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4 Lessons in Influencer Marketing from the Past

Influencer marketing, when brands use influencers to promote their products, is a strategy you should be using right now. When you hear “influencer,” you may think of famous Instagrammers, like Aunt Becky’s daughter. While there is a place for that in some marketing plans, I mean that you should be finding respected individuals (or companies) that will vouch for your brand and your product. The concept of influencer marketing isn’t exactly a new one. As a matter of fact, influencer marketing is nearly as old as advertising itself.

I’d like to tell you the story of Josiah Wedgwood — an English potter who marketed his wares so successfully that his company, founded in 1759, is still thriving today. Mr. Wedgwood did a lot of things right. He leveraged the current decorative trends and incorporated expensive materials that made his products attractive to the nobility. He also instituted an exemplary pottery manufacturing process. But what made him stand out from an oversaturated market was one distinct factor: his use of influencer marketing.

When Josiah Wedgwood got an order from Queen Charlotte herself, he didn’t run through the streets fist-bumping everyone — well, maybe he did; I wasn’t there. He recognized right away how significant this could be for his business and asked Queen Charlotte if he could leverage her “brand.” He named the line of pottery that she requested “Queen’s Ware” and used her interest in his marketing pieces. He became so adept at utilizing testimonials from the Queen that, in addition to building a pottery empire, he’s now known as the inventor of modern marketing. Josiah Wedgwood pioneered direct mail, money-back guarantees, traveling salesmen, free delivery and a number of other successful marketing strategies that all tied back to his successful use of influencer marketing.

What can we learn from Josiah Wedgwood’s influencer marketing campaign?

1. He took a risk.

All too frequently, salespeople are afraid to ask their clients for anything, even something as simple as a testimonial. But it’s the marketer’s role to emphasize the importance of these endorsements and push them out of their comfort zones. I’m sure Josiah Wedgwood was a little nervous about asking the Queen and imagined a Queen-of-Hearts-style “off with his head!” But he took a risk that paid off. It’s highly unlikely that your clients will be angry if you ask for them to participate in a case study. The worst they can say is no.

2. He established a clear brand identity.

Knowing who you are is, of course, key to mapping out a plan. Your brand cannot be all things to all people — nor should it be. Decide who you are — what your brand’s identity is — and don’t waver. After the “Queen’s Ware” line, Wedgwood’s pottery became synonymous with art and luxury, and he embraced that. He didn’t also produce a “more functional” line for the commoners. Find your unique identity and stick with it.

3. He invested strategically.

Once he had the Queen’s permission, Wedgwood leveraged that testimonial in a number of ways. First, he exhibited every piece of pottery he designed for her in pottery museums around the country. Next, he incorporated his catchy “Queen’s Ware” information into marketing materials such as flyers and mailers. He essentially designed a marketing plan and saw it through.

4. He understood his audience.

Knowing your audience is something we stress constantly at VantagePoint, and this is another instance where it is so, so important. Wedgwood wanted to reach British nobility with his wares, so he chose the highest noble of all as an influencer. He wanted to tie his brand to luxury and art, so he exhibited in museums. Not just any influencer will make your target audience want to buy your product, and not just any avenue will reach them.

Although I never thought I’d say these words, there’s a lot we can learn about marketing campaigns from this man in the 1700s. Take a cue from Josiah Wedgwood and start incorporating influencer marketing into your strategy.

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