Influencer Marketing: 5 Rules for Brands

When I first started working at Disney/ABC Television Group, I found myself creating the group’s digital content studio the same year that a new User Generated Content (UGC) platform called “YouTube” launched. Most of the YouTube videos were the kind you’d watch on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (where ironically I would work later in my career). As YouTube developed, individual people started “vlogging” and uploading videos of themselves talking to the camera from their bedroom about all types of things.

At the time I didn’t pay much attention to these individual “creators,” but oh, how things have changed. Those creators slowly became what we call “influencers” today. Slowly their content got better, they developed unique voices, published regularly, and viewers subscribed for more content.

“Today, influencers have subscriber numbers and engagement levels with audiences that networks and cable channels can only dream of.”

The largest creator, PewDiePie has more than 39 million subscribers (view top 20). While his content is video game focused, he and thousands of other creators producing content covering all genres and types from reality, to scripted, to documentaries, to tips and tricks and more. Bernie Su (pictured above) has been a creator and director on the YouTube platform for many years, and has won 2 Emmy Awards for his scripted shows “Emma Approved” and “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” Some of the creators are more popular than mainstream celebrities according to a recent report by Variety. Celebrity brand strategist Jeetendr Sehdev, who has led efforts on the surveys, believes the viral nature of YouTube stars is contributing to their expanding power. “YouTube has an inherent ability to create contagious content,” Sehdev says. There are even networking groups dedicated to creators and all things digital, including DigitalLA, the largest group which was founded by Kevin Winston.

In the years since I left Disney, I have come to understand the power of digital influencers and have had the pleasure of working with many of them on multiple projects. If you’re not paying attention to these digital influencers you’re making a big mistake in your marketing strategy.

“Influencer Marketing is here to stay and it should play a central role in your strategy to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers.”

Not long ago, brands controlled when, where, and how consumers viewed their advertising, but technology has flipped the entire brand to consumer relationship on its head. In a world filled with so much noise, consumers now choose how they interact with brands. Today’s consumers understand that brands need to advertise, but not the old way.

“Brands must stop interrupting what consumers are interested in and become what they are interested in. Influencer Marketing is one of the most efficient and effective ways to do just that.”

We use influencers for all types of content across our portfolio of 19 brands at Marriott International.

One example is how we partnered with Grace Helbig to produce our “Book Direct” campaign — highlighting the benefits of booking direct on Grace co-wrote and stars in the spots and we used comedy (something that her audience relates with) to deliver the benefits. She helped promote them and brought with her a built in audience who enjoyed them. Even better, comments from viewers show positive sentiment around the brand and campaign. The two spots “Love and Directness are in the Air” and “How to Land a Job” have more than 3 million views just on YouTube alone.

We produce a series called “Tripping with Sonia Gil” that simply informs viewers about interesting things to do in a city.

In the documentary space, we partnered with Jack Harries of the popular Jack’s Gap channel to create “24 Hours In…” documentaries for us where he introduces viewers to New Orleans, Tokyo, and Istanbul in a new and creative way, ultimately inspiring them to travel.

In all of the examples above and in all of our other influencer marketing projects, the content either informs or entertains. We’re simply adding value to the viewers life without trying to sell them anything (right away). It’s called creating a value exchange. Do it over and over again, and ultimately the consumer will provide value back to you.

Influencers help brands tap into target audiences in authentic ways through content that consumers actually want to watch.

Brands that want to succeed in influencer marketing, have to follow a few basic rules:

1. Know the audience you’re targeting. Once you know the audience, you can match to the right list of influencers to consider.

2. Pick the right influencers. Match your brands message and target audience with the influencers’ audience. Otherwise it won’t be authentic and it will turn off the viewer. Don’t pick an influencer based on their reach.

3. Don’t get in your own way. Once you’ve aligned with the right influencer and shared your campaign goals, give the influencer the creative freedom to do what he or she does best — create content that is engaging. Don’t force your brand message or product integration into the creative. Another turn-off. The influencer knows what his or her audience likes.

4. Set expectations upfront. Make sure the influencer is very clear on the expectations, timelines, and deliverables. Are you counting on them to produce and distribute the content or do they need to provide analytics and a recap? The more clear you are upfront, the smoother the ride will be.

5. Grow long-term relationships. To the extent you can, once you find influencers you like working with, develop ongoing projects with them. Whether that means one-off event activation work, campaign level work, or an ongoing series. Invite them to your offices and do brand immersion. Make it a two-way beneficial relationship.

I hope these insights have added value to your plans on working with influencers. Do you have tips and experiences to share?

David Beebe leads the Marriott Creative + Content Studio, a global team of creatives and strategists responsible for creating consumer facing marketing creative in all formats across all channels for the Marriott International portfolio of 19 brands, including: Marriott Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Bulgari, EDITION, Renaissance, Gaylord Hotels, Autograph Collection, AC Hotels by Marriott, Moxy Hotels, Delta Hotels, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Protea Hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club timeshare brand and Marriott Rewards.

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