The relationship between influencers and brands has constantly evolved over the past decade, but the past two years have seen the pace of change accelerate. With the Covid-19 pandemic pushing digital marketing center stage, platforms like TikTok and Twitch challenging the “legacy” social networks, and marketers scrambling to win the hearts and minds of Gen-Z consumers, one thing is certain: Brands need influencers more than ever, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
So what are brands doing to get ahead of the competition? What trends are shaping influencer marketing in 2022, and what challenges lie ahead? To answer these questions and more, the Glossy Influencer Marketing Forecast event on February 16 invited an elite group of marketing leaders to take the pulse —- virtually — of the influencer marketing industry. We were drawn in by these three trends:
- Consumers are seeking out brands that share their values. Brands are doing the same with influencers.
- Brands are fine-tuning PR to complement influencer strategies.
- Brands are using a variety of influencers to achieve distinct goals
In addition to our analysis of these themes, we’ve included some of the highlights from select conversations featured during the Influencer Marketing Forecast, as well as a number of key talking points that came up during the event.
Consumers are seeking out brands that share their values. Brands are doing the same with influencers.
Every marketer knows that the past few years have been defined by a distinctive shift toward values-driven consumption, led particularly by Gen Z consumers. One consequence of this is that brands are being more intentional about which influencers they partner with. Influencers with enormous follower counts obviously have their place, but brands are recognizing that these metrics aren’t everything.
Beekman 1802’s CMO, Brad Farrell, discussed how the brand evaluates potential partners. On one hand, that means seeking out influencers who embody the ethos of kindness that Beekman takes as its watchword. The brand also pays attention to the tone of conversations on an influencer’s channels. On the other hand, Beekman also actively monitors social platforms to spot influencers whose content marks them out as potential fans of the brand and its products. “We really do target people with sensitive skin issues, and we come up with products specifically for them that we think will change their skin and make a difference,” Farrell said.
Brad Farrell, CMO at Beekman 1802, talked about the methodology and tactics the brand uses to identify influencers who are a match for Beekman’s values.
Glossy: Can you share with us the key takeaways or lessons you’ve learned from the partnership [with influencer Kat Stickler], or how it might inform Beekman’s future partnerships?
Brad Farrell: Every influencer partnership is different; it’s a different relationship for each one. What was great for Kat was that, when we were on TikTok early, she was our first VIP influencer, and It was truly authentic. She loved the products, she loved our team, and we had a great relationship with her. Plus, we both feel something special, when it comes to content.
Another lesson is trying to recreate an organic post that someone at that level does, but with other content. You’re never going to do that every single time you do a post. So that was a clear learning for us —, though it’s no surprise that replicating that magic you get from a first organic post is very hard. But it’s also working with influencers and having a conversation — asking what they want and what you want, and making sure it’s mutually beneficial.
Glossy: Speaking of mutually beneficial, you told us that there’s an influencer rubric that Beekman has created, in order to find the right influencer partners. What does that consist of?
Farrell: We have a pretty robust rubric that we’ve created. It starts with thinking about whether there’s a fit with our customer and our retail partners. We look at a lot of quantitative analytics that most people probably also look at, like: Do they have affinity in the U.S.? Because we’re mostly U.S.-focused. But then we really take it a step further. We look at VIT, or Brand Vitality Score, through Traackr to understand: Have they performed well for other brands? Are they really delivering that engagement that’s working? So that’s a very useful tool for us, as well. And then we do more qualitative analysis: Do they fit with our two core customer groups? Do they fit within the world of our “neighbors,” which is what we call our customers?
Last, since our motto is, “There’s beauty in kindness,” and we really believe in the values of kindness, we have a kindness exercise that we go through. We all sit in a room and say — and we all have to unanimously agree: Does this person represent the values of kindness? We take turns, and we all go through and read all the comments within their communities. It’s not just: Do they represent kindness? But it’s also: Do their communities represent kindness? Is the conversation that’s happening on their platform [centered on] kindness? Because those are our values, and we believe very strongly in those values, and we want our partners to embody those values, as well.
Glossy: How do you boost that kindness element when you’re working with influencers, in order to reinforce that kindness principle with the brand?
Farrell: They represent kindness in a way, in order to be an influencer on our roster. We seek out people who may not be traditional beauty influencers, as well as those who represent kindness. One of our great influencers is Katie Beth Miedaner — her handle is @cappybears — and she takes care of special needs cats. She’s really one of the kindest people ever. Her content, when she’s talking about skin-care products, resonates really well. She loves the brand, and she loves that it’s about kindness. And when she speaks about our products, we get really high engagement and we do see an impact. Seeking out those people with shared values really does make a difference, and that’s your filter as a brand. Everyone wants to talk to the same big influencers that everyone else is talking to, but what separates you as a brand is people that are special and unique. And their communities are really going to listen to what they have to say. If they believe in the brand, it comes through authentically. People like Katie Beth are posting about us organically all the time. And from an ROI standpoint, it’s really helpful when we have that relationship.
