UPDATE April 23, 2019 — A brand influencer is an individual who leverages his/her social media prowess to authentically engage and connect audiences and brands—meaning a social media influencer partners with a brand to create sponsored content. In today’s consumer-driven landscape, it’s increasingly more common for advertisers to tap brand influencers in order to achieve marketing objectives.
In the age of social media, consumers are no longer solely at the mercy of blatant, unnatural, and suspicious advertising. Instead, consumers have taken to social media to build vast networks of peers whose opinions they trust, value, and share. Whereas brands used to dictate what they were in the eyes of consumers, consumers now define brands. As Adstream puts it, “consumers are the ones driving the advertising process.” This colossal shift in power from brands to consumers has led brands to adopt new strategies that harness this resounding word-of-mouth model—influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing roots advertising in the hands of credible, authentic, and relatable individuals with a powerful social media presence otherwise known as influencers. Since social media influencers succeed where traditional ads fail, brands derive measurable value from working with them. Brand influencers act as extensions of brands, lending their voices and opinions on products, services, or topics to the social sphere. More importantly, brand influencers have established trust with their organically grown social followings. That is to say, brand influencers haven’t bought fake followers or feigned influencer status.
With consumers in the driver’s seat and social media as the roads on which they drive, traditional advertising has taken a back seat. This has made room for a robust influencer marketing strategy, equipped with the longevity that traditional advertising simply can’t attain. As more brands work to build their presence on social media (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, etc.), the relationship between brands and influencers becomes more cemented.
Take, for instance, Instagram, where more than 25 million businesses are actively maintaining their profile. On top of managing their accounts internally, these businesses are on track to invest $2 billion in Instagram influencer marketing in 2019. One only needs to search “#ad” or “#sponsored” in Instagram’s discovery tool to uncover how many Instagram users are pairing up with brands to promote their products or services without the bias of brand advertising. It’s why 70% of marketers strongly agreed influencer marketing budgets would increase in 2018, and why 65% of brands actually plan to increase spending.
Overall, brand influencers offer the following benefits:
By tapping into the social followings of multiple well-networked influencers, brands can reach new audiences that they otherwise wouldn’t gain exposure to. This also ensures that their brand messaging reaches audiences preconditioned to accept and respect the influencers’ views (so long as they are genuine).
Trust & Credibility
Influencers have earned their followings, so they’ve already established trust with their audience. This is a reflection of consumers’ trust in influencers’ opinions, meaning influencer branded content resonates better.
When working with brand influencers, the collaboration should be genuine and synergistic. This means brand influencers maintain quality content and authentic relationships with their followers.
Influencers let their creativity run wild when producing branded content, allowing brands to step away from their own potentially biased messaging. Creative freedom lends itself well to more native style advertising, meaning influencer content is less disruptive and more natural. It also presents unique perspectives around your brand and keeps your brand messaging from becoming stale.
As many influencers fall into niche categories (e.g. fitness, fashion, family), the brands they decide to partner with will often align with or relate to their interests. Therefore, audiences will be exposed to new brands that are relevant—not just arbitrary ones.
Many top brands have dedicated influencer marketing agencies or in-house influencer programs that identify appropriate influencers to partner with either for one-off campaigns or long-term relationships. Depending on the brand’s marketing goals, brand influencer partnerships will look different. Above all else, it’s important to connect with the desired influencers and ensure alignment between both parties. Without these elements, partnerships have no basis and will not generate the desired results.
In order to partner with brand influencers, follow these steps:
As with any marketing campaign, you must define goals. Are you trying to reach new audiences? Expand awareness on a particular channel? Drive traffic to your site? Create social engagement? Generate conversions? Whether brand awareness or direct response, make sure your brand sets specific key performance indicators (KPIs) for better campaign measurement. Then, you should consider how working with brand influencers will facilitate reaching these goals.
