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Earning authentic love for your brand: winning at the game of influencer marketing

by Erica Gunn  |  August 24, 2022

4 min. read
Influencer marketing to her followers. She is hold up a peace sign and winking while bubbles of different followers are popping off of a phone she is holding and taking a video of herself. There are hearts and emojis coming off of the bubbles. Al overtop of a vibrant orange background.

How much would a puzzled shrug on TikTok be worth to your brand? Hugo Boss is finding out for an investment reported to be worth up to seven figures.

The fashion brand has signed a multi-year deal with the “exasperated everyman” (paywall) Khaby Lame—who has amassed a gargantuan 134 million social media followers for his videos gently mocking internet “life hacks”—to be the face of its #BetheBOSS campaign. According to Miah Sullivan, senior VP of global marketing and brand communications at Boss, 20-year-old Lame “generated 6.6 billion impressions and 307 million social media engagements within six days” around the launch of a hoodie. The product was a 60,000 unit sell-out. “We had a huge response from him,” Sullivan told Vogue Business. “Every post is worth more than a Super Bowl ad in terms of impressions.”

Welcome to the upper atmosphere of the world of influencer marketing—where, at ground level, anyone with at least 1,000 engaged followers on Instagram or TikTok has a media kit pitching themselves to a brand as a nano-influencer in a niche. This is a world awash with posts tagged #influencer: 39,678,601 on Instagram today, and 4.4 million tagged #sponsored. It’s a thriving ecosystem expected to be worth $15 billion by the end of this year. If you’re a CMO—whether B2C or B2B—and influencer marketing isn’t part of your playbook yet, now is a good time to consider why.

An insider’s look at the influencer market

How does an influencer influence their audience? The answer is by being a reliable source—either of entertainment or information on a given topic, but free of an overt sales pitch. It’s a content play, not an ad placement.

Image of a man in his 30s doing a presentation in front of a camera with a laptop in front of him. Overlaid on the left is Canto's menu of social icons you can easily share content to. On the right side of the image slightly overtop of the image is a menu of filters you can use to find the exact asset you need to share to your following. All overtop orange backdrop.

The most successful influencers are creators and innovators

Joanna Touqmatchi, the 31-year-old leader of the UK creative partnership team at TikTok, told Business Insider (paywall) that there are three traits she looks for when trying to identify the next viral sensation: “Are they passionate about their content? Are they adaptable to new trends? And do they post consistently?”

This tells you that influencers need to be relentless innovators and restless creators focused on their platform and audience development—their priority is always going to be audience growth and engagement. So the challenge is less traditional product placement and more to understand how your brand will work in the content creator’s ever-evolving worldview. Where you win is that your brand becomes associated by proxy with emerging trends—even down to the way channels are used.

Depth, not breadth, matters

When Touqmatchi talks about an influencer’s passion for their material, she touches on the most crucial aspect of brand-influencer partnerships: topical relevance. Unless you are working with a mega-influencer like Lame with a multi-million follower reach, brands are winning by working with micro-influencers who have a dedicated audience because of their knowledge and expertise in a particular field.

In the B2B space, Adobe is an example of a company committed to working with micro-influencers—from illustrators to photographers to digital creators and educators—to build engagement across its range of software apps. One award-winning Adobe micro-influencer campaign in 2019 saw “21 million target customers … reached and the app … downloaded 105,333 times. The cost per download was less than $1 and seven times lower than the industry average.” The website building and hosting business Squarespace works with a range of influencers, including chef Gaby Melian and The Strology’s Kirah Tabourn. It’s the depth of authentic engagement with their audience that the influencers bring rather than the breadth of reach that proves to be of value to the brands.

Device screen with an arm holding a megaphone coming out of the screen with icons of social channels surrounding the megaphone all on orange backdrop.

Turning advocates into influencers

A number of brands have shown how to turn social fans into advocates and influencers through smart initiatives that draw people into deep engagement. Crayola and M&Ms were among the first brands to engage their target audience to help select product colors. But take a look at the #inmydenim challenge by fashion brand Guess. Just by inviting Tiktokkers to share clips of how they style themselves in their denim, they’ve clocked up more than 53.4 million views.

Top of your list: integrity, consistency, organization

Your challenge in working with influencers is always going to take three forms: integrity, consistency, and organization.

While the influencer is focused on building their own audience and deepening that engagement, how do you ensure that the integrity of your own brand is preserved? Integrity and reputation are things you can’t outsource to a freelance content creator—and that will need to be understood from the start of the partnership.

Second, is the quality going to be consistent if the influencer is always an experimenter at heart? Reviewing and understanding success metrics will be key, too.

Finally, organization. The best influencers are experimenters. You need to make sure you can give them what they need when they need it. Think of it as a co-creation partnership, not a passive one.

But how do you really influence an influencer—genuinely, truly? It’s all about authenticity. It helps if they love your product.

Originally published on Fast Company.