Brands are fine-tuning PR to complement influencer strategies.
As in any other relationship, first impressions count between brands and influencers. If your brand wants to work with a particular influencer, it’s smart to assume that other brands are reaching out, too. This applies not just to celebrity influencers, but also to micro-influencers with comparatively modest follower counts.
Some brands attempt to use influencers to bypass PR entirely, but PR can be an effective aid to an influencer strategy. Patrick O’Keefe at E.l.f. Beauty talked about how the company carefully curates its PR boxes to grab the attention of influencers. When you get it right, the effect can be powerful. In E.l.f.’s case, the brand’s PR boxes have been the spark for waves of user-generated content, which is such an important piece of the digital marketing puzzle today.
Farrell believes that using a PR box to communicate the brand’s values was one factor that kick-started Beekman 1802’s partnership with Kat Stickler. “Someone at her level gets gazillions of boxes every day,” he said. “We sent her this box of our products, but we included a kindness diary and a book on kindness, and she thought, ‘I have to talk to these people.’ That really stood out.”
Patrick O’Keefe, head of integrated marketing communications at E.l.f. Beauty, explained how PR is contributing to the brand’s overall marketing success. He also offered insights into the dynamics between the brand’s PR and influencer strategies.
Glossy: Let’s touch on the PR play. What is your PR doing that’s working?
Patrick O’Keefe: I love that question. With our agency, Shadow, we meet every week and we find the white space. First of all, we look at what the consumer is saying, listening to our community and understanding what they’re talking about. And we ask, “How do we take that and translate it into a PR story?” That’s really our strategy. And then, honestly, we secure inclusion in [publications’ product] roundups authentically, because of what’s happening on TikTok. The Poreless Putty Primer is a hero. At the end of the day, the editors love writing about it. So we’re getting picked up all the time, organically. But again, we’re also listening to the consumer and then finding that white space and creating a story.
Glossy: How would you define the content you’re putting out there?
O’Keefe: From an influencer perspective, it’s really just starting with the PR box -— getting it into their hands, creating something that they need, talking about the ingredients, talking about the benefits, talking about the features and making sure that whatever we’re putting out there really resonates with our communities. And that’s super powerful. And it’s not coming from us, but it’s coming from our super fans. We have a Facebook group of about 7,000 people. This group is so passionate about our brand; they love E.l.f., and they’re posting every day. And what we do is we take their work and we celebrate their work on our platforms. So they’re a part of the story. They’re telling us how they’re using our products, and at the end of the day, that’s selling our brands and driving to e-commerce.
Glossy: When you send influencers boxes, are you giving any instructions on how to post or what to say?
O’Keefe: Absolutely not. We love these super fans for who they are and what they stand for. It’s got to be their voice. We would never want to put them in a situation where we’re telling them what to say. That’s just not who we are.
Brands are using a variety of influencers to achieve distinct goals.
One of the big themes we’re seeing is brands embracing a broader, more diversified influencer pool. A number of factors are driving this trend. For one, it’s an effective way to reach different audiences, with each receiving the message from a trusted influencer in a language that resonates with them. Brands are also partnering with influencers in categories far beyond their natural turf. Ekta Chopra and Patrick O’Keefe told us about how E.l.f. Beauty is using Twitch and leveraging gaming to foster a new generation of influencers. Meanwhile, Erica Livoti, director of influencer relationships and social strategy at InnBeauty Project, said the brand’s influencer partners include star makeup artists (like “Euphoria’s” Donni Davy), dermatologists (Dr. Zion Ko Lamm) and TikTok royalty (Tinx).
The rise of micro-influencers and nano-influencers is a topic all of its own, and our speakers had some fascinating insights to share about the benefits of tapping into these communities. “We’re seeing such amazing content creation, product reviews and deep dives, and really strong conversations happening in the comments of posts. It’s leading to conversions,” Livoti said. “The other thing with micro-influencers, especially on TikTok, is that anyone can go viral. So we’ve seen micro-influencers who we’ve gifted to, or who bought the products on their own, post a review and it gets hundreds of thousands to millions of views. And it’s all organic.”
As vp of creator partnerships and experiential at BFA Industries, Neika Colbourne oversees influencer relationships for established brands like Ipsy, along with brands fronted by celebrity founders, such as Addison Rae’s Item Beauty and Becky G’s Treslúce Beauty. Colbourne shared her thoughts on how different types of influencers can help brands achieve their respective objectives. She also shared her tips on vetting prospective partners.
Glossy: Tell us a bit about the types of influencers you partner with for each of your brands and the types of content that you’re producing.
