Leveraging creators to create authentic connections with consumers

Consumers are more advertising-aware than ever, and they’re demanding experiences that benefit their online journey. Marketers need to know how to promote their products and brands without appearing inauthentic.

I met Lindsay Jerutis, general manager of ShopStyle Collective to talk about the creators and how the influencer marketing industry is poised to help brands build authentic connections with their audiences.

Gary Drenik: We’re seeing all kinds of consumer brands increasingly focused on growing their influencer marketing investments relative to other channels. Why is that?

Lindsay Jerutis: Brands are investing more in influencer marketing because their investments are paying off.

For example, a recent survey of Prosper Insights and Analytics shows that 64% of women aged 18-34 are influenced by social media or bloggers when making clothing purchasing decisions.

That number jumps to 67% when looking for beauty shopping inspiration. This trust in creators and the success of creator marketing in general is driving even more investment than ever – the industry is expected reach $22.3 billion by 2024.

Consumers do not want intrusive, fake or commercial advertising experiences. Influencers are the best way to create authentic and engaging content and we’ll continue to see more and more brands invest in influencers as a comprehensive marketing strategy as the industry continues to grow.

Drenik: What makes influencer marketing so appealing to marketers and brands these days?

Jerutis: Online shopping is more popular than ever. In reality, Prosper Insights and Analytics data shows that almost half of consumers regularly shop online in 2022, an increase of almost 10 percentage points from five years ago.

First, marketers must overcome the “reach” barrier. As many are well aware, consumers want more control over their data. As a result, marketers lose access to third-party cookies and other valuable data sources. With these new limits placed on how target audiences can be reached, marketers are increasingly relying on creator marketing because creators don’t face the same reach barriers. Consumers are more likely to turn on ad blockers for a smoother browsing experience, for example, but less likely to “turn off” a creator they’ve established a connection with over time.

The second reason is that, out of reach, great creators know their audience well and can engage them directly and regularly. Creators create feedback loops through regular audience interactions such as live streams, question posts, polls, and more. Over time, this feedback loop allows the creator to integrate brands thoughtfully into their content without feeling constrained. Potential customers can be targeted without invasive data, which cannot necessarily be done through other marketing channels.

Drenik: The word “authenticity” can often sound buzzy. What does “authenticity” mean to ShopStyle Collective?

Jerutis: The word authenticity is actually one of the most important aspects of a successful marketing campaign, creator-centric or not. For ShopStyle Collective, authenticity is the ability to connect with consumers through what look like peer-to-peer recommendations. Authenticity cannot be forced. This often requires letting go of control and allowing creators to communicate with their audience in their own tone and voice. Authenticity in creator marketing means integrating your brand into an ongoing content strategy intended to prioritize the consumer experience, instead of prioritizing your product visibility. Brands that do this successfully understand the value that comes with it, while others that feel the need to be in the driver’s seat can often rub consumers the wrong way.

Drenik: What are the different strategies brands can leverage to tap into this influencer authenticity and deliver experiences that other marketing channels can’t?

Jerutis: Brands can leverage Creator Authenticity to achieve all of their full-funnel marketing goals. They may look to affiliate links to boost performance and may have larger brand campaigns with creators for prospecting and awareness, but the key to authenticity lies in a brand’s ability to leave the creator to be the expert. They know their audience better than anyone, and delivering an end-consumer experience that’s too “on track” will not only hurt the effectiveness of your influencer campaign, but also hurt your relationships with the creators themselves.

Instead, brands should provide creators with top messaging—a few must-haves that get the key messages across—and let creators develop content that they know will resonate with their audience.

Another important tactic for achieving true authenticity is the importance of finding the right creator partners. Identifying the right partners is key to achieving true authenticity, as you need to find creators who align with you as a brand and have the right audience. Working with a partner like ShopStyle Collective facilitates all of these best practices as we help build and manage these relationships between brands and creators from start to finish.

Drenik: What are the most common mistakes brands make when working with influencers? And how does ShopStyle Collective help brands get it right?

Jerutis: We are very fortunate to work with a number of savvy marketers who are transparent about their goals and responsive to what we recommend. That said, there’s a common misconception that creator campaigns are one-time activations — just another checkbox on the list of marketing strategies.

While marketers can be tempted to highlight key brand moments, like a new product launch, with a big campaign full of upfront investment, this approach can be limiting. Based on what we’ve learned over time, an ongoing approach with consistent messaging, coverage and engagement is much more likely to push a campaign to its full potential. For starters, it allows the marketer to refine and scale programming with real-time data. Longer runtimes also help brands build deeper relationships with creators, which leads to that stronger sense of authenticity. Consumers will perceive a creator campaign as more authentic when the creator speaks to the brand or product in question on an ongoing and ongoing basis. Brands that continually invest in creator marketing tend to build stronger, more intimate relationships with creators. Advocacy that builds over time can then be strengthened through paid, organic efforts.

We’re confident that our full-funnel creator marketing strategy drives significant ROI, but we also know that marketers leverage other channels. That’s why it’s so important to break down silos when planning budgets. Successful marketers always think cross-functionally to make creator marketing an integral part of branding, performance marketing, event and sponsorship initiatives. They also experiment. Testing budgets, for example, allows teams to make assumptions, learn, and keep improving.

Drenik: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss influencer authenticity and highlighting some best practices for marketers looking to navigate this burgeoning space.

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