Commentary

Influencer Marketing: How To Find Your Force

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, January 7, 2016

With changes to nearly everyone’s media diet, there is growing interest from brands to tap into online creators’ growing and highly attentive audiences. At the same time, there is a growing tension in the paid influencer world-- creators want to make a living off of their work through content sponsorships or collaborations, but must maintain the trust of their subscribers (and avoid the “sellout” label). 

Brands are keen to borrow an influencer’s equity and tap into their audience, but must give up creative control (and re-allocate their marketing budgets) to attract rising digital talent. New technologies and platforms claim to identify the perfect opportunities for brands and creators alike. And agencies are rewriting the old rules of talent management, figuring out how to make room for new creators among creative directors. 

If anything is certain, influencers as a marketing channel are not going away anytime soon. At the beginning of the year, research revealed that 75% of marketers are using influencer marketing, and nearly 60% plan to increase that budget in 2016. 

Hill Holliday + Trilia have been integrating influencer marketing into our campaigns for a while now, and we recently held a time-bound influencer challenge as part of our annual TVnext event. With the recent uptick in demand for influencer collaborations, here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way: 

Build an influencer marketing strategy around your customers, not around influencers. 

In the new influencer economy, it’s easy to be distracted by a creator’s impressive audience or fan engagement. Building a strategy around influencers (no matter how “engaged” their audience is) might be successful in driving awareness but will fall short when it comes to more meaningful metrics. 

Our most impactful influencer campaigns have been built around a deep understanding of consumers-- what they care about, who they trust, and how they make decisions. This idea of customer-centric influencer marketing takes into consideration all of the possible channels that might impact a person’s purchase decisions, and identifies opportunities for intervention. With a broader view of influence, we can think more holistically about partnerships, employee advocacy, and loyalty programs, in addition to working with bloggers, creators, and digital celebrities. 

Only work with partners who will facilitate direct collaboration with influencers and creators. 

Recently, multi-channel or multi-platform networks (MCNs or MPNs) have emerged as an intermediary between creators and brands, helping to negotiate, and even produce a creator’s content for a share of advertising revenue. Despite new technologies, tools, and MCNs that sell “turnkey” influencer opportunities, the value exchange for brands is still complex and should be negotiated directly with creators. 

The best MCNs and influencer platforms will facilitate co-creation conversations so that you’re not left “playing telephone” through a third-party. Since few MCNs and influencer platforms have exclusive access to talent, brands and agencies should feel empowered to find partners who will encourage brands to build relationships with creators. 

Don’t underestimate the investment (of time and budget) required for a worthwhile collaboration. 

Finalizing a contract with an influencer is just the beginning. Collaboration should be the expectation when working with influencers--for brands and creators alike. This means that brands will have to write better briefs, and creators will have to accept some guidelines for working with brands. Generally, we find that for any one piece of content, there will be at least two rounds of creative feedback. 

Working with influencers is less like outsourcing creative, and more like onboarding a new freelancer to your team. Even with the best strategy and partners in place, give yourself time to collaborate on the strategy itself, ideate, get client feedback, review content with your team. 

Advocate for authenticity (or suffer the consequences). 

Given many competing interests, influencer campaigns can easily fall flat without the right guidance. As part of a recent influencer collaboration, we cancelled the launch of content from a rising YouTube star because, despite much work, the partnership lacked authenticity with consumers and the creator wasn’t able to meet our creative standards. 

In an ideal scenario, a creator is an authentic fan (at the very least a consumer) of the product or service they’re talking about. If that isn’t the case, everyone will have to work harder to ensure that the content is worth the partnership and investment. 

The future of influencer marketing will depend on the quality of content we make today. With a swirl of technologies and intermediaries in the landscape, it’s more important than ever to go back to basics. Brands have developed a voice and marketing strategy. Influencers have a deep connection to their audience and understand what makes them tick. And (while I may be biased), agencies are poised to navigate the creative opportunities between the two.

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