Brands shouldn’t rely solely on positive organic shout-outs from fans online, says the head of influencer marketing at global agency OMD. Katharine Ricci spoke with Reelio about how the value of influencer marketing has evovled over time and why it's needed today more than ever.
“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 around influencer marketing; one being that positive brand buzz will happen naturally online from fans often, making influencer marketing unnecessary.
While organic brand buzz does happen from fans, it probably doesn’t happen as frequently as brands would like to think, and when it does happen, the brand still misses out on the opportunity to help frame the messaging and timing benefits that could boost launches or brand narratives.
“There are only certain brands embedded in culture that are talked about organically in meaningful ways,” Ricci says.
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 Katharine Ricci to interview her about her work with influencers and brands at the global communications agency OMD, we talked about the what "influencer marketing" looked like in 2007 - 2010, and how this may have lead to the misconceptions brands have today around the practice. Through her journey, she’s witnessed the power of influencers, becoming one herself at one point, and the value they can provide for brands.
Generating Brand Awareness: From Journalists to Social Media Influencers
In 2007, Ricci had just graduated college and moved to NYC. At the time, Facebook and Twitter existed, but brands were just starting to think about building an organic social media presence. Her focus was to write strategies for brands that would drive organic growth on social platforms. There was no such thing as a "YouTube presence" and influencers were considered to be bloggers and influential journalists, the latter being a group who was not getting paid.
Ricci remembers sending tech products to journalists to try out and review, but they would typically send the product back, as to assure their audience that their reviews were honest and not positively influenced as a result of being able to keep the product.
And while today’s modern influencer game is a little bit different with many influencers receiving products and payment, the authenticity and trust with their audience is interestingly still kept in place between influencers and their audiences. Part of this is due to influencers' fears of losing the audience they worked so hard to build. They know full well the ramifications of becoming a “sell-out” or recommending a cheap product, or a product that doesn’t align with their values; audiences can pick up on this.
Additionally influencers were reminded recently to check the quality of products and brands they recommend, after many celebrities promoted the Fyre Festival and guests showed up to find what looked like a refugee camp site instead of a music festival.
“There are only certain brands embedded in culture that are talked about organically in meaningful ways.”
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 influencers to talk about the product with their audience.
This strategy also included earning buzz from people on Twitter and Tumblr who weren’t even the biggest fans of the product, but had the right audience 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 stages with social media, there was always interest from brands.
It was also in this early period that Ricci became something of an influencer herself. Created at the beginning of the recession, her blog called the “NYC Recession Diary,” highlighted free activites in New York. She eventually started to receive pitches from events teams asking her to attend and write about it. This experience enabled Ricci to get perspective on both sides of the table.
What Brands Are Still Learning About Influencer Marketing Today
Today is a much more advanced influencer game and Ricci guides her clients through a much more 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 today, 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.”
The Benefits of Top Influencers and Micro Influencers
Education can often start with defining what an influencer is and what influencers of different sizes can do for brands. In fact, micro influencers are better for some brand goals than others.
To help give brands a top down look, she brings this chart with her to meetings.
It’s Important to Lock Influencers in Early
Another thing that brands often need to be educated on is the production time influencers need to create quality content, Ricci says. Despite the 3-6 week process it takes for an influencer to create a creative asset, working with them is still a quicker turnaround than most creative agencies.
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.”
“Influencer marketing is critical for all brands, because it’s the most effective driver of consideration and conversion."
This means that Ricci is already starting to plan holiday campaigns for her clients to ensure there is enough time to source the right influencers and that they have enough time to produce quality creative at the right quantity.
“Influencer marketing is critical for all brands, because it’s the most effective driver of consideration and conversion. Trusted advocates are 4-10x more effective at driving sales, and 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they don’t even know over a brand.”
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.”