Creative advertising, media, digital, PR and experiential. These traditional pillars of the marketing mix are constantly being reinvented by technology, and marketers are constantly trying to adapt to the shifting landscape. Everyone wants the highest ROI on their marketing dollars, but many are finding diminishing returns as they rush to stay ahead of the curve.
After spending ridiculous premiums on specialists who claim to have the most cutting-edge solutions, marketers are usually brought back to the basics that define an age-old industry. What we fail to consider is that the solution to adapting to this chaotic landscape isn’t to go faster, but rather to slow down. And by slowing down, I mean brushing up on the most fundamental building block of marketing: people.
Brand marketers and agency partners have always strived to develop campaigns and messages that build and sustain long-term, authentic relationships with consumers. Something went fundamentally wrong, however, when numbers, impressions, likes and shares began to cloud and characterize these critically important relationships. Too many marketers started to think of people, and their brand’s relationships with them, as entities that could be bought and sold without consequence.
Today, a new breed of marketers is awakening to the idea that authentic, long-term relationships with consumers cannot be based on short-term, inauthentic relationships with influencers. This isn’t to suggest that the fundamentals of marketing communication need to change. The go-to tools — print, TV, radio, social, events and PR — still comprise the most effective mix of communication. But it’s time for marketers to rebuild this mix using a new foundation of real, earned human relationships.
Be A True Friend
You wouldn’t trust a friend who paid other people to hang out. So why should anyone trust brands that pay people to say nice things about them? People still value word-of-mouth recommendations above almost anything else when choosing how to spend their money. But authentic word of mouth can’t be bought.
This means brands need to work harder to build relationships with people based on true affinity, not just payouts. They need to find people with influence that feel a passion and/or connection to their brand and its value system. Sure, it takes more work to do this. It’s not as easy as tapping an influencer agency to pair you up with someone who happens to say they like your brand because they know there is a paycheck coming. But by doing the work and building a real relationship directly with a group of influencers who can represent the brand to the public, the heightened effectiveness (and ROI) of brand communication is a beautiful thing.
Look For Authenticity, Not Buzz
The hottest musician or model on Instagram may be worth a lot to some marketers, but they’re not what your consumer is looking for. Don’t get me wrong — celebrity endorsements have incredible value for a brand. But when that endorsement isn’t rooted in honest connection with the brand, the risks can far outweigh the potential value. Personality, tone and lifestyle need to be aligned with a brand, far above pure popularity and hype. It takes longer to create the relationship, but the results are worth the time.
Ask What’s In It For The Customer
People pay attention to celebrities because they enjoy a celebrity’s work, personality or the way they display their lifestyle. Brand partnerships often get in the way of that, serving as an interruption in much the same way a TV commercial would. When you force a product on an influencer, you take a little bit of that person away from their audience.
That’s why it’s so important to integrate the product and the brand seamlessly into whatever it is the person is offering their audience, allowing the story to continue — and keeping that audience happy — while associating your brand in a positive way. This can only happen if there is an honest relationship with the brand.
To keep up the pace in our new digital world, brands and marketers are adding influencers without thinking twice, throwing celebrities into the mix like they would salt and pepper. The reality is, the new mix doesn’t taste right and consumers are quickly catching on.
We’ve all seen the horror stories — partnerships with hot celebrities like Kylie Jenner or Ryan Lochte that turned into PR nightmares for brands. But even without internet backlash or highly publicized arrests, too many — or the wrong kinds of partnerships — can cheapen a brand, making it seem everywhere at once and totally uninteresting at the same time.
People are perhaps the greatest tool in a marketer’s toolbox these days. People are at the heart of all brand communication, both in delivery and consumption. If we, as marketers, forget the value of honesty and continue paying for people’s perceived endorsements, we will ultimately be feeding a society that does everything in their power to block out brand communication. The importance of an influencer network that can drive the five pillars of marketing is more crucial than ever and will ultimately define the success of a brand.