Influencer marketing is paying off for brands. In fact, a Tomoson study found that for every dollar a brand spent on influencer marketing, it made $6.50. That’s no small chunk of change in an era when up to 24 percent of a company’s budget is allotted to marketing.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that influencer marketing is predicted to swell to a $10 billion industry within the next five years. With significant ROI and relevant, cost-effective marketing tactics, influencer marketing represents an appealing way to reach the masses. This dynamic environment is what makes every day at Two Pillar Management, our firm that helps match companies with influencers, an exciting and engaging one.
The problem is that it isn’t always so easy to reach the masses. A study by TapInfluence and Altimeter revealed that more than two-thirds of marketers struggle to find the right influencers. Influencers come equipped with their own interest areas, tone, and audience — selling points that can quickly become drawbacks if they don’t line up with the company’s own branding.
That’s why smart brands that have found their ideal influencers are trying to seal the deal indefinitely.
I recently attended a company meeting of VPX Sports, a manufacturer and distributor of sports drinks and supplements. Jack Owoc, the company’s CEO, gave an in-depth presentation on the company’ social media efforts. The company employs more than a hundred influencers that it calls “Elites” on long-term contracts to promote its Bang brand of sports drinks. In doing so, it has created the comraderie of a team-like working environment amongst its influencers. Meg Liz Owoc, the companys CMO, noted that these longer term influencer-based programs have given the Bang brand its social media edge and growing market share over its more entrenched competitors Red Bull and Monster Energy.
What’s in It for Brands?
The most obvious benefit long-term partnerships offer brands is trust. As influencers devote more blog posts or more Instagram real estate to a specific company, their faith in the brand becomes more visible — and their followers are likely to develop a stronger affinity for it as well. That ongoing support appears much more genuine.
Likewise, transitioning an influencer into a brand ambassador can bring with it exclusivity and the opportunity to explore new angles. An influencer who’s producing multiple posts in conjunction with a company isn’t locked into covering just one aspect of the brand — she can use different posts to highlight different elements or ways to use the product or service. That means she has the potential to reach different people grappling with problems the brand can solve.
Sazan Hendrix, who is a respected beauty, lifestyle and fashion influencer, is focusing more and more on longer term brand ambassadorships vs. shorter term one-off posts for random brands. Most recently, she has entered into longer term agreements with Maybelline, Olay and CVS. Sazan commented that “it is far easier to create organic and honest integrations with brands over time as opposed to an individual post here and there for random companies”.
Long-term partnerships also provide both brands and influencers with the option to do testing they couldn’t do otherwise. With both brand elements remaining the same across multiple posts, companies and influencers can do A/B testing on different approaches, formats, images, and messaging. By isolating the piece that’s changed, they can test and tweak in a live environment and make immediate shifts.
Digiday noted that the trend toward long-term partnerships even includes more in-person appearances on brands’ behalf, as well as morality clauses to prevent damage to the brand hitching its wagon to the influencer. They’ve also afforded brands the ability to capitalize on the move to video more easily: “We’ve seen cost per view being the most important pricing model as video formats have overtaken static content,” explained John Kalis, vice president of U.S. business development at indaHash.
What’s in It for Influencers?
Influencers who seek to build careers on their influence get a big boost from long-term partnerships with brands: It’s guaranteed work with a brand that fits their message and audience. That affords them the flexibility to turn down one-off requests that feel like a stretch or would be viewed as off-brand by their followers.
Because these brands are familiar with influencers’ work, they’re given more creative freedom. This plays well with A/B testing, but it also lets influencers stretch their wings to try new filters, fresh phrasing, or distinctive approaches. Many influencers originally won attention through their unique style, and diluting that to meet the expectations of brands that don’t understand what they bring to the table can be demoralizing. Long-term partnerships counteract that by allowing influencers to maximize the trust they’ve earned.
More recently, brands are using marketing strategies such as influencer capsule collections and co-branded products with influencers to build longer term associations with influencers with mass appeal. Recently, influencer Jay Alvarrez designed a travel and luggage bag line for the Norwegian company Douchebags. The company is giving Alvarrez the flexibility to shoot his own iconic content and to promote the line in his own style over an entire season. Company CMO Vetle Brevik commented that the company was very pleasantly surprised when sales far exceeded expectations for the campaign launch. Brevik attributes this success to the natural passion Alvarrez exudes for the brand: something that is certainly linked to the brand being a collaborative effort between the influencer and the company.
It would be dangerous for brands to overlook the importance of influencer-follower connections. Influencers know their followers well and interact with them regularly. If they also happen to love a specific product or service, they’ll go to bat for the brand behind it, and they’ll find ways to communicate their appreciation to their followers. The longer an influencer engages with a brand, the more synonymous his or her name becomes with the company — and it’s a good thing when fans see brands and influencers in alignment.
As the FTC reminds influencers to clearly disclose their relationships with brands, long-term partnerships remove some of the anxiety and hassle that accompany these disclosures. More transparency can make influencers like they’re removing a barrier and allowing followers to see the real relationships they have with beloved brands, not just the parts they want them to see. It explains why an influencer like Joy Cho from Oh Joy! has put in years of work with Target to design bandages, benefiting both.
These long-term partnerships may make influencer marketing feel less risky to both influencers and brands while, ironically, allowing them to take more risks in their marketing. Brands that have found relevant influencers are locking them down, and companies that don’t want to fall behind will feel pressure to find their own long-term matches.