Influencer marketing and the quest for authenticity

In the last decade, how we define influence and influencers has changed beyond recognition. Gone are the days when influence was determined by primetime TV slots or expertise gained over years of dedicated study — we now live in the era of online influencers who create and drive culture simply by sharing their lives with followers. An era where paying a celebrity to endorse your brand isn’t enough anymore. We’ve become too cynical. What we crave is ‘authenticity’.

As online influencers become more savvy and monetised, they have started to come under fire for working with brands. A case in point, which ultimately led to an update to advertising laws, was Oreo failing to ensure that the YouTubers they had paid for endorsement were telling viewers that they were posting ads rather than authentic, organic content that just so happened to feature the iconic biscuit.

Transparency, however, poses a challenge to brands — endorsement from influencers is now essential for 21st century brand building, but how do you do this authentically without the content feeling too commercial?

The case for the micro influencer

Traditional communications strategies have often been based on measuring reach, but in the quest for authenticity there is an increasingly strong argument to set aside this simplistic view and seek out the ‘culture makers’ — micro influencers at the vanguard of their scene. The ones whom others in the mass market follow and who really resonate with your brand values. They are the people who have the potential to raise your brand to cult status and, ultimately, drive sales. These guys often don’t have the huge reach of, say, Zoella, but what they do have in buckets is authenticity — the Holy Grail for brands seeking cut-through in today’s hyper-fragmented media landscape. By identifying these influencers and working out what values your brand shares with them, a real relationship can be built based on credible, believable interactions. The content this generates can then be used to inspire the mass market influencers and help to shape future trends in which your brand becomes an intrinsic player, making them relevant to your niche audience and, over time, desirable to the masses.

As with all communications, success lies in investing in the full picture. It is not as simple as picking a lesser-known micro influencer who will create some incredible content; you need to plug this into wider amplifications that will achieve the reach you need to convert at retail. This being said, at the core of all successful digital campaigns is engaging content — something micro influencers excel in, making them a great place to start!

Take the Baileys and Molly Bakes collaboration, for example. The brand was trying to break out of the traditional Christmas purchase occasion and appeal to its audience of indulgent foodies. Identifying freakshakes as a trend that was really resonating with this audience, and one that rang true with the brand’s indulgent positioning, they approached East London café owner Molly Bakes to create the ultimate Baileys freakshake. With only 22k followers Molly had a solid, if not huge, fan base, but the content created was so engaging it generated reach in the millions through traditional PR (from the Telegraph to Closer magazine) and hundreds of organic social shares. Baileys then facilitated Molly attending London Coffee Week, showcasing the bakery and its offering to London coffee lovers, thus supporting its growth as a business and offering a tangible benefit beyond just a cash injection. The festival itself generated great social and traditional media coverage, with Molly’s Baileys freakshake becoming a standout star attraction, driving even more organic shares and awareness of the collaboration and having a very real impact on sales ‘off season’.

Our recent #OrganicUnboxed campaign for the Organic Trade Board also leveraged this principal with great effect. By identifying micro influencers who had a natural affinity for organic products and engaging them in our #OrganicUnboxed recipe challenge, we not only generated stunning content, but were also able to deliver significantly more content from each influencer than they would normally produce for #ad posts. This authentic content then went on to inspire a fantastic retail partnership with Tesco, delivering similar #OrganicUnboxed ingredients boxes to 7,500 online customers and drove editorial recipe content which appeared in a number of solidly ‘mass market’ titles including Closer and Now.

Achieving authenticity

When considering an influencer marketing programme, brands need to be really clear with self-definition — beyond knowing what your brand stands for, what is the bullseye target audience you should be engaging with? With the right influencer match, the partnership will feel real, authentic and unforced. An experienced comms team, coupled with careful research and the use of audience analytic tools, will help you identify these people, but it’s worth searching beyond those with big followings. Look for the trend setters and inspire them with your product — if you have shared values they will naturally create fantastic content that will be less #ad and more seamless and relevant endorsement of your brand. This should ultimately lead to organic shares — the Holy Grail — and if done well could even go viral.

Julia Riddle
Account Director