Authenticity and purpose in influencer marketing

Authenticity and purpose in influencer marketing

Alex Payne, co-founder of Room Unlocked, discusses the future of influencer marketing and how it can successfully form part of an overall marketing strategy.

Can you tell us a bit about what the company does?

Well, several of our clients have described us as a cross between Tinder and LinkedIn, which we really like. Room Unlocked facilitates partnerships between interesting brands and celebrities and influencers – but our difference is that it’s all mutually beneficial. With us, no brand buys influence, no influencer is sold – everything is in the exchange of value; which leads to more authentic relationships and content, which means higher engagement and better results.

The influencer landscape has exploded in the last decade and currently has some well-documented challenges. We believe influence extends far beyond just ‘selling something through a social channel’ and we’re passionate about giving influencers the opportunity to talk about the brands they truly love and the causes they truly believe in.

Everywhere you look, people are now looking for truth, transparency and authenticity; politics, news and media. We like to think we create authentic collaborations that benefit everyone – brands, influencers and their audiences. We live by the mantra ‘for love, not money’, which is spreading more and more. Brands can work with influencers who truly love their brand, and influencers are rewarded with collaborations and products they love.

And we’re about to launch in the US this month, which we’re ready for!

Where did the journey begin?

The idea came from the fact that I have been a TV host for 20 years. I have absolutely no interest in being a celebrity or an influencer, but having worked in Sunday TV for a few years, I’ve had a lot of brands throw things my way. I don’t really care about most of them.

But what I’ve started to see is that there’s a huge amount of potential and hope with a brand that reaches out to influencers. You never know, as a brand, if you’re going to find a person who really likes you and wants to talk about you, or if they’re just going to take the money and put it on their network. The latter is now a problem in influencer marketing, the audience is becoming disillusioned with the open transactional approach.

We’re seeing more and more brands recognize that they need to engage with their brand fans, rather than just paying people to talk about them and hoping it’s the right match. And I think, fundamentally, too many brands are paying too many people too much money for that recognition. We’re trying to help brands connect with people who say “I love it” and “I’ll talk about it because I want to.” And, as a result, it’s a more authentic connection, because it’s the influencer’s choice. Content tends to be richer with higher engagement rates and greater audience penetration, and the brand benefits by not wasting time, money, effort, energy and misplaced ads.

How does the platform actually work? If I were a customer, would I sign up for a subscription?

We can help any size business, on their terms. So you can use Room Unlocked on a one-time basis until you subscribe to use it as much as you want. You can run the campaigns yourself or we can do everything for you. Our goal is to be a truly powerful extension of your team.

Brands have very clear ideas about who exactly they want to be their face. And it’s only right to pay them for that connection. It’s worth saying that brands don’t just use us for social media exposure. Clients use us to quickly build a bank of user-generated content that will truly inspire and, ultimately, influence their brands’ fans. Room Unlocked can help find influencers to showcase or try products, attend events or even wear clothes on red carpets. We’re trying to redefine the definition of influence from just ‘paid Instagram posts’ back to a broader offering. We believe that advocates can use their own power to make things happen, through their own tone of voice and their own stories. They will talk about a brand or product, out of interest and passion, which is less prescriptive but definitely more authentic.

We keep track of all the content that’s created, so brands can reuse and repurpose it if they want. Or we will evaluate it for you and give you an overview of how it works. The results are incredibly powerful.

I heard that charities can list for free. Is that right?

Absolutely. The first iteration of Room Unlocked was within influencer marketing. But we are very keen to be able to support charities and causes, and for people of influence to recognize the need to use their voices for good.

The charity aspect is huge for us, and we’ll be putting that on the backburner in the not-too-distant future. The influencers who are most active and most supportive of charities and causes, we will then reward through the platform with ‘concierge credits’; we will be able to help fulfill their requirements. So it all leads to this powerful community of good brands, good charities and good people forming these really good collaborations.

Some of the brands you’ve worked with include Mars, O2 and Samsung. Most recently, Red Bull, B&Q and Virgin. You must be doing something right.