Based on the goals you set, it’s time to craft the blueprint of your influencer campaign. Since you haven’t found a set of influencers yet, this step should represent the ideal structure for executing your influencer marketing objectives. How many influencers do you want to partner with? How much budget can you allocate? What channels do you want to gain exposure on? How long will the campaign last? What’s the unique value proposition, or the core message influencers should emphasize? Once you’ve designed the detailed outline for your campaign, you can move on to finding brand influencers.
With specific goals and a campaign plan, searching for brand influencers should be relatively simple. If you’ve determined Instagram is the main social media channel, you can narrow your search and target Instagram influencers that would best fit your campaign needs. For details on how to find Instagram influencers for your campaign, see our guide here.
Beyond just identifying influencers, you should research them to understand their interests, areas of expertise, previous brand partnerships, target audience, reach, engagement rate, and more. Just because an influencer’s social profile seems to fit the mold doesn’t mean they’re qualified for your campaign. Do your due diligence and find the right influencers.
Before even reaching out, your brand should follow influencers’ social channels and engage with their content. Next, reach out to influencers in order to connect with them. Cold outreach doesn’t have to be impersonal or flat. Email influencers a concise message, offering campaign details and asking them questions about their goals and experience. As correspondence progresses, it’s important to communicate goals and expectations, as well as negotiate the terms of the partnership. Ultimately, find ways to connect and work together in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Once you’ve gained a roster of brand influencers, it’s time to launch your brand influencer campaign. As each brand influencer publishes sponsored content, track the performance with your original campaign goals and KPIs in mind. Did brand influencer #1 generate the engagement you expected? Did brand influencer #2 drive enough qualified traffic to your site to convert? Did brand influencer #3 garner positive sentiment in the comments section? Continue evaluating the various metrics to piece together how each influencer performed as individuals and as a group. Gathering all these insights is crucial to measuring ROI so you can optimize for future campaigns.
The world of influencers is vast and ripe with brand influencer partnership examples. Below are a few examples of brand influencers on Instagram:
Mommy blogger Krista Horton partnered up with Eye Buy Direct to showcase her new blue light-blocking glasses. Her Instagram post captures the charm of her young daughter, also wearing a pair of the stylish and affordable glasses. Her caption has a personal touch, and she includes a unique discount code for her followers.
Instagram influencer Noah Pugliano worked with Sunny Delight to promote the classic orange flavored drink in a photo that captures his lifestyle. Noting the drink’s ability to keep him cool and embolden his originality, Noah directs followers to check out the link in his bio for more information.
Beauty influencer Cammie Scott showcases a CVS Beauty look for the holidays, featuring vegan/cruelty-free products. This paid partnership is a simple approach, but the alignment between influencer and brand is impactful. She even includes a link to her YouTube makeup tutorial and links to a dedicated CVS landing page with the products she used as a tactic to drive sales conversions.
Lifestyle and liquor influencer Taylor Dean decided to change his tune a bit to showcase his determination to lead a healthier life. In partnership with Fitbit, Dean opens up about his personal health and wellness goals by introducing his Fitbit Versa to help focus on self-growth.
In partnership with Marc Jacobs Fragrances, fashion and lifestyle influencer Zolee promotes the brand’s perfume through a giveaway contest. This drums up engagement with her following while also highlighting the season of giving. She plainly discloses her partnership more than once, likely to maintain transparency with her followers.
Fashion and design influencer Will Taylor shows off his newly designed Gillette 3D printed razor handle featuring a faceted rock face in Norway. As a Gillette Partner, Taylor lets his fans know that they can style their own razor handles with the designs that inspire them most. True to his artistic nature, Taylor’s partnership highlights Gillette’s product in a personal way.
From auto to dating apps to beauty brands, social media influencers have the power to elevate brands’ marketing strategies. As TV viewership continues to plummet and ad blocking affects advertisers and publishers worldwide, brands are eager to work with social media luminaries to effectively reach audiences online.
