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  • Writer's pictureRichard

Normal rules don't apply - the influencer dynamic

I once created and ran a whole event for clients based on a single line that annoyed me in a meeting from another agency, when referring to influencers, the claim was made that ‘it’s just another media buy’.

A lot of effort to satisfy my own frustrations perhaps, but this was I think the perennial flaw in how marketing saw (and can still see) an impact channel, and a view made worse by matching it against other channels to make it feel more comfortable in the mix.

But the reality check on influencer use is that it isn’t about comfort. Or control. And yes, there is risk involved.

If you want influencer use to work for you, then there is a tough call needed on parking at least part of your brand rulebook. But doing so for proper reward.

De-influencing is on the rise, where messages about brands ‘not’ to buy are the content theme, partly perhaps in reaction to over saturation of the achingly ‘on brand’ videos we see all the time.

The ones that don’t quite feel genuine and either stick out in someone’s feed for being out of kilter or blur into the mass of ‘other brands’ being similarly promoted in their parallel posts.

To cross that authenticity challenge, three brand attitudes you bring to the party will define proper levels of success First up, as I may have mentioned in my reactionary start point, if you approach any influencer campaign as a media buy first, where reach and budget negotiation and high levels of control are the lead parameters, then you have already lost the soul of a campaign. It's about fit and relevance, not always about mass eyeballs. If ROI isn't led by engagement, workable (and maybe subtle) CTAs and an audience seeing a message that seems 100% right in this place, you risk being led by a desire for noise not value. Scale of following may be the solution, but so might a niche. The discovery phase of who to work with and why is where the time input needs to be. It's art and science not just statistics. Attitude number 2 is about reviewing the 'control' word and about learning to let go of normal rules a little more.

Brands who write long over specific briefs and 'script' requirements don't always get it. If a mate in a pub talks to you in corporate speak around something with unnatural precision, you will probably think they are being a nob. What you are buying (no shame in spending £ as long as is based on point 1...) is storyteller creativity. So why shackle that with detailed rules ? Creatives hate rules. And many creative influencers are followed because they don't stick to them. Reading the room matters. Allowing someone who knows their audience best to work things through to share back with you is the value. Otherwise stick to your controlled ATL choices.

Hilton has just run an inventive and impressive campaign on TikTok, where traditional rules were certainly parked. It has a vibe of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’. It was ten minutes long, when traditional rules suggest brevity. It used a cast of influencers allowed to do their thing, not just one. It took the mickey out of the brand whilst also explaining the brand to younger audiences as the target. It was entertaining, educative, self-aware, and still had a clear CTA as part of the story.

The lesson here is not that every brand should suddenly go all guns blazing into 10 minute formats, but that embracing the purpose of a channel matters, and rather than stick to everyday corporate brand rules, rules are there to be broken from time to time. As a marketer you can still clearly spot core Hilton messages. Just not as you would normally know them.

The third key attitude is to see influencers as partners. Not just as creatives but as people to work with over time. Let them grow to understand you. Weave you into their worlds and lives. Share thoughts with you. Let their audiences see a genuine link. Not say hello and goodbye in moments because something (maybe) shinier has caught your eye.

And in terms of storyteller choice, working with your internal teams as influencers can be a valuable route to consider for the ultimate authenticity. Shout out to the likes of Macy’s and Wallmart who have been doing this well for years. With these three approaches and mindsets working together the measurement benefits that will flow will be less short term hit counting and more about commercial wins, positive brand tracking and association, and even content anticipation.

Relying on the tactical and tick box meanwhile can lead to surface data decisions and over control of the execution.

Integration will still work with other channels, just not as verbatim repetition - which isn’t a bad thing when audiences want authentic storytelling vs obvious marketing.

Ultimately this has to be seen as an earned media space with paid support. If the content doesn’t feel editorial, savvy audiences can spot the sticky tape holding it together.

Which is when value starts to get questioned when the impact is not as desired And is that surprising if you have missed all the marks you could and should be hitting?

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