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It’s Time We Advance Our Approach to Influencer Marketing


Influencers must understand and believe in the values, history, and culture of the brand, finds R/GA's Hannah Forbes

It’s Time We Advance Our Approach to Influencer Marketing

Why are headlines regularly popping about the issues with influencer marketing, despite the fact that it's proven to have 11x the ROI over digital ads (Nielsen, 2016) when executed properly?

Influencer Nico Guilis, known for her popular Instagram account @FindYourCalifornia told me, “The problem is that brands are overwhelmed with what to do with influencers and try to do everything, but don’t actually have any idea what they, the influencer, or the audience actually want.” 

One of the issues is the omnipresent breadth of the term 'influencer' itself, and the sweeping gravity it has acquired over the last decade. Marketers consolidate their objectives using influencers for paid reach, culturally-relevant social content, and to generate brand evangelism... with so many disparate motivations for working with talent, it’s no wonder we can’t get it right.

While certain aspects of the industry have advanced significantly - we have access to more data, can prove ROI at nearly every stage of the funnel, and can easily identify talent and target specific audiences - our approach to the discipline hasn’t grown up with it. Why are we still using celebrities, micro-influencers and macro-influencers interchangeably? Why are we still seeing creators posting photos of them holding product, with copy ripped from brand-owned social channels? Why are disclosures still so difficult for the FTC and the ASA to control?

The strategy falls short when we use influence, reach, authenticity and engagement all interchangeably, assuming that with one can become the other. 

In a recent conversation with the millennial content creators Damon and Jo, who gained influence with their YouTube travel show designed for the digital generation, they explained how positively their audience reacts to their long-term, creatively collaborative brand partnerships. However, they warned that as a content creator, “when you constantly put your brand deals over your connection with the people that follow you for what you do, you will lose the influence you have over your audience that got you where you are in the first place.”

In order to further develop the influencer industry as a whole, we must recognise that influence doesn’t automatically translate into evangelism. In fact, earning evangelism requires quite a different approach and a much greater and more laborious investment.

While borrowing influence gives us the ability to quickly get in front of an engaged, targeted audience, it is not until we invest the time to ensure that our partners truly believe in our brand that they will have the ability to authentically champion our message with enthusiasm as true brand evangelists. “There’s a trust that helps (influencer-branded) content become even more natural. And if it’s a longer-term partnership, your audience knows that you actually like the product,” Damon and Jo confirmed. 

Authenticity - and in turn, evangelism - does not appear overnight, and cannot be turned on through a CRM dashboard. Influencers must understand and believe in the values, history, and culture of the brand. They must meet the faces behind the message, contribute in round-table discussions, learn about the stories behind the innovations, and immerse themselves in the entirety of the company. These brand evangelists will then hold collective equity in the program, the brand and beyond. 

While there is clear value to both borrowing influence for paid reach and sharing brand evangelism, it is increasingly important that marketers approach all briefs with a clear strategy that achieves their defined objectives while providing meaningful value to the influencer and their community.

Hannah Forbes is management consultant, influence strategy, at R/GA

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R/GA New York, Wed, 02 May 2018 10:13:07 GMT