Opinion

‘Influencer before brand’: For brands to succeed in influencer-driven commerce, they need to relax the creative reins

Aaron Brooks - vampTech entrepreneur and VAMP co-founder Aaron Brooks talks about the new zeitgeist in social influencer marketing, why native-creatives are a precious resource not be squandered, and how brands and marketers are still getting it wrong.

Rewind and flick through the trade press a few years back, and you might land upon any number of articles trumpeting how influencer marketing was the ‘next big thing’. And it was.

With social media still in a state of exponential overdrive, a new breed of ‘social celebrities’ were gaining the kind of audiences and bang-on demographics that brands lusted after.

Plugged in marketers gushed over the latest McKinsey reports, all citing how influencer-led word-of-mouth endorsements equated to compelling rates of higher consumer engagement and retention.

Yes, it was all very exciting stuff, then. But the influencer space has evolved at rapid pace since.

Today, without doubt, influencers remain a powerfully effective tool for brands to reach their consumers.

But it’s vital to also recognise them as a resource which shouldn’t be over-mined. Or rather, not poorly mined.

What do I mean by that? Well, as with all things, it only took a matter of time before consumers became more sophisticated.

As our lives have become increasingly integrated with social media, we have grown more finely attuned to what we’re being marketed at, and by whom.

That’s why it’s so crucial that marketers are not short-sighted or exploitative in their use of influencers.

As it currently stands, many are still getting it wrong, positioning celebrity and reach over relevance and authenticity.

What’s more, while it might seem glaringly obvious to most that not every product is the right fit for every channel, some influencer marketing agencies still pimp products out to any and all high-profile influencers – to the detriment of both the brand and the influencer’s own brand.

As influencers grow into savvy entrepreneurs, they will reject this type of promotion because they instinctively know it will damage their personal brand.

But that’s often the other problem. It’s rare that any consideration or acknowledgement is extended to the influencer and their own brand – the brand’s needs are usually always positioned above the influencer’s, but it should be the opposite.

And yes, for those vigilant brand guardians out there reading this, while that might sound counter-intuitive if not downright sacrilegious, it isn’t.

The fact is, influencers carry just as much weight, if not more, when it comes to social marketing than brand owned platforms.

So, if brands are to operate successfully within the influencer channel, they need to forget about disruption and be all about integration working in concert with the influencer rather than trying to control the creative process.

The influencer should be allowed to interpret the product through their own creative and authentic lens.

And yes, that also necessitates brands letting go of the reins, at least in this sphere. Otherwise, the paradoxical reality is that, the more that influencers are exploited to overtly parrot a brand’s key messages or creative stance, the more their actual influence will inevitably wane.

For influencer marketing to work and have a business impact, it needs to capture the social media zeitgeist and connect brands with the right grassroots creators, native-creatives and digital bohemians, and in a genuine way.

It should not be like speed dating. If you’re not connecting with the right influencer for your brand you’re at risk of less chance of a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with consumers.

Clumsy endorsement and transparent plugs simply don’t cut it anymore, either – consumers see right through them.

Moreover, influencers shouldn’t ever be chosen solely for their ‘followership’ (these days people collect friends like my pockets do lint). Rather, they should be carefully vetted for how engaged their content and followers are.

And that really comes down to correctly identifying these influencers and then enabling their creativity.

Which is why I know clever influencer marketing should be about placing products in the hands of creators that are genuinely passionate about them – and granting them the independence to believe in their own creative instinct, vision and interpretation of the product.

In the same way, brands need to be liberated from myopic creative controls and rigid branding guidelines, and trust in the magic a little – how else will brands evolve into a true reflection of their audience?

For a big shiny example, look at the success of Apple’s Shot on iPhone6 campaign, and how the brand tapped into the art created by its consumers.

Consumers are believing and turning to ‘real people’ with authentic unfiltered opinions.

The new era of retail is about re-tell. Consumers will buy, test and spread the work about a brand’s product on their own social channels – and it will be through the lens of their experience, not the one suggested by the brand, that others will come to engage.

That is the future of influencer marketing.

Aaron Brooks is the executive director and co-founder of Visual Amplifiers

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