According to a study made by McKinsey & Co, between 20 and 50 percent of purchases are made due to a peer’s influence. It is obviously very important for marketers not only to identify, but also convince these influential customers.

Sometimes, identifying those customers is quite easy. If you’re a movie director, you probably want to convince well-known critics; if your product is a car, you certainly want to have good reviews from AutoWeek or other car magazines; when you sell clothes, you’d love to see a Hollywood star. While it is more or less easy to use those trend-setters to your advantage (we can safely assume that Hollywood stars can be convinced, not movie critics), at least recognizing them is not such a hard task. Those who are much more difficult to distinguish are influential individuals. For instance, you need a new phone and you want a smartphone, but you don’t know anything about differences between Android, Blackberry, iOS and others, and your friend is actually a new technology specialist: you’ll listen to his advice as much as, if not more than, what you read on the Internet. People like your friend are the influential customers marketers want to target!

While it is impossible to identify all influential customers, for some years now, many of those customers can share their knowledge, opinions and advice on the Internet on social media and Internet forums. Because of this, it has become possible to collect data about these customers and identify them more easily. However, identifying influential customers is not enough; marketers have to know them. Why? First, they have to understand what these customers know about: you wouldn’t listen to your techie friend’s car review as much as you would do when he’s giving you counsel on a phone or a laptop. Marketers must try to figure out why certain people prefer certain products over others: for example, why does your techie friend prefer an iPhone to an Android phone? What kind of apps does he use? This knowledge helps marketers shape their products and communication to suit the personal tastes of its ideal audience, so that people like your friend will recommend a product to others in your circle. Just like that, the company may have gained more customers.

Of course, it looks easy on paper, but it is much more difficult than that. Every customer, especially expert ones, has different expectations, and it’s tough to please every single one of them. Moreover, a company needs to figure out how to reach a specific customer without hurting its overall image. That’s why peer marketing is a great challenge for marketers nowadays.