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This year, NeoReach hosted the Creator Connections digital event to explore the influencer marketing industry, how it’s changed in the past year, and how it will continue to evolve moving into 2021. We heard from distinguished figures in the industry such as Rachel Winer and Dan Levitt while diving into topics including current trends, platform changes, and the impact of COVID-19 among creators and industry decision-makers alike. If you missed out on the event, don’t fret. We’re here to break down each segment and highlight the key industry takeaways of each one. Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Segment 1: Trends in Influencer Marketing
Speakers Hilaree Caldwell and Rachel Winer launched the digital event by diving into influencer marketing tactics. Caldwell has over seven years of experience in the influencer marketing space with over 750 unique pieces of content and Winer has over twelve years of experience in digital advertising, public relations, and paid media.
As companies navigate their way through COVID-19 by shifting to digital events and cautiously planning in-person activation, brand perception and the safety of their influencers must be at the forefront of their mind. Intense times and heightened emotions call for consumer sentiment to be prevalent in all consumer brand messaging. The search for authenticity and human connection should be met by working with influencers in meaningful ways. Increased awareness of how the audience engages online, utilization of social listening tools, and selection of the right platform can lead brands to meet meaningful expectations.
Winer highlighted a pilot campaign at the beginning of lockdowns that matched consumers’ hunger for content and home-cooked meals. The campaign saw great success by connecting to consumers’ needs and exemplifying behavioral expectations during a global pandemic. Aside from digital efforts, companies may start seeing a shift back towards in-person activation as Funimation has. The company recently held a drive-in movie event that received phenomenal influencer engagement and applause from Caldwell who personally worked with the campaign.
Caldwell emphasizes Funimation’s no food or beverage outside vehicles rule and social-distancing measures and mask enforcement while simultaneously hosting a fun, exciting event that poses no risk. Caldwell advises that brands looking to implement in-person activation mimic Funimation’s efforts by enforcing social-distancing and mask requirements along with considering a no food or beverage policy.
The integration of digital and in-person events have the potential to take over the future, especially in the gaming industry. The gaming space has evolved and benefited during the pandemic from the takeover of digital events and an increase in game consumption. Looking to the future, these digital events have paved the way for in-person events to also be held online synchronously.
Winer and Caldwell explained during the digital event two strategies they have been implementing in campaigns in order to maximize success. Winer has experienced roaring success with paid promotion and it has become a core part of campaign strategy. She emphasized that paid promotion to boost influencer social posts leads to an increase in reach, engagement, ROI, and more.
Statistically speaking, boosted influencer platforms perform 4x better than without, and for every $1 spent on influencer amplification, companies have the opportunity to make $5 back.
On the other hand, Caldwell explains the success brands have found by taking influencer content and featuring it on their own socials for promotional usage. Another successful campaign strategy that has shown high engagement is YouTube integrations by incorporating promotion into regularly scheduled content. The sweet spot for higher engagement and high watch time is an ad that is 60 seconds to a minute and 20 seconds long. Winer points out that YouTube is not a space to be forgotten during these times as ¼ of adults are getting their news from the platform.
Segment 2: “Master Gifting” The Art of Product Placement
Next up at the Creator Connections digital event were Aaron Kozinets and Allisa Galante who have spent years in the digital space and working in influencer marketing. They both currently work at Influence Hunter, a company Kozinets founded to break down barriers to Influencer Marketing for small companies.
Influencers and Gifted Products
Kozinets and Galante have spent an abundance of time working with smaller brands looking to give gift products to influencers and they shared their expertise in the field. There is a lot of noise surrounding influencers and given a non-monetary campaign, it may seem difficult to get through to an influencer and get them on board. Kozinets explains these conditions lead Influence Hunter to reach out to as many relevant and authentic influencers as possible.
The initial outreach to these hundreds or thousands of micro-creators is heavily strategized and focused. The opportunity for long-term ambassadorship functions as a form of incentivization for influencers. Describing what makes the company and offer special is a key component of the outreach as well. Moreover, securing influencers at the end of outreach that genuinely want to work with the company is crucial to the success of product gifting.
Galante highlights that influencer participation and prompting relies on two factors: timeliness and engagement. Being in constant communication with the influencers and maintaining the hype about the product serve as key factors for keeping influencers engaged and thrilled for the initial campaign. For influencers who transition to long-term brand ambassadorship, sending new products every month or replenishing their favorites keeps the influencers engaged and excited.
Instagram vs. TikTok vs. YouTube for Gifting
Which platform should be used for gifted products? Kozinet and Galante suggest that it’s up to the brand to decide which platform suits campaign goals the best. TikTok gifting is growing today and huge opportunity awaits on the platform, however, Instagram still has a more shoppable element.
Influence Hunter has found that a blended approach between platforms works extremely well. More often than not, the bulk of their campaigns predominantly run on Instagram with TikTok, and occasionally YouTube sprinkled in. At the end of the day, it is still up to the brand, their vision, and what platform they believe will best meet their needs.
