When Influencer Marketing first came to life more than a decade ago, the influencer community was primarily centered around everyday women who often shared many details of their everyday life. It feels like yesterday that the “blog” revolution started and once these mom bloggers levied some influence with their audience, brands saw an immediate opportunity to connect with small pockets of consumers in a meaningful way. Their brands appeared in recipes, under the Christmas tree or one of any number of other places where these influencers developed their narratives for brands.
In the beginning, before creators truly understood the value their voice had, influencer pricing was below market value for the high-impact content they were creating. However, fast forward to today, and brands are looking at a much different marketplace. The kids of those original influencers we followed, are now telling stories on TikTok and Instagram. However, the stakes have changed, and just like trends that can be seen in almost any facet of life as it relates to Gen Z and Millennials, these now very coveted consumer groups know their value and the market has flipped in their favor. Over the years, brands have come heavy into the marketplace, inflating the values and driving up the total cost of influencer programs by overcompensating creators.
As we sit today, content creators have more value than ever. With that, participation alone in any influencer program costs more, and that leads me to the entire premise of this blog, we need to have a serious conversation about usage and exclusivity. As the market has evolved, what used to be a sense of pride (the brand wants to use my content), has turned into another negotiation point, and often a steep one at that.
Let’s start with exclusivity. Authenticity is one of the biggest components to a successful influencer program. As a salesperson, I can tell you that you can’t sell something that you just don’t believe in. That said, one trend I am seeing from brands is exclusivity requests that block off more than just their direct competitors, they block off full categories. There is a reason that is problematic, first being that it’s just not real life. As a consumer, I may drink a soda from one holding company, a tea from another, a coffee from another, a potato chip from another, a cookie from another and on it goes. Individual consumer preferences are part of who that person authentically is, and even if brands have engaged them on other brands within that channel, are they truly passionate about that secondary brand? We should be embracing real life which would call for a diverse set of brand partnerships, more reflective of a real-life consumer. While take-overs and 100% share-of-voice work for standard media, working in this manner with influencers just hurts the credibility of the creator and the overall effectiveness of the program.
As influencers have evolved, so has their content. Most influencers today create high-quality content, some even bring in professional photographers to help them develop their content. This creates an opportunity for the brands where they can have content developed at a fraction of the cost that they many traditionally have paid a studio. Taking complete ownership of the content influencers create makes complete sense from a brand standpoint but it also comes at a cost. It goes without saying that the longer the usage term, the more compensation influencers will expect. I have seen programs where cost of the usage terms greatly exceeded the cost of the content.
When factoring the cost of usage and exclusivity into any program, brands are dramatically decreasing the scale of their influencer program. In many cases, influencer programs are lined up one-to-one with media programs, resulting in CPMs that are always going to look much less efficient unless balanced with paid media (and then you have to take more money away from content creation just to create that balance).
Given all of the this, here are a few questions brands must consider before building their next influencer program.
- What exclusivity rights will balance competitive separation and cost effectiveness?
- Where do we plan on using this content? We know all influencers will allow us to use it on social with accreditation, what’s the plan beyond that?
- If we are unsure of the plan beyond the current scope, does it make sense to keep additional budget and negotiate usage after content has been created? By doing this, we can negotiate the exact rights we need for the exact content we want.
As with anything, it is all about finding the right balance. As outlined, the original premise of influencer marketing was to connect with smaller pockets of consumers via voices they trust. As long as creators have the leverage at the negotiation table, it’s incredibly important to really think about how we are engaging them. This will result in saved budget and improved program results and a more didact approach to negotiations may just help calm the waves and start to bring down costs in the overall creator economy.