By Javon Frazier, founder/CEO, Maestro Media.
As the year comes to a close, I am reminded of the incredible people I have met over the past 12 months and the impact one particular event had on me that helped change my perception of what it means to be an influencer in this day and age, as well as the lessons entrepreneurs can learn from influencers.
When I attended VidCon earlier this year, the first one after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, I was elated to see and experience firsthand just how incredibly resilient and business-savvy these young digital creators are. In an era when we all are so inextricably tied through social media, I’m astonished at how often executives in the “traditional” corporate world still view social and digital media as an afterthought, with their noses looking down on budding digital entrepreneurs. What these executives have failed to realize is that these young creatives not only have their finger on the pulse of digital content but also are at the forefront of understanding today’s modern consumer. For an organization to succeed long-term, regardless of industry, the below three key principles of thinking like an influencer will be a major foundation moving forward.
An individual’s personal brand is just as valuable, if not more so than the brand they represent.
Years ago, people would simply purchase a product without thinking much about the brand or organization the product is from. However, there has been a shift in that people want the products they purchase to come from companies they believe in and the names behind the brand to share the same values they have. Consumers are buying the person behind the brand, not just the product. The same is true with digital creators—you’re not going to follow someone online if you don’t like them or believe in what they are doing—so why would you support a company you don’t like by buying their product?
If a CEO’s vision, value, etc. do not align with a consumer, there is a higher likelihood that the consumer will refuse to purchase products from the company. Take Hobby Lobby as an example: When it was revealed that the CEO donated funds to an organization that supported anti-LGBTQ+ efforts, there was (and continues to be) a massive movement to boycott the retail chain. The CEO’s own personal beliefs were not aligned with many consumers, ultimately harming the company’s reputation and alienating a major market from the hobby and craft chain.
If you want someone to trust you and your brand, you have to be comfortable with being fully transparent with your consumers.
Executives can no longer hide behind the brands they represent as the founder, executive, etc. are the brand. There’s no longer that disconnect as the brand is intertwined with the people representing it on a daily basis and selling that brand. Influencers have pioneered how to gain loyalty by being transparent about their values and their goals as well as where their money is going (i.e., helping build more elaborate sets, high production costs, etc.). It’s their transparency on who they are and what they represent that enables them to gain so many loyal followers.
People value authenticity more so than ever before.
It’s the authenticity influencers provide that draws people in, and they bring this authenticity by simply being themselves. You look at someone like Mr. Beast, who is one of the most influential influencers in the world right now—he only supports and promotes products that he believes in and constantly turns down deals because they don’t align with his vision. He is the face of his brand and the many projects he’s a part of, like MrBeast Burger, which was a major lifeline for countless restaurants during the pandemic. All throughout his career, Mr. Beast never tried to be someone other than himself, and people took notice. People knew who Mr. Beast was, trusted him and thus supported this new concept. This has earned him an authenticity major corporate brands simply do not have.
When a brand is inauthentic in its messaging, consumers are quick to catch on and will avoid the brand in favor of a more genuine one; this is especially true in regard to cause marketing. A glaring example of inauthenticity is the now infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, in which Jenner is shown to essentially quell a Black Lives Matter protest by simply giving a police officer a Pepsi. Regardless of what Pepsi was trying to do, this ad came off as incredibly inauthentic and a blatant attempt to capitalize on the current climate of political protest.
Influencers, content creators, digital entertainers—regardless of what you call them—are better at connecting with their fans than brands are with their consumers. These digital natives have mastered the art of personal branding, authenticity and transparency. For brands wanting to stay relevant over the coming years, thinking like an influencer in these three key areas will be a powerful tool to have at their disposal.