Working With Influencers: Why Most Brands Fail

Social media. Do we love it or hate it? In this day of e-commerce and online brand presence, many marketers and business owners think that Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc. are the be-all and end-all. I disagree, but that is not the topic of today. Many of my clients work with influencers, or as we used to call them, endorsees/endorsers. Basically people with a reputation or celebrity that we want to use and recommend our products to their followers or clients. But how can you do that with the most impact?

First of all, using influencers is not cheap or easy. If that is the top of mind benefit of your “strategy” here, you won’t be happy with the results. Just like any marketing tactic, you have to put thought and planning into your approach in order to reap maximum rewards.

I mostly work with brands and product companies. The goal, of course, is to have “important” people promote and recommend your product to their followers and clients. I have worked with large fashion/apparel companies, sporting goods, automotive industry manufacturers, etc. We want “winning athletes” and “popular” people to show that our brand was the chosen option, in order to increase brand recognition and sales. Sounds easy, right?

The biggest mistake I see companies making is being reactive instead of proactive in their choice of influencers. It is easier to say yes or no when someone asks than to proactively look for influencers that will work for you. It is pretty common that “influencers” send requests to a company to ask for free products in return for some social media exposure or vague “I will show your logo/product” type promise. At one company, I regularly got emails and phone calls, (sometimes up to 10 a day) asking for sponsorship. Almost all of those resulted in a no answer. (If you’re an influencer, how to better craft those pitches is another service I offer).

The next mistake is to not have a plan or strategy in place that incorporates the influencer or sponsored person in a professional marketing manner. Just like a website or an ad campaign, the influencer is a professional business tactic/service provider and should be treated as such. They are not doing you a favor to use your product. It is not free to you.

Here are the top level tips on how to work with an influencer or sponsor someone with your brand or product:

  • Be Proactive Not Reactive. For many of my clients, who are very busy, doing the research before collaborating with an influencer is time they do not have. You, as a brand owner, need to seek out influencers that fit with your brand, not just take someone who approaches you. If they do look like a good fit, do your research. Often, influencers do not have organic followers; you can’t trust the numbers (they may have bought likes/followers that aren’t real people). Also, just because someone is active on social media doesn’t mean they get engagement, or that they are a fit for the target audience of your brand. I would rather have 5 followers that are my target audience and buy, than 50,000 that aren’t shoppers or don’t have the money for a premium product. Influencers often run contests or the like to gain followers. Those followers likely aren’t going to purchase your product at full price.

  • Don’t Just Send Free Product! It sounds great, someone wants your stuff! It’s flattering when a “big” name wants to use your creation or sends flattering words. Well, many influencers just want free stuff, they have no intention of doing much for you in return. Just posting a pic of them and tagging your Instagram isn’t much.

  • Have a way to EASILY CONVERT. If you don’t have an easy way to capture money, using an influencer is a very vague tactic. The best option here is if the influencer can post a link directly to the product they are showcasing. Influencer uses X in a photo/reel/video, and the link is there to buy the exact X they are using. Easy, done. If it is a brand building strategy, then at least have a code or a link to the page where they can buy or get more information. If you don’t have e-commerce, tracking sales or even getting sales off an influencer is a long-range strategy and hard to judge or maximize effectively, especially with a small budget.

  • Have a Plan and an Agreement. If you research your influencer, you can outline guidelines of how they can best represent you. Remember they aren’t doing you a favor, this is a business agreement. In return for product/money, outline what you want in return. Number of posts? Quote? Images that you can share/use on your print/packaging/social media for the future? Do they have a professional photoshoot? Will you get those high-resolution images (commercial copyright released so you don’t have to pay the photographer to use them in the future?). Do you have a specific look or timing in mind? Be fair in compensation for value, but this is a two-way street. For longer-term or more lucrative endorsement/sponsorship contracts, I also include a clause of brand disparagement. If they do anything that is unbecoming to my client’s brand, I can immediately terminate our association and they can no longer associate or use our brand marks, logo, or products publicly.

  • Have A Way To Measure. This can be an affiliate link, a coupon code, a specific product, etc. Sometimes “measure” isn’t an exact
  • number, but there should be a way to gauge if an influencer is working for you or not.

  • Have a Brand Strategy Goal. Obviously, the goal is to increase sales. But what is the reason behind using a particular influencer? Is it to build awareness for a new product? Is it to reach a different target audience? Include this influencer strategy in your overall integrated marketing plan as a tactic, and put the associated product/mailing/pay/affiliate cost into the budget to accurately account for the strategy.

So many businesses reactively jump on the bandwagon of using influencers, just because they ask. But many “influencers” just declared themselves as such and do not have a BUYER AUDIENCE that trusts their opinions or recommendations enough to make a purchase. Also, not all followers are buyers, or your target. Influencers are a service provider, just like a web designer or an ad agency. They should be treated professionally as such, and the cost of all sample products, shipping, etc need to be accounted for in a marketing budget.

Do your research on an influencer’s background and followers, have a strategy, and account for influencer marketing as a full tactic in your integrated marketing campaign to ensure that you get value for your product and money investment. Using endorsers or influencers to build brand recognition and sales is a great tactic, and can work quite well, if you use the appropriate steps and manage the strategy correctly using a business collaboration mindset, but you can’t just send things and hope for the best. Using influencers and endorsers is a tactic that requires proactive managing from the brand side to maximize impact to your bottom line sales! Let me help you set your influencer strategy up for success!