Recently, I was formalizing an agreement with an influencer in the outdoor category for a footwear client. This young woman has a great social following (bumping 300,000 on just Facebook and Instagram), strong engagement and is wonderful to work with. We had met and spoken on several occasions, and everything was going great. The time quickly came to provide her with product. We then realized that, given her engagement with a name-brand camouflage brand, we’d be limited in which boots we could provide, as some feature patterns from other camo providers.

While that relationship is still intact and going well, it made me realize: We have entered a war for influencers.

This isn’t a surprise for those of us working with influencers daily, but a moment of clarity. Influencers have become the new celebrities. They have agents. Handshakes still work, but written agreements seal deals. And in today’s landscape, wooing the ones you want to work with can be very, very competitive.

In short, influencer marketing has evolved, and our marketing mindset must also evolve if we’re to maintain and develop relationships that deliver. If you’re new to influencer marketing or just ramping up a program, consider these statistics:

  • 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement (MuseFind/Forbes, 2016)
  • Influencer marketing isn’t just the fastest-growing channel for customer acquisition; it’s the most cost effective, returning $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media (Chief Marketer)
  • Working with influencers on a marketing campaign can drive 16 times more engagement than paid or owned media (Chief Marketer)

So, how has this all changed the game? I offer these thoughts to help put, and keep, you in good standing with your influencer community.

One and done is … done.
With more brands realizing their impact and value, influencers are in higher demand than ever. And they want (and expect) relationships that will last and produce mutual growth. That means they are less apt to agree to quick product-for-post arrangements that could exclude them from working with other, more partnership-minded brands in your space. Approach influencer marketing as a strategy and influencers as brand partners to make sure relationships stay intact and grow.

Being direct isn’t what it used to be.
There are only so many “top” influencers to go around. Therefore, you may need to broaden your thinking on what constitutes a “direct” competitor. Influencers who work with synergistic brands that don’t focus a majority share of their business on where you play can make for great partnerships. And – especially for a smaller brand – can put you in solid company, raising your credibility with your visibility.

Think like the content consumer, not creator.
Influencers – at least the ones I recommend most brands pursue – are who they are because they have built audiences not only on great content, but trust and authenticity. They don’t want to be perceived as sell-outs, so don’t ask them to post content that portrays them as such. Trust them to engage with your product in an organic, natural way that resonates with their followers.

Don’t neglect the up-and-comers.
Want to win the war for influencers? Seek out and engage early with rising superstars. You’ll spot them by their amazing content and higher-than-average engagement numbers. They’re the folks who get it and, maybe, haven’t signed any big brand deals … yet. Engage with them early and establish a relationship that will benefit you both equally.

There are obviously many more factors in designing and executing a successful influencer marketing program. Not to mention the FTC scrutiny, regulation and oversight. Ultimately, though, we need to view it as a critical marketing strategy that has moved beyond a quick monetary or product exchange to being on-par with other core programs. Those brands which choose to do so will be more attractive to the influencers they want to work with, producing relationships that will deliver on the hype.

Jeff Dillow
Vice President