Here are three creative ways that top brands are marketing with social media influencers:
Increasingly more brands partner with top digital influencers to not only drive awareness and engagement online, but also elicit the same response (by driving foot traffic) at live events. Despite generating global followings, influencers have the power to drive turnout at niche local events, especially if the sponsored influencer is based locally.
Olay Throws New York Fashion Week Runway Event With Beauty Influencers
In part with New York Fashion Week (NYFW), skincare brand Olay launched a women’s empowerment campaign featuring a roster of female beauty influencers headlined by nine “fearless women.” At the conclusion of a 28-day skincare routine challenge, Olay invited participating influencers to flaunt their skin without makeup at the NYFW runway event. The traction generated online culminated with a powerful event that followers could attend or stream, demonstrating the ability of influencers to have a social impact in real life.
Coachella Brand Activations Feature Influencers
Each year, Coachella attracts some of the biggest names in the music industry, enticing many major brands to capture an in-market audience. With the help of social media influencers, brands like REVOLVE, Heineken, HP, and Sephora lean on long-term influencer partners to promote their brand leading up to and during Coachella. Here, sponsored Instagram Stories tend to build additional excitement and engagement. Partnerships like this accelerate brand visibility while also attracting customers to the actual event.
In contrast to one-off sponsorships, many brands opt to engage audiences online more effectively with long-term partnerships where the brand influencer becomes an integral part of the overarching marketing strategy.
Ad blocking is nothing new in 2019, but it’s premised on a dynamic shift in Millennial marketing. Millennials don’t respond well to traditional advertising but do spend a large amount of time on social media where they are heavily influenced by peers. Additionally, Millennials are one of the most adamant users of ad blocking, demonstrating the importance of authentic content creation versus outright ads.
Creating content in partnership with top digital and social media influencers is one of the few viable ways to effectively reach important demographics online.
Timex & MVMT Take Time To Focus On Instagram Influencers
Timex and MVMT each ran an Instagram influencer marketing campaign by working with fashion and lifestyle influencers. Despite differences in messaging, content, and influencers, both brands reached audience sizes greater than 2 million and generated engagement rates over 5%. Through discount codes, branded hashtags, and personalized messaging, both watch brands created cohesive and impactful campaigns with brand influencers that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible through traditional ads.
With TV viewership declining and online video becoming more prominent, brands are implementing more thoughtful video strategies by weaving them into influencer marketing. Taking a page from the influencers’ playbook, brands actively engage online audiences through high-quality video production.
Budweiser Partners With Influencers To Create Engaging Sponsored Video Content
The effectiveness of sponsored video content with top digital creators beyond just popular YouTubers cannot be overstated. Take, for instance, Budweiser—no stranger to traditional advertising—who took to Instagram for the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Through a creative influencer marketing campaign, the brand leveraged YouTube creators, pro soccer players, and media personalities to produce branded reaction videos on Instagram.
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Manooo do céu o que foi esse jogo hoje? Afff que nervoso! Passei mal 59 vezes kkkkkkkk Gravei minhas reações durante o jogo! TÁ MTO ENGRAÇADO!!!!!! ??? Não sabia que eu ficava tão louca e gritava tanto kkkkkkkk e olha que eu nem tinha começado a beber pq era 9 da manhã! Kkkkkkkkk . . . Gravem também suas reações e postem com a #ReactionChallenge A Bud vai compilar alguns vídeos e vocês podem aparecer no insta deles!!! VAI, BRASIL!!! ??? @Budweiser #ReactionChallenge #PartnersWithBud #AprecieComModeração
Brand influencers shared engaging sponsored video content, which resonated significantly better than display, banner, or even video pre-roll ads would’ve. In other words, the brand influencer activations generated more online buzz and social media engagement compared to traditional forms of advertising.
Effectively executing influencer marketing relies largely on a brand’s ability to leverage influencers’ expertise in audience engagement and quality content creation—something sponsored video content can naturally achieve.