Neika Colbourne: There’s always that area of overlap, but for Ipsy, the type of influencers we’re partnering with speaks to the demographic that loves beauty, has lots of lots of things going on and wants to try. So we might be partnering with influencers who really evoke that sense of beauty for all or the idea that you can express yourself however you’d like, that prioritization of self-expression. Currently, we’re partnered with Bailey Sarian, for example. But at the same time, we may be partnered with micro-influencers who evoke a cross-section of diversity, in age, color, gender, et cetera. On the BoxyCharm side of things, the focus is very sleek, bold looks. We have a partnership coming up this month with Hrush [Achemyan], for example, and if you follow Hrush, then you know she likes very bold looks.
Glossy: How do their unique goals inform each brand’s influencer strategy?
Colbourne: It’s very important to understand each brand’s objective. On the one hand, we generally lean into growth or brand awareness [with influencers], and it’s dependent on the brand objective.
For Ipsy or BoxyCharm, the objective may be growth. For a newer brand like Item Beauty or Treslúce, we really want to lean into brand awareness. For growth, we utilize influencers with those loyal followers, so we may be leaning into micro- and nano-influencers, because those convert really well and they have really engaged audiences.
And then for brand awareness, for a brand that’s new on the market, we really want to raise that awareness. So we could utilize a celebrity, or a mega- or macro-influencer. For example, with Item Beauty and Treslúce, the founders have massive followings in their own right and are huge influencers and creators in their own right. And with our curators for the quarterly Glam Bag X program, we partner with curators who have an affinity for beauty and for makeup, and at the same time, they have that large following. So we utilize larger creators, larger influencers, to help us drive that brand awareness and grow the community.
Glossy: What does your due diligence look like, in terms of evaluating a content creator or influencer before signing on to work with them?
Colbourne: I always say that creative partnership is about art and science. There’s your gut instinct, and then you have to validate that gut instinct with the facts, the numbers and the engagement. My gut could tell me that this person is great and their content is great, but I need to know: Does their audience demographic align with the brand? Are we speaking to the right age, gender and location? So the very first thing is the art part, just my gut instinct. I know my brand identity. I know what the brand’s objectives are. My gut instinct tells me this person is going to be a fit.
Then we’re going to validate that. We’re going to dive in and look at their numbers, how their content performs, on what platform the creator is the strongest. I also want to know what kind of return on investment I’m going to get, based on the deliverables. So that’s the not-so-fun, science part, but it’s a necessity before we sign any creator.
Also Worth Knowing
If it isn’t already clear, one of the messages we heard our speakers echo was this: Influencer marketing is benefiting the bottom line. Erica Livoti at InnBeauty Project emphasized the value of fostering one-to-one relationships, not just with influencers, but also with regular followers if a team’s capacity allows. Those personal interactions can lead to enduring relationships with top influencers and can stimulate fans to create user-generated content. Livoti said InnBeauty sees a direct correlation between influencers posting about the brand and sales.
The effectiveness of influencer marketing is just one reason why the cost of partnerships is increasing, and that’s just one challenge facing marketers. “Some of the people that we have worked with in the past are now asking for three to four times what they were asking for just over a year ago,” said Brad Farrell at Beekman 1802. Competition for attention is also increasing, particularly now that pretty much every brand is either on TikTok already or heading in that direction.
Pierre-Loïc Assayag, CEO and co-founder of Traackr, talked about the collapse of the marketing funnel, with each phase of the customer journey getting ever shorter. However, he urged brands to capitalize on this period of disruption. “We’re just shuffling the cards. So there are tons of opportunities that will arise for new winners to get the lion’s share of the market, while other brands will either decommission themselves or just really move to the side,” Assayag said.
Assayag encouraged brands to incentivize risk-taking and to embrace learning from “fast failure.” That sentiment was echoed by Brad Farrell, who attributed Beekman 1802’s success on TikTok to taking the shackles off and empowering team members to test and learn. And E.l.f. Beauty’s chief digital officer, Ekta Chopra, had some advice on building a team with the instincts to succeed in influencer marketing. “Surround yourself with all these awesome superheroes who share the same mindset,” Chopra said. “They have the same mission: to go after new frontiers and to conquer all of those.”
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The influencer landscape is steadily becoming more complex for brands. The days of simply chasing collaborations with the most popular influencers in your category are gone, but that’s not a bad thing. Brands are expanding their audiences by working with influencers in a variety of spheres, and the democratization of the influencer industry has exciting implications for brands. Almost any consumer can create a piece of viral TikTok content, and the proliferation of user-generated content created by brand superfans can be a powerful driver of revenue.
The way forward is to double down on your brand’s values and to be energetic in the search for influencers whose values rhyme with yours. Design products that reflect those values and be open-minded and creative as you screen for the influencers who will love those products and get excited about them. Above all, influencer marketing in 2022 is an open book. Not every partnership will work out, and that’s OK. But there are no prizes for sitting on the sidelines, so get out there, start building your pool of influencers, and tweak your way to success.