Bracken-FergusonKendraKendra Bracken-Ferguson is DBA’s chief operating officer. Her background includes online interactive and integrated marketing, with specialties in mobile marketing, influencer relations, digital communications, viral/word-of-mouth marketing, event management and youth marketing. Bracken-Ferguson was named Mobile Marketer’s “Mobile Women to Watch in 2010” and was featured as one of the 28 most influential African-American women in Essence magazine in October 2011.

The following is an e-mail interview with Bracken-Ferguson about the state of influencer marketing and blogger outreach in 2013.

What characteristics define a digital influencer in 2013?

Digital influencers are those who have a unique perspective and distinct presence in the digital landscape. They offer a take on a topic that is obviously very inventive (otherwise they wouldn’t be an influencer OR popular), it’s consistent with their vision, and it feeds across every aspect of their digital property. They have the ability to create and distribute relevant content, moving their audience to action. The content they create holds value in the fact that it’s so impactful and can ultimately drive interest and present a tangible return on investment.

Do those characteristics change from sector to sector or platform to platform?

The characteristics remain the same, however the content and context varies. What makes them a true influencer is their ability to evoke a positive response to something they created or developed through their curatorial point of view.

What are some of the more interesting ways you’ve seen brands and bloggers working together?

It’s exciting when a digital influencer like photographer Jamie Beck has the opportunity to go beyond her blog and really demonstrate her creative vision by developing and producing global campaigns for brands. Her Cinemagraphs have attracted the attention of Lincoln, Chopard and Donna Karan, all of whom she collaborates with. Stylist and creative director Kelly Framel has created original content for Tiffany & Co., Rachel Roy and others. So many of the digital influencers we work with are multi-talented and welcome the opportunity to go beyond the one-dimensional construct of just blogging. Musician Natalie Suarez is in yearlong contract with DKNY fragrance where she creates content all from the point of view of a musician, including an original song written for the fragrance. For more information on this topic, see this deck of presentation slides.

Digital influencers have moved beyond ambassadorships for other retailers and now see the value in curating their own personal brands much like a traditional celebrity or sports figure. For example, We (DBA) recently partnered with Beanstalk to build a licensing program for two coveted digital brands, Bag Snob and Mrs. Lilien. This type of partnerships allows influencers to create branded merchandise, potentially explore TV and literary opportunities and really bridge the consumer gap between the online space and real-world offerings.

How do smart brands measure the effectiveness of these kinds of partnerships?

Measurement shouldn’t be judged just by impressions — there are several factors including engagement, quality of content and direct alignment between the brand, influencer and the talent’s audience along with sentiment, traffic and fan increase for the brand. Because there isn’t one gauge of success metrics anymore. This is why content marketing has become such a hot topic. Everyone is adopting different ROI’s based on their own brand goals. If your goal is to utilize a digital influencer like Aimee Song, you’re doing so because Aimee has a proven track record of selling out the clothing she wears during her partnerships (i.e., your success metric is ultimately driving sales). If you’re looking to elevate your brand among fashion tastemakers, then you want someone like Garance Doré or Hanneli Mustaparta because they have industry street cred (i.e., your success metric is the number of press mentions or digital impressions you were able to drive based on the level of “buzz” this type of collaboration can create).

What advice to you have for brands looking to reach out to influencers in their sector?

Be smart and strategic and bring a decidedly unique point of view. There is an anthropological shift in how brands partner with influencers and the relationship cannot be one-sided and solely driven by the needs of the brand. Historically brands have utilized celebrities and sports figures as the face of their products in the hopes that their star cache would somehow translate into sales (keeping in mind there’s never been a firm metric in place to measure that expected cause/effect). Over time, brands have started to develop those metrics in the digital space, changed their positioning on ROI, and come to see influencers not just as a pretty or recognizable face who can drive sales, but also as people that craft stories and lend depth to a brand’s overall persona. It’s been a gradual transition, but obviously one that makes sense given the time people now spend on social media vs. traditional media outlets. Also, it’s important to respect the voice and aesthetic of each influencer and partner with those who naturally fit the DNA of a brand. This really resonates with consumers and grounds campaigns in a way that feels and looks effortless.

What are some of the challenges brands run into when managing their relationships with influencers?

Not identifying appropriate influencers suited specifically for the brand and organically creating dynamic programming together so that it supports the brand objectives but also matches the positioning and voice of the influencer.

How can brands overcome their challenge?

Establish relationships with a wide range of influencers to understand their point of view, their audience and take the time to create a partnership that matches the needs of the brand and the influencer. It’s like a finely choreographed dance; each move builds towards the next and can’t be hurried or rushed. The more natural the progression and partnership, the more likely consumers will respond to it in kind.

What are the some of the ethical issues brands need to beware of when engaging in influencer outreach? Are there any guidelines you’d suggest brands abide by?

Be transparent and honest about expectations, compensation and the brand’s objectives. Keep in mind, consumers aren’t naïve and they respond negatively when they feel that the content creators they follow aren’t sharing the full story. Ultimately, it is vital to follow FTC guidelines for influencer partnerships to ensure everyone is clear on individual roles in addition to the brand’s vision, execution and strategy.

(Disclosure: Tiffany & Co. is a client of DBA. Kelly Framel, Jamie Beck, Bag Snob, Mrs. Lilien and Aimee Song are managed by DBA.)

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