Matching Influencer Fit and Media Performance

Imagine this scenario – you have a new product launch that you’ve spent the last six months working on. Your marketing budget is set and ready to pull the trigger. You have included a promotional budget that you have earmarked for an influencer campaign. Now you are in your last round of meetings with the top influencer that is a perfect fit for your new launch. You’ve crunched the numbers, developed a budget, and now you are ready to close the deal.

You should feel confident in knowing the value of the influencer to the campaign but also in the campaign’s success. If you have done your research, there is a good chance you’ve picked creators who certainly resonate with your target audience and who will prove highly valuable when aligned with your brand. However, with a pay-for-post flat rate, absent of any performance guarantee being the norm in the influencer space, less certainty may be applied to performance risk assessment.

This can be scary as influencer costs and thereby your influencer investments continue to rise. IZEA, a leading online marketplace connecting brands and publishers with influential content creators, provides an insight into the rising costs of influencer marketing. IZEA’s research indicates that the average cost of a sponsored Instagram post has risen 44% from 2018 to 2019 alone.

Changing this flat rate structure is like affecting cultural change – it will take much time and effort. However, the short-run solution is to partner influencer buys with media buys – using the media to magnify your perfect fit influencer content at a rate system that is tied to performance metrics.

The Role of Media in Today’s Social Ecosystem

Influencers speak your customer’s language. They offer hard-earned trust and affinity points with your target audience. And yes, there’s a chance that influencer content can have viral potential, delivering your messaging more efficiently and cost-effectively than any media buy ever will. However, virality is far more a function of luck than of planning. While careful influencer selection can usually guarantee all the prior listed benefits of influencer content, virality is a crapshoot. Bought media allows you to hedge your bets and build an element of performance certainty into every influencer campaign.

The trick to pairing media with influencer buys is to do so in a way that does not cancel out the accessibility of the creator content you are boosting. Placing relatable influencers into non-native, shiny, overproduced ad content does not magnify influence, it dilutes relatability. There is a time and a place for shiny things. However, we must remember that the power of influencer marketing is that it is a conversation, a joke, or even a dance among friends. It’s about engaging, not impressing.

Of all the social media platforms today, TikTok has mastered this understanding of community connection in its challenge-based ad culture – challenging users to take part in the activation. Not only does this structure exponentially increase the viral coefficient of any campaign, but it also increases the potency of every touchpoint by allowing your customers to step into the ad rather than observe it from afar.

Unfortunately, many advertisers and their agencies dip their toes into this cutting edge, interactive environment making one major mistake – they spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars on media, placing highly produced TV commercials in an ecosystem of home-cooked, potluck content and dinner table conversation; dangling hooks rather than breaking bread.

Media in the social ecosystem should not be treated as a 30-second spot in between regular programming. It should be seen as a complementary solution to the uncertainty of influencer campaign performance. Influencers allow you to infuse your brand directly into regular programming and paid media is the new cable box connecting your show to every living room you want to enter.

A Case Study: #WalmartSyncAlong (Native) vs. WWE #RoyalRumble (Alien)

Let’s take a closer look at how media execution can sink or swim by reviewing two recent TikTok challenge campaigns, both for massive global brands, that clearly showcase the difference between a successful and a disastrously uninformed media strategy.

In November of 2020, LA-based TikTok native agency PushPlay teamed up with Walmart to build creativity around their Black Friday TikTok activation. (Full transparency—this article was written by a primary at PushPlay.) PushPlay worked with TikTok creator and musician JVKE, whose resume reads like the perfect brand-friendly influencer profile and is considered one of the most effective and sought-after creators for jingles in today’s rebirth of music-centric marketing, to create the centerpiece jingle for WalMart’s campaign.

JVKE created a 15-second audio piece outlining all the exciting Black Friday deals available at Walmart that season along with a 60-second TikTok video that encouraged others to lip-sync to his jingle for a chance to win $100 Walmart gift cards to help with their holiday shopping. Once JVKE posted his video, five other perfect fit TikTok creators were engaged to post their own lip-syncing videos so as to provide examples to other users as to how they should engage with the audio.

These six videos alone achieved roughly five million views. Not bad, but far from a wide enough reach for such a major annual marketing beat for a brand the size of Walmart. Luckily, this influencer content was paired with a well-informed media buy that included a featured hashtag challenge. This media magnified exposure of JVKE’s video and the other featured creator content, tying it all to the #WalmartSyncAlong challenge, and ultimately resulted in thousands of UGC (User Generated Content) video creations and over 4.8 billion video views. Yes, that’s billion with a B.

In comparison, in January of 2021, WWE worked directly with TikTok to create a challenge campaign around their signature Royal Rumble event. Without the help of a creative agency to guide creative strategy and architect the media buy, the campaign fell flat. Rather than engaging TikTok native creators to produce featured content, WWE simply featured three different shortcut videos sourced from their normal television programming on their official #RoyalRumble page in the app.

The hashtag description that is intended to inform users how to engage was very unspecific and did not offer much guidance. Without clear instructions or any video examples showing users how to engage with the hashtag, the challenge resulted in almost zero relevant UGC content. If you navigate to this TikTok hashtag page today, you can see for yourself that once you scroll past the first 12 videos, almost none of the UGC content has anything to do with the brand. In addition, the campaign only resulted in a total of 639 million views. This is not a small number, but it doesn’t start with a B.

Applying the actions

Architecting an influencer campaign has long been a juggling act between fit and performance. It’s rare that we can find enough perfect influencer voices or one perfect fit influencer big enough to deliver the sort of exposure massive global brands require from a campaign. Even if we do, performance is never a guarantee, and with influencer costs shooting to the moon, paid influencer posts are an investment that must be hedged against risk.

Lucky for us, this juggling is no longer necessary with the advent of highly evolved media offerings such as TikTok’s Hashtag Challenges and the cornucopia of supporting media purchases the platform provides. We can now separate these two objectives – assigning fit to our influencers and the content they create for us and leaving performance to the complementary media we buy. However, in the social media ecosystem, we must not forget that media is only there to play a supporting role. It is meant to help us to be seen, but not to stand out like a sore thumb.

Understand the ecosystem you are operating in and make sure your strategy, the creators you engage and the content you serve is native to the environment and makes sense for your brand. If you or your agency of record are not well versed in emerging ecosystems such as TikTok, do not be afraid to reach out to one of the few frontlines, TikTok native agencies that have helped to pioneer and evolve marketing in this new Wild West for help in crafting creative and media buying strategy around your goals.

And for goodness’ sake – challenge yourself to think outside of the dance floor. Challenge-based marketing is the future, but if you sell lawn care products to middle-aged dads, a dance challenge may not be the most creative way to reach your demographic.

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