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Segment 3: Tools & Tactics Simplifying Campaign Management
NeoReach COO Brian Sorel and Iron Roots founder Saru Saadeh have been with influencer marketing since the rise of its existence and have worked with some of the largest brands including Netflix, Amazon, Gilette, and Walmart. They joined our digital event to talk about campaign management best practices.
Fostering Outstanding Creative Content
At the end of the day, brands utilizing influencer marketing are looking for the production of outstanding creative content. Of course, logistics and behind-the-scenes work, which can be messy, leads to the creation of creative content but the key component of any thriving campaign is brokering a relationship(s) with the influencer(s).
Sorel stresses the importance of nurturing these relationships through phone calls and influencer kickoffs which take place in order to heighten the understanding and connection to the campaign, along with the creative parameters. A fifteen to twenty-minute call can make the world of difference and distinguish content that will flourish or fail.
Moreover, Saadeh underscores the importance of the influencer experience because they’re not just a medium, they’re the voice. Getting them excited and on board to work on a brand’s behalf is a huge deal. Influencers working with Iron Roots receive what Saadeh describes as the “red carpet treatment” which entails giving influencers the theme, direction, and outline but never interfering with the influencers’ creative process. Creators know their audience best and the best results stem from the communication of expectations and creator freedom.
Rapport with influencers can be built even if you’re not based in Los Angeles. Schedule a zoom call or, when safe, attend influencer events to meet with influencers in person and network. NeoReach likes to host a big event yearly in order to foster these influencer relationships and networks. Sorel explains that the influencer industry is tight-knit and doing a good job can lead to talk and more connections being built through influencers themselves. Approach and connections are crucial as these influencers are real human beings, most also being young and just getting started in the industry.
Turning Towards TikTok
Huge opportunity awaits on TikTok as the next generation of content creators similar to popular Viners such as the Paul brothers and David Dobrik arise. Moose Toys and the NFL have run overwhelmingly successful TikTok campaigns, paving the way for influencer marketing on the platform. According to Sorel, TikTok is the number one strategy right now and he urges influencer companies to push their clients to use the platform if they are on the fence due to how open and viral the campaigns are along with how effective the spread is.
TikTok has the lowest CPM’s and there is a niche for everyone on TikTok from fishing to home repair and beyond. Saadeh hints at the importance of TikTok for musicians as the app revolves around music and dancing. We can see today the impact of TikTok on the music industry as the top-performing trends and music have climbed their way to the top charts.
Our digital event host Chris Gonzalez, CMO of NeoReach, gave pointers to brands and advertisers looking to use the platform. Creating and licensing a song for the brand enables cross-platform syndication. Moreover, brands should be working with influencers to select music and choreograph dances. It’s more likely for a brand’s dance to fail if they choreograph it themselves rather than working with influencers.
Segment 4: “The Brands I’d Work With” Why Brand Values Matter
Longhaul Management CEO Dan Levitt and CAA (Creative Artists Industry) digital talent manager Dana Pirkle-Hayburg have extensive experience in the industry running hundreds of campaigns, working with top talent and top brands such as Adidas and Starbucks.
Purpose and Passion
In the past seven months, the influencer industry has seen a boom in charity initiatives. Influencers are looking to align themselves with companies that uplift the community along with things they resonate with and are passionate about. Dana points out how the gaming industry taking to mental health initiatives is just one example of this. Creating content is not a mindless task and promoting something influencers genuinely stand for is extremely prevalent nowadays.
In addition to charity initiatives, passion falls within hobby and work parameters as well. If brands want to develop with talent, build a relationship, and get them genuinely pumped about a product, it’s imperative to come up with creative initiatives that get them involved with a passion of their own. Dana highlights Dr. Disrespect and Rogue Company as just one example of this as Dr. Disrespect created a map, something he’s extremely passionate about and has previous experience in.
Levitt also points out that aligning content with passions is important for success because overbranding, inauthenticity, or anything outside the norm of a creator, unless they want to go in that direction, can produce negative feedback from the audience. The best tactic Levitt mentions for brands looking to work with creators comes with four basic steps: asking what the creators would like to do, highlighting key features that are important to the brand, asking what ideas they have for incorporating those key features into their content, and asking how they can be a part of it.
During this digital event, both Levitt and Dana stress the importance of communication. Burning bridges is the last thing anyone should want to do, whether those bridges are with brands or influencers. Dana emphasizes that most, not all, influencers want to connect and have a relationship beyond emailing periodically. They want to have someone they can call at midnight and these types of trusting influencer relationships are typically the ones that will last forever. A huge part of the relationship is maintaining creative freedom and autonomy for the influencer. Taking a route of guidance rather than pressure alleviates the possibility of any tension.
Overall Creator Connections 2020 was a smashing hit, a digital event full of talent and knowledge. We are extremely grateful for the wisdom of all our speakers and the time they took to share this wisdom with our audience. If there is one overarching takeaway from the event, it’s that communication and relationship building is the bread and butter of any successful campaign.