers going forward. 

As millions of Americans continue sheltering in place and weekly unemployment numbers continue to bring bad news, it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative effect on the global economy — the U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020.  

The marketing and advertising industry is bracing itself for a slowdown, with analysts steadily adjusting ad spending forecasts. Different components of marketing and partnership plans may be impacted differently by these changes in spending, but marketers will be closely examining all of their spendings throughout the year to determine what drives the most value.  

Influencer marketing in the age of recession 

Influencer marketing has surged in popularity recently, and investment was expected to hit $15 billion in 2022, according to pre-pandemic forecasts. Even with this level of interest, influencer programs are likely to face scrutiny amid shrinking budgets. To ensure their survival, partnership managers will need to fully grasp the ROI of their influencer programs and leverage them to the fullest, ensuring that they can reach engaged, receptive, attentive audiences, in this moment and beyond.  

To better understand what survival looks like, let’s examine two distinct brand scenarios that enterprises are experiencing at this moment, how these different circumstances are likely to impact their influencer strategies, and what they can do to get the most out of influencers going forward. 

Two economic scenarios, one shared outcome 

Many brands find themselves either watching business slow amid the belt-tightening brought on by a restrictive economy, or they are unexpectedly booming because their products have become more important than ever for consumers sheltering in place. The irony is that these brands are commonly reacting the same way, they are cutting back on their spend, especially with influencers, much to their detriment. No matter the current scenario, brands have ways to strengthen, rather than weaken, their influencer programs. 

Scenario 1: Feeling the strain 

Travel, high-end retail, financial services and insurance, in particular, have felt the cultural and economic impacts of COVID-19. As a result, these businesses are slashing marketing spend out of necessity, directly impacting their influencer programs. Net-a-Porter, Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, and other retailers have suspended their affiliate marketing programs, while others are pausing or even abandoning influencer relationships. 

With social media and YouTube usage on the rise, there are clear opportunities for influencer partnerships to deliver value. The question these brands have to answer is how they can continue to win investment for influencer programs as overall marketing budgets tighten. The answer is in evaluating influencer partnerships as an acquisition channel, not a branding channel. 

Solution: Make every dollar accountable

Brands that are upholding pay-per-post or fixed fee partnership terms can still prioritize influencer activations that can be evaluated on a direct-response basis, by unique links, QR/promo codes, and landing pages. In doing this, partnership managers can account for the return on each dollar going into the influencer channel, removing any risk and ambiguity. Understanding ROI is essential to winning organizational buy-in and growing investment, and many operationally mature influencer programs were already heading this direction before the pandemic. Now, this strategy is critical to the survival of all influencer marketing programs.

Another option is for brands to consider building out performance-based influencer partnerships, only spending money when you make it. In this time of uncertainty, influencers may be willing to shift their terms, moving from a fixed-fee model to one based around performance, in order to keep their own partnerships intact. 

Scenario 2: Business is booming 

While COVID-19 is taking a toll on some verticals, others are watching their business grow as the result of a drastically changing market landscape. Packaged food and beverage, athletic wear, and home goods are all seeing upticks in online sales. Unfortunately, these brands may also deprioritize marketing spend because their organic growth is so high. This could result in slashing commission rates, as well as pausing partnerships altogether because they feel they don’t need to promote themselves as heavily at this moment. 

We are already seeing this in the affiliate space, with Amazon cutting commission rates as much as five percent for some product categories. This will hurt publishers that have long relied on the revenue from their partnerships with Amazon (and have certainly helped Amazon sell products along the way). Amazon’s actions violate the principles of a successful partnership relationship — namely the sustained collaboration, term optimization, and trust needed to drive mutual benefit for both parties. Fortunately, partners hurt by Amazon’s actions can turn to other programs. 

Solution: Make decisions that ensure program survival

Amazon’s play for short-term savings is shortsighted, and the strategy would be equally ill-considered for any brand that slashes commissions to its influencer program. Brands should be making all of their decisions around the goal of ensuring their partnership programs survive — and even flourish — during this global moment. 

Influencer partnerships are long-term relationships, so it’s better to operate with smaller budgets rather than cancel these programs outright. After all, these are partnerships with individual people who get hurt when their contracts are zeroed out. 

Partnerships provide an incredibly powerful growth channel when they’re supported. In operationally mature partnership programs, partners are more than just hired guns brought on to drive brand awareness and deliver promotional offers. They’re an extension of the brand itself. Steadfast partnerships can secure new audiences, enhance customer loyalty, and multiply customer lifetime value —  benefits that withstand market upturns and downturns. 

With creative studios closed and social distancing making it next to impossible to coordinate professional photoshoots, brands are running into issues producing content through traditional methods, according to Jordie Black, an influencer marketing expert with 

Brands that have active, well-established influencer partnerships have an advantage in this moment because they can leverage the deep connection to the influencer’s audience, as well as the influencer’s familiarity with the brand to maintain a flow of content. Consumers look to influencers as a voice of authority at all times, so brands that can leverage those relationships can still influence and engage consumers will succeed, according to Black. 

Invest in influencer partnerships now for future success 

No matter the situation, the bottom line remains the same: it’s more important than ever to invest in influencer programs. The channel was already moving towards an attributable model, and the unfortunate events of this pandemic are accelerating that evolution. Feeding an influencer program with resources and support, while simultaneously turning it into an acquisition channel will pay long-term dividends for brands.  

via How influencer marketing can survive the oncoming recession


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