Brands shouldn’t rely solely on positive organic shout-outs from fans online, says the head of influencer marketing at the global agency OMD.
Katharine Ricci, head of influencer marketing at OMD, spoke with Reelio about how the value of influencer marketing has evolved over the last ten years and why brands need influencers for positive messaging more than they might think.
“Creators don’t have time to look through 200 PR pitches. They want to get paid by brands for creating custom messages.” At this point, OMD’s Katharine Ricci and I are discussing the biggest misconceptions brands have about influencer marketing; one of them being that brands don't have to pay influencers for positive buzz online, so long as their product is good enough.
So why pay influencers to promote your product if natural endorsement from fans will happen online anyway? And doesn't that compromise the authenticity?
These are all great questions, and after working with brands for the last ten years who are trying to reach an online audience, Ricci has perspective on it all.
While some organic brand buzz is created by fans around brands they love, it probably doesn’t happen as frequently as brands would like to think, Ricci says. And when it does, the brand still misses out on the opportunity to help frame the messaging around the product or chose the timing that could benefit either their next product launch or larger brand narrative.
“There are only certain brands embedded in culture that are talked about organically in meaningful ways,” Ricci says.
“There are only certain brands embedded in culture that are talked about organically in meaningful ways.”
And that statement has a lot of weight coming from someone who has been doing influencer marketing for the last ten years.
When I called Ricci to interview her about her work with influencers and brands, we talked about the what influencer marketing looked like in 2007 through 2010, and how it has evolved to what it's become today.
Through her journey, she’s witnessed the power of influencers first hand, (even becoming one herself at one point), and the unique value they can provide for brands.
Influencer Marketing in 2007: Journalists and Bloggers
In 2007, Ricci had just graduated college and moved to New York City. At the time, Facebook and Twitter existed, but brands were just starting to think about building an organic social media presence.
Back then, there was no such thing as having a "YouTube presence" for brands. Influencers were considered to be bloggers and influential journalists, the latter receiving no payment from brands for their review and sending back products after reviewing them. This process assured their readers that the reviews written were not positively influenced as a result of being able to keep the product.
Journalists are still used today to review products, but with so many younger audiences spending time on YouTube and Instagram these days, brands have to come to recognize that partnering with influencers online can be a better way to get in front of their audience.
Today, social media influencers don't usually send products back, but to ensure that they're maintaining trust with their audience, they often are selective about the brand partnerships they take and transparent with their viewers that they are receiving payment. Stricter FTC rules have also reinforced transparency of paid partnerships on social media.
But influencers are often not trying to get away with selling products to their audience that they don't believe in. Many of them know well the ramifications of becoming a “sell-out” and the credibility they can lose if a product they recommend is cheap, or doesn’t align with their values.
Additionally, in light of the Fyre Festival disaster, influencers were reminded again to check the quality of products and the brands behind them before recommending them. Fyre Festival, a music festival that was supposed to take place in the Bahamas, was marketed by celebrities heavily on Instagram and it worked. Hundreds of tickets were purchased and guests flew to the island expecting a fun-filled, music-packed weekend only to find what looked like a refugee camp site instead of a music festival. Attendees were sent back home, and influencers reputations were risked.
The Rise of the Social Media Influencer: Paying for Reviews and Talking Directly to Your Audience
It wasn’t until Ricci was working on the strategy for an edgier toy brand in 2010 that she first worked with YouTubers, who were considered “super fans” to talk about the toy.
Back then, she would reach out directly and either gift product or pay nominal fees, (compared to what brands pay now), for these YouTubers to talk about the product with their audience.
Part of this outreach strategy also included earning buzz from people on Twitter and Tumblr who weren’t the biggest fans of the product, but had the audience that the brand wanted to reach. From this angle, it’s easy to see how influencer marketing has evolved into what it is today and how even in it’s earliest days on social media, there was always interest from brands in digital word-of-mouth campaigns.
It was also in this early period that Ricci became something of an influencer herself. Created at the beginning of the 2008 recession, her blog called the “NYC Recession Diary,” highlighted free activities to do in New York. She eventually started to receive pitches from events teams asking her to attend their events and write about them. This experience enabled Ricci to get perspective on both sides of the table.
What Brands Are Still Learning About Influencer Marketing Today
The influencer game is much more advanced today, and Ricci guides her clients through a robust influencer marketing strategy as she clocks in her tenth year of planning and executing influencer marketing campaigns for brands. Currently, Ricci has a specialty focus on earned, owned and paid - including influencer marketing - in the social media strategy and planning department at OMD.
Her clients include CPG, entertainment, retail and alcohol brands, but it isn’t always so easy to convince brands of the need for influencer marketing. Even with influencer marketing becoming an adopted marketing strategy by more brands, Ricci still finds that a little education goes a long way.
“Early on it was harder to get brands comfortable with the idea of paid influencer marketing,” Ricci said. “There’s been some hearts and minds we’ve had to change about influencer marketing with education about what it can do for their brands.”
Education for Brands Starts With Understanding the Benefits of Both Macro and Micro Influencers
Defining what an influencer is and explaining the benefits of both larger and smaller influencers are both concepts Ricci likes to ensure brands are comfortable with before starting a campaign.
For example, many brands think that working with bigger influencers is better. And while bigger influencers are great for generating exposure and awareness, micro influencers are more likely to drive engagement for brands due to a highly-engaged audience.
To help give brands a look at the unique value influencers of different sizes can provide, Ricci brings this chart to her clients.
Education for Brands Continues With Understanding the Timeline for a Campaign
Another misunderstood aspect of modern influencer campaigns is the time that the process will take from beginning to end and that it's better to contract influencers well in advance of campaign launch dates.
Marketers need to know that is takes time for influencers to create quality content, Ricci says. And while it can take a few weeks for an influencer to produce a creative asset, working with them is still usually a quicker turnaround than most creative agencies. [Reelio has created a timeline for influencer campaigns from start to finish.]
Many brands however, struggle to get creative briefs approved by stakeholders and legal with enough time for the influencer to still be available or to ensure they’re not rushing the content. (Note it can take up to 10 weeks to see final results on the content).
“Let’s face it, creative agencies have a very hard time keeping up with the quantity of content that modern media plans require,” Ricci said. “Influencers are usually much faster than agencies, but it still takes time to turn around that content.”
“Influencers are usually much faster then agencies, but it still takes time to turn around that content."
This means that Ricci is already starting to plan holiday campaigns this fall for her clients to ensure there is enough time to not only source the right influencers, but also ensure that they have enough time to produce quality creative at the right quantity.
As for the future of influencer marketing, Ricci expects it to get bigger, better and more collaborative.
“The influencer model of the future will be a place where brands build strategic business partnerships with influencers. Instead of it being solely pay-for-play, there will be a value-exchange economy between brands and creators.”