| by Branded Entertainment

The Essential Influencer

Instagram post from influencer Nate AdamsInstagram post from influencer Nate Adams

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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