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How to Build Relationships With Influencers (Part 1)

What do The Marlboro Man and The Most Interesting Man in the World have in common? They are fictional characters, created in the board room, to shape consumer brand preferences. What do these two fictional characters have in common with the Kardashian sisters? Arguably, they are all “influencers.”

In advertising, an influencer is any individual, celebrity, character or persona perceived by consumers as having specialized knowledge, authority or insight into a particular subject, making them ideal launch pads for brands or new products. While influencers of the past were created by marketing execs, most modern-day influencers are celebrities, bloggers and other content creators with whom consumers feel an authentic connection.

Influencers are more impactful than ever, given a growing lack of consumer trust in traditional advertising — especially digital advertising — which is perceived as being invasive and potentially violating privacy rights. Influencers help ads fly under the radar by using a personal, testimonial tone.

Brand-influencer partnerships are on the rise, but does that mean you should form one? If you do, what should that partnership look like, and how should it work? These questions represent potential minefields to brands and influencers, especially in an era that values corporate social responsibility (CSR) and expects brands and influencers to take a stand on hot-button issues. The following sections introduce CSR, discuss how brands and influencers can form mindful productive relationships and mutually avoid legal pitfalls along the way.

CSR & Consumer Trust

It’s no secret that today’s consumers want brands to be socially conscious, especially in the areas of climate change, sustainability, racial justice, sex and gender equality and individual empowerment. To pretend otherwise in today’s market is to sacrifice a tremendous amount of potential growth in terms of sales, market share and goodwill. Consumers need brands to put their money where their mouth is. It is no longer enough to state your brand is supporting CSR goals; you must practice what you preach and engage in authentic social and political advocacy for a cause or be deemed to be unfairly profiting off the backs of social justice movements.

One major hurdle for brands: how can they predict, what form of CSR will be productive versus counter-productive and potentially damaging to their brand? Authentic, credible partnerships with like-minded or niche influencers can be the answer. An influencer may be best tuned into an existing or potential customer base and can inform a brand about the potential impacts of specific CSR policies or actions. The flip side is that brand-influencer partnerships can help brands avoid inauthentic, non-credible CSR, which not only falls flat but can be tremendously damaging to brand goodwill. Strategic brand-influencer partnerships can direct brands into engaging in authentic CSR, build feedback mechanisms for improving CSR and help brands and consumers stay authentically connected.

Forming Mindful Partnerships

An effective, efficient, rewarding brand-influencer partnership is a true partnership between a brand that knows what it is and what it stands for and an influencer that is like-minded and similarly grounded. An influencer account is often its own brand and can create significant value by partnering with brands in similar or related niches.

To this end, it makes the most sense for brands and influencers to define themselves first before partnering up. Being too many things at once (or trying to be) costs authenticity and consumer trust and, by extension, consumer loyalty and the value of a potential partnership. Authenticity truly is key. One of social media’s most popular and successful fashion-lifestyle bloggers we spoke with attributes her growth and visibility to her authenticity. She explained that she built her blog and social media accounts “by simply living my normal life. I wear what I like. I still do. And so getting paid to promote what I’d normally do in the normal course sometimes seems like ‘selling out.’ But the reality is that I’m now fortunate enough to have a few people on my team, and the economics behind partnerships have become a necessary part of my life, and I think the market understands that.”

Part 2 of this article will appear in the October issue.

Christiane Campbell is a partner at Duane Morris and can be reached at ccampbell@duanemorris.com. Victoria Danta is an attorney at Duane Morris and can be reached at vrdanta@duanemorris.com.

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