There are many ways that brands can get different aspects of their marketing wrong. A cursory search online will reveal a plethora of horrible marketing screw-ups.
Influencer marketing is no different. But one of the ways we see brands making a mess quite often is actually really easy to remedy: not understanding that the influencers they collaborate with are all individuals and trusting them to do what they are great at.
What Is An Influencer?
Before looking at how brands make a mess of influencer marketing by not trusting the people they work with, it is worth taking a moment to revisit what influencer marketing can and should involve.
Millions of people follow influencers they relate to or admire and consume the content they generate online. People who create content and publish online – bloggers, YouTubers and social media super-users for example – are collectively known as influencers (although they are also sometimes known as cultural leaders or content creators. We’ll stick to influencers for simplicity).
These influencers are publishers in a digital age. In marketing and communications parlance, they are (or at least should be) in the earned – and not owned – media category.
So far, so simple. Right?
Why Trusting Influencers Is Essential (and yet so many brands don’t)
And yet in many cases, brands don’t seem to understand that influencer marketing is not like other marketing activities.
Consider that the first ‘blog’ was published by Justin Hall in 1994, three years before the term ‘weblog’ (from which ‘blog’ is derived) was coined.
And think about the fact that just a decade later Mark Zuckerberg was building The Facebook and YouTube was launched as an online dating site.
If a marketing director was studying at university in the mid-90’s, they were using textbooks and learning from lecturers who couldn’t imagine what the landscape would look like a mere 20 or 30 years later.
So it is pretty obvious that the marketing and communications landscape has changed beyond recognition. But in some cases, approaches and attitudes have not kept pace. As an example, in a recent article written by a marketing director of a global running brand, there was a comment about how marketing efforts can become bland:
Everything is digital, everything is social media and one size fits all. Get an account, find an influencer or two to talk nicely about your brand or store and off you go.
Now undoubtedly this comment was tongue-in-cheek. But perhaps it demonstrates underlying skepticism, misunderstanding and dismissiveness about influencer marketing.
What Good Looks Like
Done well, influencer marketing is a collaboration between a brand with a story to tell and influencers who have an audience that aligns with the target market for the brand.
Done badly, it is a box-ticking exercise where the brand assumes that they can ‘own’ the output and content, take steps to dictate the messaging and then congratulate themselves for being terribly modern.
The problem with not doing influencer marketing well is that consumers see right through it. That damages both the influencer’s reputation and the brand’s reputation. It is a lose-lose.
When a brand picks the right influencers and allows them to talk enthusiastically about what the company makes or does, the impact is often really dramatic. And the output is the opposite of bland. Every influencer has their own style and tone of voice. They have their own way of talking to their audience. They have their own skills, whether that is writing or podcasting or photography or video.
Avoid Blandness By Being Brave
So we think that the best way for a brand to avoid being bland, is to relinquish control. If as a marketer, you try to control everything that is said about your brand, you create homogeneity and blandness. That means that you are creating the problem. And if you ‘find an influencer or two to talk nicely about your brand’ you just make the problem worse.
Instead, how about finding exciting people who actually do the sport that you are involved in. Give them your product or access to your service. And let them tell your story in their way.
After all, what is already happening in the world outside of your marketing department is that people are either ignoring your brand or already talking about it in a way that you can’t control.
If you have any thoughts on this, we’d love to hear from you.