Consumers today have had enough with the interruptive and disruptive nature of traditional advertising and marketing, and at the same time, are engaging more with social platforms like TikTok and YouTube to source commercial information on products. Together, these factors have helped give rise to significant consumer demand for influencers and creators to guide their purchasing decisions. This has created a shift in the brand-influencer power dynamic – for many brands, building partnerships with influencers is now a critical and more relevant way to reach their target audience.
An impact.com-commissioned report in partnership with WARC last year unveiled a stark disconnect between how brands and influencers perceive a mutually beneficial partnership, indicating a rising urgency for sincere, lucrative partnerships. With rising costs due to inflation following years of digital-first activity due to the pandemic, consumers are more and more aware of their digital ecosystem and brands have been trying to appeal to these online audiences with varying degrees of success.
I spoke with David A. Yovanno, CEO at impact.com, to explore how the brand-creator relationship has evolved and where brands are really seeing the value of creator partnerships.
Gary Drenik: How has the brand-creator relationship evolved in recent years?
David A. Yovanno: With consumers, especially Gen-Z, becoming less tolerant and frankly more tuned in to the tactics used in interruptive marketing and advertising techniques – like pop up ads and retargeting – creators are becoming more integral in brands’ marketing strategies.
This has led to the brand-creator relationship becoming more of a partnership. Brands are no longer relying strictly on traditional paid advertising channels, they are tapping creators to create content that is tailored to reach new audiences. This includes partnering with creators to introduce new products that are relevant, providing product access (gifting), and offering lucrative cash bonuses for driving whatever action was agreed to: traffic for awareness, or conversion like a sale for example.
Consumers trust these creators to be authentic and offer real expert advice in the categories where they play. And consumers are researching products more than ever before, ahead of purchase and especially around big ticket items. Brands who show up in the research are only there because of a third party validation: think of the reviews you read before buying something – would you trust it more if it came from an objective source or the brand itself? Of course, we rely on social proof to know if we can trust claims brands make in their advertising. But while brands and creators benefit from the collaboration, it’s ultimately the customer who benefits the most.
According to the influencer marketing survey you referenced above, 73% of marketers who leverage influencers/creators over a longer period rank trust and authenticity as the biggest strengths of influencer marketing. While some marketers consider influencer marketing for shorter, more awareness-driven campaigns, those who’ve formed long term collaborations have yielded better results. Now that we’re seeing these positive results, brands are moving towards fostering more of these long term, relationship-driven partnerships, both on a fixed-fee and performance basis.
Drenik: Where are brands and creators aligned and not aligned on their perceptions and expectations for their relationships?
Yovanno: One issue that’s become more notable is that creators want more control over the content they create for brands, while of course marketers want to ensure that the content is in line with the brand’s messaging. According to 50% of influencers surveyed, striking this balance is the second most significant challenge they face. Both parties want to protect their own interests, so mutual trust is vital to the relationship between brands and influencers, too. This trust is built through proving that their relationship is mutually beneficial, as brands get the results they pay for and creators are properly compensated for their work. What makes the partnerships channel unique is the authenticity factor that happens when partners speak in their own voice to their audience or customers. In order to take full advantage of this benefit of the channel, brands need to embrace relinquishing full control of the messaging that they have in other channels like advertising.
Drenik: What are the key considerations when approaching brand-creator partnerships?
Yovanno: Like any relationship, partnerships take work; but they work best if you’re already a good fit. Creators want to be compensated for the content they produce and the audience engagement they have built, and brands want ROI. Making sure you’re aligned on things like compensation, outcomes and goals foster a more genuine connection and drive a higher ROI.
The criteria for selecting influencers has shifted from focusing on high-profile, “aspirational” stars to micro, “relatable” influencers – who may have smaller followings, but see more trust and engagement due to more perceived authenticity. If a creator’s audience has similar demographics or behavior as the brand’s and your brand values align, it’s becoming more effective to partner with a multitude of micro-influencers.
Another important consideration is the product’s intended audience. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, the highest percentage of US adults look to celebrity creators specifically to guide their beauty and apparel purchasing.
Within that audience, Millennials are more likely to be influenced by non-celebrity creators, while celebrity creators are more likely to reach Gen-Z than Millennials. On the flip side, very few adults (less than 3%) make financial decisions based on celebrity or non-celebrity creators.
Drenik: Are brands seeing more value in partnerships overall? If yes, how, and why has this happened?
Yovanno: Yes, absolutely, and the reason is the important role that commerce content is playing in the buyer’s journey today. Years ago, people were heavily influenced by an ad and then motivated to make a unilateral decision to purchase. Today’s typical buyer journey includes an emphasis on conducting research before buying, including checking out both short- and long-form product reviews from a variety of different creators and publishers. And the risk today for a brand focused only on TV or other top of funnel awareness ads for example, is that without a complimentary partnership strategy in place to ensure meeting the consumer where they are making actual purchase decisions, they will not be relevant to today’s buyer, and worse, potentially lose the sale to a competitor who is.
Prosper Insights & Analytics’ survey found that recent inflation has led to nearly 30% of US adults doing more comparative shopping online and others surveys show that 90% of people are sourcing online reviews before making a purchase, affirming the need for brands to focus more of their efforts on meeting consumers where they are: online. Especially now, when economic uncertainty abounds, brands are finding more value in proven relationships with creators, publishers, affiliates, etc. where they know they’ll get their ROI. Partnerships take time to establish but they produce better results than relying on outdated acquisition strategies.
Drenik: How do you see this partnership ecosystem evolving in the future?
Yovanno: As more and more businesses, publishers, creators and agencies tap into this crucial channel to help build their revenue growth and become more relevant to consumers, we can expect to see brands further invest in broader, more modern partnership strategies. As we’ve discussed, the business landscape has been thoroughly disrupted by a decline in traditional advertising effectiveness and consumers now seek out trusted referrals. Coupled with a challenging economic climate, partnerships will continue to help drive major revenue growth for brands and establish trust and authenticity with consumers.
We’ll also continue to see brands putting more emphasis on their creator marketing efforts, putting more value on long-term relationships with creators, and exploring new opportunities to use creator marketing.
Driven by the rise of platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Wirecutter and CNN Underscored, and the increase in people wanting to become creators on these platforms, there’s a tidal wave of commerce content that will only continue to grow. Brands will have an ever increasing opportunity to expand their customer base, increase their revenue growth, and become more relevant to customers.
Drenik: Thanks, David, for sharing your insights on the ever-evolving brand-creator relationship and partnership ecosystem.