It’s one of the biggest challenges of influencer marketing, pairing the right individual with the right brands. Done right, it can create a harmonious relationship that creates incredible content. Done wrong, and it can seem inauthentic and lose the interest of your audience. So how do you foster relationships to build your brand engagement? And is a hands-on approach the best way to moderate content?
We’ve all seen sponsored content online that has impressed us. Individuals with a purpose representing a brand or product they’re passionate about. It draws us in and makes us want to hear the rest of the story. On the flip side, we’ve all seen content that screams ‘this is a paid partnership and nothing else’. It all comes down to the individual and how well their ethos and values align with those of the brand.
James Polhill, managing director of Populr, says it will always come down to the relationship when creating a successful pairing of influencer to brand.
“The core of our pairing process is we understand what’s at heart of the brand, their values, purpose and beliefs and where these align with the talent on our roster of the highest-profile talent in the country. We believe in long-term brand partnerships that are mutually beneficial for both parties which will live on long after campaigns.”
For Polhill, quick ‘firework’ posts that are forgotten as soon as they’re posted isn’t the way to build brand engagement, but more so the long relationships that have the audience trusting brands and trusting the people that represent them.
“By taking pairing to a strategic level, we know our partnerships will be both authentic and natural, especially as our talent will only work with brands, products or services they believe in or genuinely use themselves. They are, after all, brands themselves with their own reputations to manage. With the partnerships often spanning 12 to 36 months, this allows time to build genuine dialogue between the talent, their communities and a strong commercial return.”
‘Authenticity’ is a buzzword when it comes to influencer marketing. Yet the reason is, it is one of, if not the most important aspects that ambassadors must-have. Polhill says that authenticity always going to be the main goal of pairing.
“The term ‘influencer marketing’ has been hijacked by social-only players and the category has been dumbed down, further accelerated by fragmentation within marketing departments by treating social, and therefore de facto influencers, in a silo. The key challenge we foresee when pairing is true brand authenticity. Both the talent and the brand need to form a longer-term relationship and like any relationship, it takes work, genuine understanding and dialogue.”
Brooke Howard-Smith, CEO of social media agency WeAreTenzing, says the ideal relationship is one where the individual “offers the brand long-term value and can be the external advocate for that brand.”
For WeAreTenzing, the model works on connecting brand to person, then taking a step back to let the relationship foster itself.
“We believe that it’s important to help the relationship but be as stood back as possible. We step back so we can allow the brand managers and the talent to communicate and for a relationship that is built on trust.”
Howard-Smith says that when pairing relationships, an understanding of both the brand and influencer is paramount, as aligning values creates authenticity.
“The first thing we do is build a really detail understanding of who our client is. We do that using a developed method we have called ‘purpose and passion’. The first step is identifying who they are, the second step is making sure their content represents that, then our third step is finding brands that share a pair love for those purposes and passions.
“The idea of finding shared purposes and passions is that there will be content that is based around that, and it is the kind of content that a brand would want to create over the year anyway. All we’re doing presenting people that share a brands purpose and passion.”
He says that influencers should act as content ‘machines’ for a brand, that connects audiences with your products and services at a constant rate.
“It is no different to when old companies used to have brand ambassadors. We try to find someone that can be the face of the brand, the heart of the brand, talk about the brand’s initiatives; but also, someone who can act as a content machine for the brand.”
James Polhill and Howard-Smith both have a stance on nano and micro-influencers, that unless they’re targeting a specialist group (such as Olympians with 2,000 followers) pairing them with brands is harder and produces less ROI.
Polhill says the industry has the ability to be powerful but needs more maturing as younger influencers with fewer followers begin to saturate the market.
“As the channel matures within the marketing mix, the investment will continue to grow but with longer-term thinking applied by senior leaders and marketers. This will see talent and influencers becoming central to a brand’s marketing system, not simply an amplification of each campaign message. Therefore, we will see a more rigorous approach to selection, as they’ll build across multiple years and closely mirror that of the brand’s ambition. Many facets of marketing are migrating back to a model of mass reach, scale and penetration for business success, influencers will be next.”
Howard-Smith agrees with Polhill’s point, that influencer marketing has the potential to be huge, yet New Zealand’s geographical size can cause issues for brands looking to stay local.
“The interesting thing about the market is we are seeing a real polarization; it is incredibly tight and there just isn’t enough people with over 30,000 followers to be making this content. It is very hard for nano influencers to reach large followings, but it’s easy for anyone to decide they’re now an influencer, there is no real barrier to entry yet. That for us isn’t our focus, and it isn’t the focus for a brand looking to create exceptional content that inspires.”
For both brands, individuals, and the social media agencies that nurse the relationships, the main goal is developing that long-term relationship, in a time where Howard-Smith says, is tricky to get trust.
“This is often new for brands, and they’re rightfully nervous and cautious. We don’t trust what we don’t understand and very few people understand content creators and its relationship with marketing at this time.”
Yet for Howard-Smith, he says influencer marketing is worth the risk if implemented correctly and supported along the life of the campaign.
“The biggest challenge is earning that trust. Having these brands take a shot and see the content. If you work with the right people the process is really enjoyable, and the content is usually really impressive.”