Vox Pop: How much creative freedom should brands give influencers? (Part 1)

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: Zazzle, Rooster Punk, RocketMill, Satellite75, Stein IAS, Immediate Future, Impero, Return, JJ, BWP

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?"

Theresa Santos, account director, Immediate Future

An influencer's fans don't follow them to be overtly marketed to (a plethora of recent research all points to the fact that millennials don't trust and aren't influenced by traditional advertising), and the moment an influencer relinquishes creativity to a brand, both parties lose authenticity and relevancy. If an influencer is chosen because their content style and values complement yours, rather than for the reach they can bring, chances are they’ll believe in your brand and want to work with you to create great content. What’s more, by letting go you might even learn something new about your product and customers.

Danny Turnbull, MD EMEA, Stein IAS

Using people to promote your brands (whether it’s industry experts, sportsmen, celebrities or you tube vloggers) appeals as it combines their pre-existing ‘reach’ with halo associations to give marketers an easily accessible boost.

Although influencer marketing isn’t new, the risks associated with taking this easy fix to your marketing problem aren’t either – the list of celebrity endorsement disasters is lengthy. I opened my (virtual) paper only this morning to read ‘Disney drops YouTube millionaire over anti-Semitic video controversy’.

Rowena Heal, senior content strategist, RocketMill

Any reputable influencer won’t be swayed by a brand attempting to tell them how to present their product – and nor should they be. If you’re using influencers, give them freedom to advertise your product in their way.

That said, before brands even progress to this stage, it’s best to showcase your product in your chosen light first. Launching something new and throwing it to a sea of hungry influencers is risky, particularly if your brand is fresh to the scene. Do this, and you allow others to shape associations with your product and risk causing your messaging to become fragmented.

Showcase the product in your way first; set the scene for the appropriate demographic and use, then push it to relevant people as an extension of your brand. This initial framing of your brand should enable influencers to then present it in an aligned fashion, becoming a natural extension of it.

Alice Thompson, PR manager, Return

Influencer marketing is ever changing, and therefore the method in which you choose to collaborate shouldn’t be static. Research is key. Before approaching your chosen influencer, take the time to read through their previous content, picking out examples of when they’ve collaborated with other brands – how well received have they been? We’ve often found our most successful collaborations have been the ones where the influencers have been given free rein to naturally incorporate the brand into their organic content.

Being the main feature for a brand may seem ideal, but if not carefully thought out and catered to that specific audience, it can often come across as contrived and disingenuous. Whatever you decide, it’s important to understand no two niches or influencer audiences are the same, so why would their content be?

Courtney Brooks, creative designer, Rooster Punk

For an influencer to stand out to a brand, the brand must first like the way the influencer in question has presented previous products to consumers. Every influencer has their individual way of communicating with their audience and this defines their followers.

Consumers want to see how things work for real – influencers are seen as real people, living their fabulous day-to-day lives. I love to see promotion through influencers where they are out there doing their own thing and it doesn’t feel like stock imagery. When the promoted brand fits into the way they live, rather than the promoter moulding into the brand, this feels right to me.

For a brand to come across well to the influencers’ audience, creative freedom should be given. Influencers and brands have one thing in common – the desire to create a bigger, more successful following.

Dan Deeks-Osburn, strategy director, Impero

If you’re a brand working with influencers, you have a responsibility to give those partners as much creative control as possible, while still being able to deliver on your business objectives.

Influencers have a unique ability to make people across countries, cultures, and languages feel connected to them and their lives and they can only do that with a strong sense of authenticity. Yes, consumers follow them for fashion advice, video game tips, make up recommendation, and new recipes. But what consumers really follow them for is an insight into their lives. As a brand, you need to fit in to that, naturally.

Having trouble letting go of that control? Get the brief right. Understand precisely what business problem you’re trying to solve, how influencer endorsement can help, and which partners will deliver the results you need.

Kieron Weedon, director of strategy, BWP Group

There are three key themes that become apparent: authenticity, brand sentiment and the customer journey. Firstly, authenticity: influencer marketing carries a degree of trust that traditional marketing often can’t replicate. To remove or dilute the creative freedom of the influencer will make that authenticity much more difficult to deliver, weakening the strength of the activity.

Connected to authenticity is brand sentiment; has the brand ‘earned’ the right to make claims on its behalf? There are brands that have created such strength of leadership in their sector that the impact of influencer marketing is less important than allowing the product to tell its own story.

Finally, and most importantly, is understanding the customer journey. There are clear points in a customer journey where the product needs to lead the story and engage the audience to discover more, and it’s at this stage that influencers become significantly more impactful. As customers research to back-up a product’s claim, influencer recommendation and support provide incredibly strong conversion drivers.

James Perrott, strategy director, Zazzle Media

If you’re using influencers to market your products then you are, to an extent, relying on the influencers authority, influence and persuasion to market the product. If you restrict this by ensuring the product is the main feature of the advert or piece of content, you are restricting the potential reach of the advert; the influencer’s true audience will not be interested – they’ll become instantly aware of the nature of this piece of marketing.

Influencers have made their name by creating a community around them. They know what they’re doing. Mix that with a small bit of directive flair and you have a great combination.

Emily Bray, account manager, JJ

The modern influencer is producing content at a huge rate and has an unassailable level of interaction with their audience. Where previously celebrity endorsement and promotion saw brands tapping into a following and projecting their own values and agenda, today’s influencer understands what their audience will respond to, which is normally authenticity.

Giving an influencer creative freedom secures this authenticity with their audience and brands should be utilising the skills of influencers to develop advocacy and brand loyalty. It comes down to the best fit for an influencer, their audience and the brand. As with any marketing discipline, it’s all about relevancy.

Roman Gaponenko, co-founder and chief strategist, Satellite75

In the ideal scenario, your product and a carefully selected influencer elevate and propel each other. In reality, an influencer is often unfit to have a creative input into marketing your product and that needs to be recognised early on. Brands, on the other hand, tend to exercise more control than necessary and, perhaps, it is an indication that influencer marketing is not right for them. After all, it is a mutually beneficial relationship between two brands (an influencer is indeed a brand), where co-creation and collaboration lead to best results. If you want to control your message, you can always go back to creating your own ads.

Read more in part two and part three of this Vox Pop.

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