Vox Pop: How much creative freedom should brands give influencers? (Part 3)

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Clockwise from top left: Gravity Thinking, Salad, AB, TLC, Iris Culture, Selesti, Sagittarius, Harvest Digital

Since trading evolved into the art of business, companies have fashioned their history and ethos into a story that customers can follow. Yet, while the rise of influencer marketing proves itself as a great way to market a product in the technological era, brands' personality is getting left behind.

We asked our Drum Network agency members,"as influencer marketing becomes a popular choice of promotion, the product becomes an accessory of the person in the spotlight. Should influencers be given creative freedom to advertise a product or does being the main feature write a better story for a brand?"

Following on from Part 1 and part 2 of this Vox Pop, here is what our members had to say about brands handing over creative freedom:

Ellen Pickett, digital account manager, Sagittarius

Influencer marketing is still new and it’s understandable why brands would be hesitant to put their faith in a particular individual to promote their product appropriately. However, savvy consumers will see through overly controlled campaigns. Businesses should look to find a partner with the right personality and audience that matches with their brand in order to create organic conversation and spark natural interest online.

Seb Atkinson, search marketing manager, Selesti

Influencers should absolutely have creative freedom to advertise the product as they wish. The reason influencer marketing works so well for brands is due to authenticity. Most influencers haven't got where they are by endorsing products; they've found a way to offer genuine value to their audience. This needs to come across in all their content for any endorsement to carry any weight.

We live in a world where digital products are undervalued relative to physical products and there is a general expectation that online content should be free – this can cause users to react strongly against blatant, non-genuine endorsements of products by their favourite online influencers, which not only harms their credibility in future content, it can also harm the brands working with them.

Michaela MacIntyre, business development director, Gravity Thinking

People trust people, not brands. So naturally, influencers are incredibly important to helping a brand get quality reach with a target audience. But influencers can’t be seen as just a media channel – they have a following you want to connect with, yes, but that following has often grown through years of authentic content and communication. Working with influencers is a bit more effort and requires patience, ongoing relationships, navigating disclosure best practices and sometimes you don’t have entire control over the content they create, but if you aren’t happy for them to talk about your brand in their own tone of voice and create content in their own style, you’re better off just buying standard media.

Spend time finding quality influencers for your brand – one with a shared strategic and creative approach to content that works for your brand. Quality over quantity might be a cliché, but certainly rings true when working with influencers.

Annie Hall, strategic account planner, Salad Creative

For me, the key to effective influencer marketing is authenticity. This requires a delicate balance of the product and person sharing centre stage. A strong influencer has captivated an audience and built a loyal following through being useful, entertaining and having an opinion that is widely respected and enjoyed, so a certain degree of creative freedom should be protected to ensure the influencer can stay true to their personal brand and honest to their fans. Too much focus on the product can quickly seem contrived and disingenuous. Equally, too much focus on the individual can confuse messaging and jeopardize strength in brand consistency.

If a complex message, unfamiliar brand or fragmented campaign strategy is leaving the product vulnerable to confusion or being overshadowed, perhaps influencer marketing is not the best tactic.

Emma Critchley, PR and marketing manager, TLC Marketing

The reason behind an influencer's engagement and why you chose them in the first place is because they are impartial. Their audience trusts them and that is the key point here. The moment they start 'selling out' to brands, their audience will disengage and it'll be not only your brand's ROI that suffers but the influencer's credibility.

Influencers know what gets their audience to tick and naturally they will need to be briefed on your brand, ethos and values. But with that in mind, let them do their job and influence. If it doesn't work or you don't hit mutually agreed targets then they should also be professional enough to offer you a complimentary post. What's the point of paying an influencer if you’re just going to do it yourself?

Emma Carney, senior SEO manager, Harvest Digital

I think that sincerity is the key to influencer marketing. Influencers should have creative control because that’s how they communicate with their audience. If the messaging comes across too brand-focused and insincere, the audience will be disengaged with both the brand and the influencer.

As long as the influencer keeps within the agreed brand guidelines, the message and creative should be okay. If you have to be very strict with them and how they talk about the product, then that’s probably not the right influencer for you.

James Murphy, digital marketing executive, AB

I think the whole concept of influencer marketing is to look like genuine brand ambassadorship. So yes, when I think of influencer marketing I think of speaking to an audience of die-hard, loyal fans. And such is this die-hard, loyal fan nature they will realise what is genuine and what isn’t.

Giving an influencer free reign to be creative with the post indicates potential brand acceptance, recognition and ambassadorship from a passionate fan base. Just make sure you don’t tell anyone to copy and paste anything from an email and you’ll be one step closer to genuine brand loyalty.

Vicki Harding, managing partner, Iris Culture

There’s power in letting people create their own version of your story – after all, products are made for people – why wouldn’t you involve them? In a world where three out of four brands are failing to build any emotional connection with their audiences, getting someone who’s already got a dialogue with those you want to reach has obvious benefits. But it’s not a silver bullet, like the increasing glut of influencer agents and agencies would have you believe. And it’s rarely the isolated answer to your problem.

Good cultural comms is about having a clear idea of the distinctive and valuable role your brand plays in your business and in people’s lives, and this has to guide how and where you market. Simply getting a product mentioned in a post isn’t going to build your bottom line.

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Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis works with Drum Network members to create stimulating online content and grow their agencies.

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