Katie Brennan Derr and Melanie Rodriguez

Brands — act more like people. People — act more like brands. That’s the kindling for the heating global influencer market, projected to reach $2.3 billion by 2020.

Melanie Rodriguez, vice president of operations and marketing at Octoly, an influencer marketplace and campaign management tool, dissected the new rules of brand and influencer partnerships and was joined in conversation on stage by Katie Brennan Derr, director of integrated communications, North America at Fresh, a New York-based skin care and cosmetics company owned by LVMH.

Derr attributes Fresh’s “test and learn” culture on social media as a successful element for its influencer partnerships, which helps to position the brand as “with” “or ahead of this space.”

But to get ahead, and stay ahead, with influencer marketing, Rodriguez advised on the adoption of three rules for an “always on” strategy, which included amplification, community and commerce. She stressed incorporating monthly gifting and paid campaigns (50 to 200 units per month), events and experiences (at least one per quarter) as well as promotions and giveaways on demand.

“There’s no substitute for in-person experience,” said Rodriguez, describing an elaborate getaway hosted by Millennial-focused fashion retailer, Revolve.

Fresh taps a small team to manage thousands of influencers, citing storytelling as a key way to differentiate themselves. Sharing a founder story and product stories as well as enlisting influencers to generate brand awareness with user-generated content and product reviews are all ways to generate a return on investment.

Storytelling is crucial for influencers, too. Influencers shouldn’t neglect to share their “unique voice,” as Derr said, to create a valuable “two-way dialogue” that’s authentic, or in a word — refreshing — in the eyes of Fresh. Derr appreciates when influencers approach the brand with a personal story, and in that case, she finds influencers easily become “true brand business partners.”

Assigning ROI to individuals as well as dedicated campaigns proves the most successful for brands aiming to redefine their influencer marketing strategies, but the “more people you’re trying to reach, the harder engagement is,” according to Rodriguez. She cited 2 to 3 percent as a good engagement rate for macroinfluencers, with 4 to 6 percent as strong for microinfluencers.

“More than that, we’re loving you — and so are your brands,” reiterated Rodriguez, addressing the event’s audience of influencer moguls.

In short, a data-driven approach is essential to ensure success throughout the influencer partnership, and solely an initial screening on follower count won’t suffice any more. Vetting also occurs with more qualitative cues such as “brand adjacency” (who else the influencer is working with), to help reinforce brand positioning in the market.

“In the c-suite, nobody wants to get left behind,” Derr said. And in the saturated space of influencer marketing, Rodriguez hammered in one last point, “authenticity can never be underrated.”

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