Influencer marketing has been an important part of most brands’ advertising efforts for some time now, from small niche brands to well-known, long-standing ones. While marketing with influencers can take many different forms, such efforts fall into two general categories—long-term partnerships and one-off sponsored posts. Both have their merits, and a brand’s particular circumstances or the goals of a specific campaign may favor one or the other. But, as with many things, putting in the work to build long-term relationships is the best way for brands to reap stable and continuing benefits.
At the core of influencer marketing is the (ironically) oft-repeated word—authenticity. Influencers gain and maintain a following by engaging authentically with their followers. Juxtaposed against traditional advertising, influencer marketing is effective because it feels real and personal to the audience in a way that a glossy magazine page can’t. With that understanding, it is easy to see why long-term relationships with influencers create a greater sense of authenticity amongst consumers.
In a situation where an influencer is in for the long-haul, he or she is more likely to take the time to really understand the brand and the expectations for sponsored content
An influencer that is selected to become a long-term brand ambassador likely already has an affinity for the brand and may have already engaged with the brand or mentioned the brand or its products to his or her followers before the start of a formal relationship. This background, combined with the opportunity for consistent and recurring messaging, increases visibility to the audience and is more likely to not only be perceived as, but truly be, authentic. If an influencer feels personally invested in a brand and its success, the influencer is more likely to give more attention to the brand and the content is consequently more likely to resonate with the audience. This creates trust and loyalty amongst the brand, influencer, and audience.
Brands can also manage their social media presence and their brand image more easily when they have established and long-lasting relationships with influencers. Such relationships are better suited to being governed by formal, contractual relationships that outline a brand’s expectations and parameters for sponsored content, which can help brands better control sponsored content and avoid messy legal issues, like having an influencer post sponsored content without the required “material connection” disclosures mandated by the Federal Trade Commission.
Of course, there are some risks with having strong relationships with a smaller number of influencers
Maybe the most daunting of which is the potential hit to the brand if an influencer falls out of favor with their followers, which can cause the brand’s reputation to suffer, as well. Developing long-term relationships also requires brands to expend greater resources on the front end in vetting and identifying a good match and building the relationship over time.
Some of these risks can be mitigated by including contractual provisions a/k/a “morals clauses” in influencer agreements that allow the brand to, among other things, terminate the agreement if the influencer causes reputational harm to the brand. Additionally, some of these pitfalls can be headed off by employing a system of one-off sponsored posts from a large number of influencers instead. This approach can be less expensive, especially initially, and may be able to reach a wider audience in a limited amount of time.
However, working with influencers for a small number of sponsored posts provides less opportunity for oversight and development of impactful content
This could result in messaging that is not quite on-brand, which ultimately muddies a brand’s image. Most importantly, it’s extremely difficult to create a sense of authenticity when the audience sees an influencer post content about a brand for three days and then maybe never again, or if a consumer sees several influencers putting out the same kind of content in inconsistent short spurts for a particular brand – a telltale sign of a wide-and-shallow approach from the brand. This type of content often comes off as disingenuous and unengaging and can cause the audience to lose trust with the brand and the influencer.
The differences between these two approaches to influencer marketing and their effectiveness is even more apparent as businesses grapple with the effects of the pandemic and cut down on marketing expenses. In the new stay-at-home, work-from-home era, brands have had to make changes to their marketing strategies to fit the new tone of the times and to fit within their newly-cut budgets.
Brands that already had long-term relationships in place with influencers may have had an advantage during this time
This is particularly true if they had previously created and banked content that could be used later, during a time when new content is difficult to create in the same way. An influencer ambassador can also help a brand continue to engage with consumers online, while slashed budgets may have temporarily ceased other types of advertising, giving brands an effective way to stay connected, personal, and in front of their core consumers. Leading the pack are brands that work with influencers who can style and shoot their own content, creating significant savings and stretching the brand’s advertising dollars when they are tight.
But make no mistake, asking an influencer to adapt their content to changing circumstances or do more with less is much easier if there is already a relationship of trust and longevity there.
Ultimately, if a brand wants to maximize their exposure quickly, it makes sense to turn to the one-off approach with influencers big and small across a wide variety of niches. But if a brand wants to cultivate a brand image, foster loyalty, develop core consumers and then engage with them authentically, it is best to create long-term ambassadorships with hand-picked influencers that are invested in the brand for more than just the check.
Danielle Garno is an attorney at Cozen O’Connor in Miami. She focuses her practice on issues faced by the fashion community, including startup phase and commercial advice, intellectual property such as trademark and copyright infringement, social media marketing, advertising, and anti-counterfeiting, as well as employment and general business litigation.
Mayura Noordyke is an attorney at Cozen O’Connor in Minneapolis and focuses her practice on trademark law and branding, including trademark clearance, investigation, prosecution, and licensing. Mayura also has experience with issues related to social media, cybersquatting, internet domain name disputes and proceedings, copyright matters, and advertising and promotions, including contests and sweepstakes.