Influencers Are People, Too!

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There have been a lot of articles written lately on Influencer Marketing. The sentiment seems to range from frustration (“Why Brands Fail at Influencer Marketing”) to bitterness (“Is It Time To Call Bullshit on Influencer Marketing?”). As we navigate the ever-changing “new normal” of data driven marketing, distribution platforms, emerging technologies, and media channels, we too often lose the humanity in our craft. Nowhere is this more critical than when we look to embrace those with influence and have them embrace us in return.

To start, let me share one of the lenses I look through on the topic. Nine years ago I met a young hip-hop dancer from Indiana named Will Adams, a great kid with a big smile and even bigger talents. He moved to LA, determined to make a career out of hip hop dance and got on the grind. With endless classes and auditions while doing whatever it took to get by, he was the embodiment of the starving artist.

I started a video production company dedicated to the dance world with my friend and videographer Helton “Brazil” Siqueira. Together we created content – and lots of it – for dancers like Will and dozens of others. We did it out of love for the art form and the artists themselves. Fast forward, “Wildabeast” now has amassed more than 1.6 million YouTube subscribers. One of his class videos has an attention-getting 92 million views and his content is highly anticipated and voraciously consumed.

An influencer in every sense of the word, Willdabeast’s peers, students and fans take cues from him on everything from fashion to food to electronics. As you might imagine, brands and agencies have tried to leverage his influence, sometimes clumsily, sometimes offensively. What should be a match made in heaven looks more like an awkward courtship.

Seemingly requisite in blog posts these days are lists, so here are 4 guideposts to consider when wading into the Influencer Marketing waters:

1. Understand What Type of Influencer You’re Dealing With

Beyond a boatload of eyeballs, it’s important to take a look at how and why these folks are influencers. What are they known for? What cues do people look to them for, and through what lens do people view them? The credibility of any influencer will vary from topic to topic based on their actual experience and role in the space. Brands should understand those nuances when approaching any influencer.

Some influencer profiles might include Practitioner, someone who is hands-on in his/her art form, sport, or discipline. An Analyst, similar perhaps to an academic, may be an individual who is viewed as having credibility in analyzing and critiquing the particular discipline, usually based on an investment of study and learning in the space. A Curator, as many of the new YouTube stars are, has built a following as someone who is agnostic, constantly searching out, assessing and sharing the latest trends and techniques.

Think of the differences between how people view influencers within the context of the influencer’s experience and role. In fashion for example, these nuances become apparent when looking at designer Christian Soriano, fashion blogger Sylvia Haghjoo, and Valerie Steele, fashion historian, curator, and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. All are highly credible in the fashion space, but come from three distinct perspectives.

It is important to understand how the influenced view the influencer. This relationship provides a critical foundational underpinning to an influencer strategy.

2. Understand How They Relate to Your Brand

Similarly, it is critical to understand how the influencer relates to your brand. And this is often a challenge for marketers as we may view our brands through rose-colored glasses, or perhaps more relevant, a sepia tone Instagram filter. Don’t try to force your brand into a role that is inauthentic.

Work hard to take an objective view on this topic. Is the influencer a functional user, where the product is essential to the creation of their art and the development of their discipline? Are they an ancillary user where the product might play a supporting role, or perhaps a lifestyle user where the product has no direct line-of-sight to the discipline but is connected to the influencer’s personal identity and preferences.

Especially for products where competitive parity is the norm, it is often what your brand stands for that makes the difference. And that stance in today’s connected world is shown and proven by actions, not messaging.

In short, don’t try to convince people that Willdabeast uses your candy bar to fuel up for a class. Perhaps instead, simply show the community that you value his art form and are a company that is committing resources to make sure he is able to create more of it. Will’s loyal followers will love you – and your candy bar – for it.

3. Come to Know Them as People, Not Just Eyeballs

When you meet Willdabeast, you will find someone with a huge heart, a big smile and sharp wit who has achieved a level of celebrity few have within the dance world, evidenced by direct outreach to him from music icons like Diddy and Usher. You will hear people on the streets of LA calling out his name in passing cars and sharing their personal stories of how he inspires them, even having “saved their lives” through dance.

What you will likely not gather in a cursory discussion is his personal path, the decade of grinding it out in North Hollywood, 8 – 10 hours a day between dancing, teaching classes, auditions and working on his choreography chops. Nor will you understand his vision for the future. Is there a “Super Bowl” or an “Oscar” in their discipline the influencer is trying to achieve? Or perhaps they, like Willdabeast, have a bigger vision, a life’s mission to expand their art form, build a global culture of inclusion and provide a platform and path for young aspiring artists.

What you also might miss is that sometimes these influencers have been knocking on your door and have been rebuffed. It’s kinda like the not-so-popular kid in school that you ignored and now they have become quite attractive. A delicate dance to be sure.

Invest time in understanding their personal story, what they stand for and what are their ambitions. Come to know their craft. Get out there in the midst of it and understand their community. If you spent half a day at “BuildaBeast2016” and sat in the room where 1,500 amazingly talented dancers practiced their craft with Wildabeast and the industry’s best, you would be stunned at the talent, diversity and spirit of this massive, global subculture, and your brand’s place at the party might come more clearly into focus.

4. Establish a Relationship With Them

When the appropriate investment has been made and time spent with your influencer and his/her community, a relationship can develop. You will begin to understand each other’s needs and goals and you will collaborate enthusiastically, with each looking for ways to add value to the other. You will understand and think of creative ways that can the brand support the influencers’ vision & goals…and it may not be all about money.

You want to build a relationship, not execute a contract.

Another friend and influencer in the dance world (with nearly 2M YouTube subscribers) was approached by one of the largest beverage brands in the world (with about 900k YouTube subscribers). They waved their logo and history in front of him and essentially wanted to rent his eyeballs. CPM calculations were done and a fee was set as the cornerstone of the relationship.

This influencer quickly understood that the brand didn’t know, or probably care much about him as a person or an artist. Also, he’s no dummy. They entered into a contract where every tweet, like, mention and post had a hard line item cost to it. It was strictly business. He lived up to his contractual obligations and gladly took their money. There was no sincerity, no joy and little passion for the brand. It was a transaction. He and his followers knew it was such and they said “good on you for getting a piece of the action”. By the way, he was a hardcore consumer of that brands’ main competitor and when the cameras were off, he carried that competitor brand everywhere he went. Which brand do you think his followers went out and bought?

Bottom line? Be real. Care. Be open to new possibilities and relationships. People are smart and they can smell marketing bullshit a mile away. They tend to operate in closed communities, requiring and invitation and an escort. Invest in a relationship where you come to know your influencers. When you care about these people as, well, people, things start to align and the natural harmony of the relationship can blossom. Remember you are not simply making a media buy; you are engaging a person in an age-old relationship, as vocal brand ambassadors, but with bigger amplifiers.

When you take the time and get it right, the true power of Influencer Marketing is unleashed: joyful, effusive and sincere ambassadorship of your brand that is undeniably authentic.

And by the way, if anyone is interested in engaging with this massive, diverse and global community that lives in the center of pop culture, at the intersection of music, sports and fashion, hit me up. I’ll be happy to escort you in…as long as you promise to behave.

Contributed by Paul Fitzpatrick, MKTG Chicago 

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Written by Andrea D'Alessandro
Andrea D'Alessandro

August 10th, 2016 at 5:33 pm

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