I hope so. Some of those you mentioned are our longest serving clients. And they understood our mission from the very beginning. They are very aware that they have to work with fans of their brand as well as influencers.

I think it all comes down to authenticity. As a brand you need to have several plays in this space. You have to be brave enough to put yourself in the hands of people who say “I love you”. And you have to be brave enough to let them tell your story in their own words. We see that if you reward your brand fans, you will get genuine brand love with real cut. And that will register better with their audience than you controlling the content they put on their platform.

We’re seeing more and more confidence from our clients to say “we know these people are our fans, and we’re going to let them tell our story in their own words, and it’s going to benefit us.” And that’s a really exciting development.

I also think that when you’re that size of a company, you have so many means and ways to reward your fans. O2 is a really interesting example, because they have to bring out new hardware, they have English rugby sponsorship, they have gig tickets, they have a huge amount of sponsorship money. And using Room Unlocked will find people saying “I’d love an England rugby shirt” or “I really want to go to the Mumford and Sons gig in Shepherds Bush next week”, or “I’m going abroad for six months. I would like to take your international tariff with me”.

Are there any marketing campaigns you’ve helped with or helped connect people to work together that you think were particularly good or that you’re proud of?

We’ve run nearly 5,000 campaigns, so there’s a pretty wide variety of churches to choose from. But I think the moment we realized we had something powerful was when Mars created an opportunity for M&M fans. They were also interested in the names of the hosts who said ‘I love them! Connect me…’

If Mars paid those people to talk about m&ms, they’d be paying a ton of money. But when those people come through and use our platform to unlock opportunities that they want to be a part of, it’s really interesting to see that kind of love for the brand is enough of a motivation to talk about the things you’re interested in.

Are there any particular trends you’ve noticed developing in that area?

I recently did an interview where one of the questions was “Will the global recession affect how much micro nano influencers get paid?”. And I actually think it’s a much broader answer than that. Inevitably, the financial crisis will have an impact. But actually, I think the world of influencers is going through a bit of an iteration. After it blew up, I think we’re almost seeing a bit of a market correction.

Moving on, I think those people who will sit at the very top of the influence tree are the ones who have other stories to tell and who will naturally be very authentic. They champion a cause or charity and continue to talk about the things they love. The more rounded the individuals and the more rounded the content, I think you will sit higher on the tree. We don’t go on social media to sell ourselves. We go to entertain, inform, challenge, entertain and learn – that’s what authentic influence is all about!

How important do you think influencer marketing is as part of a broader marketing strategy?

I think that’s an increasingly important piece of the puzzle. It can be a very, very powerful way to attract an audience very quickly. But I think you have to be able to engage them in the right way. I think there’s a far greater understanding and almost more nuance to influencer marketing now than there was three years ago. It has to be the right person. It has to be the right message. There must be a good fit between the brand and the influencer. It can’t just pay, ship and run.

What advice would you give to companies starting out with influencer marketing?

Be brave enough to work with people who say they love you.

What do you think the future of influencer marketing holds?

I think that is a very interesting question. The short answer is a wider definition of ‘influence’, a wider range of content and a wider range of channels.

First, if I ask you “what is an influencer?” you will say that it is someone who creates paid content on social networks. But if I tell you “who are the people who have influenced you the most?” I would be surprised if a social media star is in the top 10. It will be family and friends and those around you; teachers, politicians and sports stars, which will be actors and actresses. Real impact comes with talent, achievement and purpose.

Influencers will need to factor in the things they love and believe in within their content mix – so the best will carefully mix commercial, counter and related activities.

Not only will influencer content need to be more rounded, but their offerings – obviously, social media, but those with podcasts, blogs, vlogs and additional channels – will continue to grow.

I think the best influencers, which is what we’re trying to get at, will also pay into the pot as well as withdraw from it. And they will recognize that, from time to time, their voice of authority should be used for the right message at the right time.

In truth, if you move forward the less hungry you are for ‘influence’, the more influential you will become.

Are you interested in the world’s leading brands personally discussing such topics? Learn more about World Digital Marketing Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America and Singapore.

Tags: influencer marketing, Room unlocked

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