Every brand marketer has heard how influencers can change the game. But what is the current state of affairs with influencer marketing? What began as an interesting addition is now a vital part of the marketing mix, continually evolving to higher levels of measurement and sophistication.
Today, influencer marketing is continuing its spirited pace and upward arc. From celebrities to influencers — including those with large, scaled audiences to emerging micro-influencers, who pack a real punch with audiences — the landscape continues to widen and presents an even more robust opportunity for marketers.
A Linqia study of close to 200 marketers in the US showed that almost 40% will increase their influencer marketing budget in 2018. Additionally more than half said that influencer content outperforms brand-created content.
“I think that every CMO and brand needs to be involved with influencer marketing,” says Jake Maughan, executive vice president of campaign execution and integration at BEN. “It has become so essential that they will have a big hole in their marketing plan if they overlook leveraging influencers for their objectives.”
Indeed, it is hard to miss some of the more prominent stars of social media. The likes of Lily Singh, Lele Pons, Dude Perfect and Vanoss have followings that rival some of the world's biggest traditional celebrities — and even some of broadcast's biggest TV shows.
“The gap between celebrities and influencers is closing very quickly,” notes Maughan. “There’s really no difference in the online platform marketing space — and the cost is becoming very similar as well.”
Though there is a consistent surge of new platforms that pop up in the landscape, there are some that remain more tried-and-true, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitch.tv.
“New platforms will come and go, and they don’t always succeed,” says Brad Davis, senior director of influencer integration at BEN. “A select few end up doing okay but talent usually ends up migrating over to the juggernauts like YouTube and Instagram.”
“We’re seeing a huge surge with Instagram, especially with Instagram Stories,” adds Maughan.
Other platforms that Maughan and Davis are watching closely include China-based messaging and social app WeChat, microblogging site Weibo and Musical.ly, a social network app for video creation and live broadcasting.
To that point, geography is a consideration in the influencer space as well. While the English-speaking world dominated for years, other areas of the world are catching up — and quickly.
“This is one of the big opportunities over the next few years,” says Davis.
“It’s becoming prime real estate, so to speak, for marketers and marketing opportunities,” adds Maughan.
There are some broad misunderstandings about influencer marketing, and particularly around the best strategic approaches for working with influencer talent.
“An influencer is both the production of the content as well as the media distribution,” says Davis. “It’s common for a brand to treat them as one or the other.”
“Also, brands have to understand that the influencer already has a following and their own unique brand and style, and the marketer is tapping into that,” adds Maughan. “Brands that take our advice and know how to empower the content and work with the influencer, rather than trying to control a lot of these elements, see great success in influencer marketing.”
Though there is a foreign feel of ‘letting go,’ for brands, relying on talent’s discretion is the best course of action in developing successful campaigns.
“Trust that influencer — the creator,” says musician and YouTuber Peter Hollens. “[They are] a brand and know how to speak to their audience.”
Additionally, marketers tend to look at influencers as more of a broad category when, in fact, just like any other marketing practice, understanding the whole landscape is critical to brand success.
“The space is huge,” notes Davis who, with his team, has access to thousands of some of the world’s most prominent and effective influencers. “But there are different genres to think about and different influencers have a better ability to convert to different brand objectives.”
“Don’t only focus on the people on top. You can probably get just as much or more value from a thousand smaller channels than one big channel,” notes Hollens.
Another fallacy is that a one-and-done approach can get the job done effectively for brands. The notion that a big check and ephemeral splash can build long-term brand success is a huge misnomer.
“You need to have a diversified portfolio of the types of influencer programs you run,” says Davis. “The reality is that you need to diversify just like any other form of marketing as there could be ups and downs, and particular areas of strength with each approach.”
Far from the “Wild West”
Much of the modus operandi in influencer marketing appears to be stuck in a time warp— one that implies recklessness by creators and influencers. For its part, BEN has a long- standing, stringent set of guidelines and processes that ensures quality and safety.
“Influencer marketing is highly-regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),” says Maughan. “We take that seriously. Every piece of content that comes through our doors —and that we work on — passes through three different pairs of eyes, including a compliance officer to make sure the FTC regulations are adhered to.”
But it’s not just the FTC rules that are under the microscope, the same rigor applies in service to BEN’s brand partners.
“We take the same care with branding requirements and guidelines so that we’re not getting a piece of content that goes live without being fully aligned to a brand’s objectives as well,” adds Maughan.
BEN’s process also includes what is called a ‘consensus triangle’ to ensure full alignment between viewers, the influencer and the brand.
“These three parties all have a stake in the content and need to reach a consensus that will, again, empower the creative process,” notes Maughan.
One brand that uses the process to its advantage is Dyson. In a past campaign touting cord-free vacuums, which encouraged influencers to find the most creative place to clean, both the brand and talent engaged X-Games athlete Nate Adams and worked together to create content that fit both the brand and athlete. The content on Instagram, showing the athlete flying through the air with the product, generated significant engagement and excitement from the audience.
“It’s a great example of how to use that consensus triangle to empower the content,” says Maughan.
For their part, influencers find that working with brands is an enjoyable experience and opens up a mutually beneficial opportunity unique in marketing.
“I love working with brands for a lot of different reasons,” says King of Random, another popular YouTuber. “When they reach out to me with their product, my mind instantly goes into creative mode. What can I do with this? What can I make out of it? I love thinking outside of the box, and brands not only help me think outside of the box, but they also help fund the projects that I’m doing and help keep everything alive.”
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