We are in an age of the skeptical consumer—trust is dangerously low, even in once venerable institutions like governments and media. Consumers have never been more critical, and they are demanding not only transparency, but also that brands stand for something real and true. To succeed in this landscape, brands must have a strong and resonant story, carefully selecting partners, famous (or not), that reinforce and spread this story to the consumer in a personal way.
The popularity of influencers with brands and consumers isn’t just fueled by star-struck super fans.
When cynical consumer attention splinters, recommendations from peers are even more essential. With ad blocking on the rise, direct brand messages are becoming distrusted, if not ignored entirely. But consumers still look for guidance to navigate the increasingly crowded product landscape, turning to friends, family, and their 2nd tier community – influencers. In seeking authenticity and a tie that feels personalized, consumers look to connect with influencers.
The popularity of influencers with brands and consumers isn’t just fueled by star-struck super fans. For every megawatt Kardashian, there are thousands of “regular people” that drive the power of this movement, from the effortlessly well-styled girl, to the momfluencer that feels like a close friend. Many social media stars succeed because they are accessibly aspirational: they feel like the best version of yourself, or the cool big brother you always wanted. Consumers are already primed to have more intense personal connections to content consumed on a mobile device—the physical closeness and frequency of use creates a perceived intimacy that studies show extends to consumed content. Brands need to take advantage and aim not just for A-listers and heavy hitters, but also leverage the power of thoughtful micro-influencer collaborations at scale.
A good influencer partnership is about co-branding and shared equity – finding the partners whose personal brand story intertwines with and supports the sponsored brand narrative.
One of the biggest mistakes I see brands and agencies make these days is using influencers as a media channel. With influencers, brands need to focus on engagement and sentiment, not just impressions—don’t select your influencers by reach alone. These aren’t distribution channels or another way to “buy impressions”—they are powerful partners that will enhance your brand message. Brands must avoid influencers who would post anything for a price—what are you saying about your brand principles if you align yourself with that? Savvy influencers only partner with brands whose product and message aligns with their values, and this discernment is reflected in the high level of trust and engagement they’ve built with their fans. Channel strategy follows the same guidelines: there is no one right answer—pick the channel at the intersection of your brand message, your target audience and your influencer partner. Saying “we need an Instagram influencer strategy” just because it’s trendy before figuring out your brand message and your target audience is a surefire path to tone-deaf content that checks a marketer’s box but falls flat with the consumer.
A good influencer partnership is about co-branding and shared equity – finding the partners whose personal brand story intertwines with and supports the sponsored brand narrative. When branded partnerships with influencers soar, it’s because they are given creative freedom. The value of influencers lies within the cohesive brand universes they create, a seamless and desirable aspirational lifestyle. Smart brands that partner with them know that what drives engagement, action, and increased sentiment is not prescriptive messaging, but rather, allowing the talent to be inspired by your story and by giving them a range to express themselves within guardrails.