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Top 5 rules of good, creative influencer marketing

Published on Monday, 28th October 2019, contributed by Fourth Floor Creative

While Fourth Floor Creative could - in a general sense - be described as an influencer marketing agency, we don't much like the phrasing, finding it both far too vague and far too limiting. Creating great branded content campaigns - that is, uniting brand clients with popular online creatives to infuse engaging, original content with sponsored messaging - is a broader, yet more involved process. It's about much more than the basic celebrity product placement that "influencer marketing" often heralds. 

Covering YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, and beyond, the kind of campaigns we create - from product showcases, to epic, live-action, brand-inspired challenges, to personal, community-focused stories and events - take in all kinds of budgets, approaches, and subject matter. But one thread unifies them all. By leveraging the talent and authenticity of influential content creators, they engage and resonate with audiences in a way that intrusive placement advertising doesn't. But to make that connection effectively requires some very specific principles of creative planning. Here are the five most important.

1. You are not writing a script, and content creators are not puppets

The biggest fundamental of designing influencer-driven content - and often the biggest shift for those coming to the field from a more traditional marketing or content background - is about relinquishing control. By that, we mean that your job is not to micro-design every last detail, action, and messaging point. That’s not to say the final product won’t have good structure, complete storytelling, or compelling pacing, but the point is that it’s not your job to completely define them, as it would be in other types of content design. 

The most important (and ultimately, freeing) thing to realise is that you are not the content creator. Whether conceiving a product demo or themed comedy sketch, you’re the designer of a vessel or a platform for the creator. It’s still a role that requires a great deal of insight, thought, and creative care, but the aim is not to micromanage the end result. The job is to design a framework of concept, messaging, and audience appeal that a correctly chosen creator can then fill out with content that is authentically theirs. You cannot and should not over-direct the talent, and you should never consider any influencer a tool leveraged for their audience numbers. Truly great influencer marketing only works when the talent has a strong lead in its execution. And that’s largely because… 

2. You are not making an advert 

The m-word in ‘Influencer Marketing’ can be misleading. That’s another reason I prefer to talk about branded content. Because make no mistake, this is about making content, first and foremost. While traditional placement advertising is often an exercise in audience irritation, awash with weak engagement and scuppered by omnipresent ad-blockers, branded content is about taking the opposite, healthier approach. It’s about crafting legitimate entertainment for a creator’s audience, earning goodwill for helping make it happen, and getting across key brand messaging at the same time. It's about making something that gels with the kind of content a creator's audience already enjoy seeing. I look at it as the modern evolution of artistic patronage. 

Of course, brand needs are paramount, but so are those of creator and audience. You have to empathise, think, and work for all three simultaneously, at all stages of campaign design. And doing that will help you to… 

3. Free up how you interpret a brand or product 

When it comes to making that all-important connection between product, creator, and audience, your initial method of interpreting the brand is key. Again, we’re developing compelling content here, first and foremost. It’s not about pushing bullet-point feature lists in the audience’s face. 

It’s often more valuable to abstract the brand in question. Avoid getting bogged down in the nuts and bolts of a product description, or concerned with a literal, linear depiction. In branded content, we’re looking to run relatable, human connection between audience, creator, and brand. Find the real-life points of connection underneath the press release, and build engaging content that resonates from those. Maybe an underlying story theme can become a real-life event, art project, or mini-doc. Maybe you skip talking about a laptop’s specs, and instead meet the people who use it. Perhaps you pick out a key image, setting, or motif, and build an extravagant challenge around it. Whatever the jumping off point, it’s about finding the right, emotive seed, and using that to inspire an idea that’s exciting in its own right. 

4. Don’t fall into tried and trusted formats 

As exciting ideas come up, get greenlit, and succeed, they inevitably threaten to become patterns. That’s not a failing. It’s the nature of the human brain to forge connections and find echoes between ideas, events, and situations, especially when planning for the future. But with branded content, it’s worth factoring extra time into the early planning stages to clear the decks and hit each brief fresh. It’s important to always keep the process organic. 

Every good campaign is a unique blend of brand, idea, and a content creator’s distinct voice. The changing nature of those ingredients each time will drastically change how a particular audience will connect and relate to a message (or even if they will at all). It’s vital to not reach for off-the-shelf solutions to familiar challenges. Each campaign needs to be conceived as a holistic entity, with all elements amplifying each other in a natural and cohesive way. The important thing is to develop things by thinking about the interplay of brand and creator, and let that lead to the final treatment, not try to force things together the other way around. 

5. Be flexible about remodelling ideas around creators 

Lastly, always be ready to modify an approach if doing so will make for content being better received. You can have the best idea in the world on paper, with the most creative, engaging, and exciting way of presenting a brand, but if it isn’t a smooth fit for the content creators you’re looking to collaborate with, you need to be open to tweaking it. 

Every creator has a different approach. Every audience has a different expectation of what they’re going to see on a creator’s channel (or channels), and the tone of its presentation. If any of what you’re planning causes friction within that relationship, you won’t be successful. The ideal is to help a brand become a part of a content creator’s community, not to intrude on it. If a brand and a creator want to work together, but the format you fell in love with doesn’t fit, retool it. If a new content creator steps in to a campaign at a late stage, think about whether you need to remodel the idea to sit well with them. A natural connection is all that ever matters.