In many ways, influencer marketing is still a shiny object for brands and marketers. It can mean more eyeballs on your content, more engagement with your brand, and ideally, the conversion of viewers/readers into advocates and loyal customers. But that's only if it's done right.
You could score the best brand fit out there, and the most renowned name for your particular campaign. You could check off every box on your targeting and distribution strategy. But there's one crucial, mistaken assumption that much of our industry is still making: your influencer may be great at his or her day job -- but do they know how to tell a story with your brand's product or service?
Not necessarily. For all the planning that brands and agencies do, the true checklist involves one main asset: relevant stories.
Influencers should be contextual marketers
Let's say that your influencer of choice is an actress. She has a large audience who follows her from every step on the street to each post on Instagram. Her fans are excited to see and live through her experiences. They're enchanted by her vacations, the outfits she wears -- how she is the way she is. Then one Tuesday, the audiences check their Instagram feeds to find a random product snapshot of some everyday item. It has no context, no rhyme or reason to be in her feed. And it's a blatant advertisement rather than being relevant to her regular content, persona, and audience.
Our job as marketers is to ensure that the talent that we work with understands how to be contextual marketers. The products that they promote should become a part of their experiences -- not just a snapshot of soap or orange juice on a counter. Ultimately, no matter how popular your influencer is otherwise, when fans feel like they're just being fed ads in their feeds, they lash out -- both against the talent and the brand. Both sides risk alienating fans and losing credibility. It's a lose-lose situation.
Instead, brands should work with these partners to dig deeper; to help create a relevant storyline around their products and services. One of my favorite examples is when Aimee Song, also known as Song of Style to the fashion obsessed, partnered with 7 for All Mankind. The brand sent her on a trip to Catalina Island, where she blogged about styling the brand's denim through her adventures, and shared pictures across her social channels. It was authentic because she showed why she paired certain outfits together, and during what occasions. The product(s) were a part of her experiences, not just a random post, or promotional tweet.
This partnership also felt natural because there seemed to be a clear understanding of Aimee's audience. Marketers can't help influencers create truly relevant stories unless they understand their community. Does their audience engage more with experience storylines? Would they be responsive to instructional content (i.e., showing them how to use a specific product or service, and the benefits of it)? And hopefully you'll have done your homework on this question before signing any contracts, but will exposure to their audience benefit your brand? If it's a community that's not in your target market and won't help any of your marketing goals, find someone else who will.
Ultimately, when done well, influencer marketing has the power to yield timely, compelling content to a fandom that's eager to engage. Take the time and do the work upfront with your talent to ensure a great experience for them, your brand, and the audience. With the exception of some seasoned pros, simply asking them to tweet or post about your product will get you nowhere -- and even with the former, you still need to make sure that you're in alignment. If done correctly, not only will the audience respond, but you may just turn said influencer into a long-term brand champion.