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Ditch the brief – by Create Group’s Matt Fortune

It’s time to trust your influencers says Create’s Matt Fortune

When influencers surpassed all other forms of advertising as the de-facto amplification tool of choice, it was because brands had lost faith in their own ability to have meaningful conversations with their consumers. So why have we reached a point where the project management of a singular influencer output can exceed the resource allocation of an entire production team on a brand campaign?

Ok, I may well be guilty of a little hyperbole, yet I hope I’m not the only one to spot the irony in doing so. In order to make my point, I’ve tried too hard. I’ve cranked everything up to 11, shoehorning in key but subtle messages about the in-house production studio at my agency in an attempt to legitimise my opinion while using no data to validate my stance, ultimately discrediting my position and limiting its impact.

And it’s a trap far too many influencer brand X relationships fall into. When brands hold the hand of their partner all the way through the process, the bias of the brand rep is almost certain to bleed into the final execution, thus diminishing the whole point of working with a real, authentic human voice to spread the word in the first place. 

It’s not so much that these brand values are meaningless or shouldn’t even be adhered to – though TikTok has shown us all that the best results come when throwing all guidelines and traditional content standards out the window. It’s that the right influencer shouldn’t need them in order to convey the value of your product or experience in the most favourable light; it’s their authentic view of things which got them to the point where you want to work with them, so don’t constrain it. If you trust your product or experience, trust your partner. 

So how do you let go of that control and feel confident the partner will deliver? 

The answer is two-fold, and it comes either side of the execution – it’s in the way you choose the influencer and in how you pay them.

First, selection, and the three phases of it. 

In 2023, agencies are drowning in data from a whole raft of digital listening solutions, allowing them to underpin every decision we make. Influencers are too, or at least the good ones should be. So if they want the benefit of working with you they should make it available. We’re not just talking performance and audience size here, we should expect past campaign results, impact metrics, growth rates, demographics, the works. 

Then comes insights – who have they worked with before and are there testimonials? how frequently do they accept paid collaborations and how diverse a range of brands do they work with? And finally, are they the sort of person you’d hire for your workforce? Suss them out, invest time and effort in getting to know them and provide a platform for the real them to shine – a dinner, an event, a no-expectations conversation or two can go a long way. Put it this way; you wouldn’t hire someone on the strength of a resume alone. 

The second crucial change we need to see is in how we pay our partners.

The broadest metric the industry deals in from an employer perspective is CPE (cost per engagement), i.e. how much the brand paid the influencer pre-campaign for every projected engagement. But what if the contract signed was based on the real tangible value the influencer provides post-campaign? And if you’re really brave, have those KPIs trickled down from the broader success of your entire marketing efforts of which the influencer was a part.

Those metrics could be many, but here are some of the more valuable and less used:

Percentage of positive sentiment increase during the campaign period

Own-brand follower growth during the campaign period

Dominant share of voice position in relation to the influencer’s five previous brand engagements.

You’re incentivising creativity and protecting authenticity by ensuring the influencer doesn’t deviate from what has made them a worthy partner in the first place. Here you are ultimately facilitating a more considered conversation between influencer and audience.

Because if your brand guidelines and values were important to the audience in the first place, you should have just stuck to your own platforms.

By Matt Fortune, Director at strategic digital communications agency Create.