Step 3: Empowering Influencers as Co-Creators
By Alex Rawitz
In our last post, we described how brands reward their most prolific influencers with personalized experiences, engendering loyalty that helps build a strong brand family. Having a dependable squad of influencers who produce a steady stream of content is a major milestone, and plenty of brands are content to operate at this level. But after the trips to exotic locales are over and the lavish boxes of products are sent, a question remains: how can brands engage both influencers and their audiences on an even deeper level, driving a spirit of genuine personal investment? The answer lies in our next step, as brands work together with influencers to develop new products, a process that greatly accelerates their personal and professional development.
Brands can elevate their influencers to “collaborators” by including them in core brand operations. Initial steps in this direction include authorizing the influencer to manage giveaways on social media, appear at meet-up booths, or feature as a special guest at store openings. These measures reinforce the ties between brand and influencer by placing them front and center, showing that they are crucial to the event’s success. One brand that’s mastered this strategy is Beautycon, which drove hype around its March festival in Dallas thanks to the heavy involvement of YouTube megastar grav3yardgirl (Bunny Meyer). Indeed, her trademark “swamp family” booth proved to be the weekend’s top attraction, and Bunny produced considerable EMV from her consistent Instagram dispatches expressing her love for her fans and her gratitude toward the brand. Beautycon also hosted a meet-and-greet with Bunny at South by Southwest (SXSW), prompting the influencer to post on Instagram: “Thank you, thank you, thank you SO MUCH to all the swamp family members who came to see me…thank you @beautycon for the beautiful space and for hosting and organizing the event!”
Beautycon was successful in this endeavor in part because it had already collaborated with Bunny on an official project — in this case, a specially curated Beautycon Box designed by Bunny. The benefits of this type of collaboration are even more pronounced, however, when a brand and influencer work together on creating an original product, not just a box of preexisting products. Because the process of conceiving and realizing a product requires start-to-finish input from the influencer, validating her creativity and raising her personal stake in the project, the end result is a vastly strengthened bond between influencer and brand. An example of this strategy’s payoffs can be seen from ColourPop’s work with beauty vlogger Jenn Im (Instagram’s imjennim and YouTube’s clothesencounters). Earlier this year, the brand unveiled the Jenn Ne Sais Quad eyeshadow quad along with two lipstick shades, “Dohee” and “Jenneration X,” all of which were developed in conjunction with the influencer. Following an initial announcement of the collaboration, Jenn made sure to promote her product early and often on Instagram, sporting her personal favorite lip color, “Dohee,” everywhere from New York to Seoul.
Jenn continually emphasized the personal aspects of the collection, crediting the brand for making one of her longstanding dreams come true. In her “‘Jenn Ne Sais Quoi’ Makeup Tutorial” video on YouTube, Jenn noted that “Dohee” was her Korean name, a reflection of her deeply personal investment in the collection. She concluded the video with heartfelt thanks to ColourPop for collaborating with her, and to her loyal fans for making the project possible. To recognize the collaborator for her hard work, ColourPop mobilized Jenn’s friends (and fellow members of her brand family) to publicize the Jenn Ne Sais Quoi launch. The official brunch launch party was attended by previous ColourPop collaborators like itsmyrayeraye and heyclaire, who each touted Jenn’s products on their own social accounts. Chrisellelim, whom Jenn has referred to as her “big sis,” appeared in a post in which the pair flaunted matching “Dohee” lips.
By giving influencers the opportunity to make high-level decisions on a project, from naming to packaging to color, brands can elevate their true believers from the position of advocate to fully vested partner. At this juncture, influencers go from sharing professional campaign images to creating their own content to promote the brand. They become not just a guest at a brand event, but the reason for the brand event. Although this may seem like a drastic jump, all it takes is granting the influencer agency and ownership over a project that they feel personally invested in. In other words, brands should position the influencer not as a face of the campaign, but as its heart.