By

Barbara Laidlaw
Partner, Global Risk, Reputation + Public Affairs
Allison+Partners

 

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When an organization begins to expand globally, it often faces a new set of challenges that could mean adjusting current strategies that have yielded success on the domestic front. Economic, regulatory and operational factors are just some of the many considerations nascent global businesses must address to succeed on the international stage.

A less tangible but imperative concern is the organization’s reputation and how it will scale along with other elements of the business. Reputation takes years to build and only minutes to tarnish, making it one of the most precarious factors at play during expansion. Therefore, before pursuing an ambitious global footprint, businesses should consider how reputation management coexists with the following:

  • Cultural & regional differences: Global expansion will require the ability to adjust some aspects of how a business operates to meet the standard of wherever the expansion takes place. Consider how different factors, such as language barriers, lifestyle, cultural history, education and politics, impact business objectives from employees’ and customers’ perspectives. By developing a strong understanding of these components and how they may factor into the business’s reputation, an organization will be positioned well to avoid pitfalls and preempt potential damage from related issues.
  • Regulatory & political issues: Establishing an intimate understanding of how relevant political issues may affect the business is critical to avoid becoming trapped in them. Tapping into the expertise of third-party consultants and internal personnel within the region are just two ways a company can ensure it operates with the correct understanding of the political landscape. Strict regulatory compliance is another area in which businesses should invest resources to insulate themselves from running afoul of regulations or laws they may not have considered otherwise.
  • Social impact & ESG: As organizations expand globally, they will inevitably increase their global footprint and their environmental and societal one. Depending on the nature of the business, there could be additional social considerations to account for, such as human rights or political turmoil. Today, enterprises prioritize their societal impact more than ever. To continue to thrive, global organizations must navigate the complexities that come with the recent rise in investor and consumer activism.
  • Core values: As is true with any period of growth within an organization, maintaining core values is one of the most prominent challenges a business must contend with. This is only magnified when the company begins to expand globally. Upholding core values is essential to brand reputation and should be a priority item when considering further expansion. Emphasizing the importance of quality onboarding procedures, internal initiatives and other team-focused programs are ways a business can maintain its values as it grows.
  • Communications infrastructure: Ultimately, scaling communications capacity and capabilities to match company growth will provide a business with the fundamental infrastructure it needs to preempt potentially damaging issues and effectively react to them when they occur. Through regular assessments of an organization’s communications capabilities, the business can proactively address weak spots and build on areas of strength, resulting in a more robust global communications program that underpins every core function of the business itself.

Navigating the reputational complexities of a global business is a challenge. While organizations should always remain prepared to tackle known sources of risk to their reputation, there will always be unpredictable events or incidents that present additional risks. Environmental disasters, wars, political turmoil, supply chain challenges and regulatory issues are just some of the many hurdles businesses need to contend with and overcome regularly.

Ultimately, the most effective way to mitigate the potential fallout from known and unknown risks is to continually ensure the organization is operationally resilient and maintains a robust communications infrastructure that it can leverage before, during and after an adverse event.

Barbara Laidlaw brings 25 years of experience developing and running programs that help companies prepare, protect and defend their brand reputations through global and national events, recalls, litigation, data breaches, regulatory issues and labor disputes.

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Ray Day
Stagwell Vice-Chair 

 

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“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet 

Today, corporate reputation means more than mastery of the marketplace. Reputation is a measure of what all stakeholders – including consumers, employees, shareholders, and more – think about a company.  

Contrary to “brand” – which measures a company’s products & services, typically among specific consumer segments, a reputation is earned not created.  

Reputation is comprised of your company’s performance + its behavior in the marketplace, reflected through its internal and external marketing communications. When reputation is curated, it has the potential to build business value and can help mitigate risks. Companies with excellent reputations are more likely to garner positive outcomes, such as advocacy, community expansion and purchase intent.

Today’s corporations and CEOs have greater permission from the public to address complex social issues – within bounds. Reputation today is evolving today to reflect more than just a product or service set, but a businesses’ commitment to serve society.  

In recent years, geopolitical, economic, and social developments have created a society in transition and turmoil. Consumers have more expectations of corporations in this environment – not least because of declining trust and expectations in institutional actors such as governments and municipalities. As measured by Stagwell’s 2021 Reputation Quotient, brands across nearly every business sector experienced a reputational boost during the height of the pandemic as consumers looked to the private sector for solutions where public officials were failing to create them:  

CEOs, and in a limited capacity other star of the C-Suite such as CMOs, are rapidly gaining reputational capital within the market and with consumers. They influence sales, perceived product/service quality, and signal the strength of an organization’s culture. As CEO reputation extends outward, when to exert influence in society becomes more calculated and more important. Americans say CEOs most affect reputation, ethics, and financial success for today’s organizations. CEOs also have a growing public awareness and influence on consumer sales; half of Americans report changing buying habits due to the actions of a CEO. 

More traditional C-suite players like Jamie Dimon at Goldman Sachs leverage influence in quieter, more sustained ways – Dimon’s annual letter is a bellwether for the future of global financial markets, with wide-ranging through leadership implications for businesses within and beyond the financial services category.  

With that reputational capital comes the burden of leadership: the public believes CEOs should stand on issues where they have credibility, not where they don’t have a voice or authority. Ultimately, core values should be the navigator of social issues. Alienation is a risk in a highly polarized society, but so too is the risk of stakeholders who perceive CEOs as indifferent or in conflict with the company’s principles. This is especially true among younger and Black Americans. While standing down is expedient, a generational and cultural divide is growing that will make decisions more difficult and polarizing.  

Corporate and CEO reputation is changing quickly. Stagwell is a leader in global reputation tracking and management; learn more about the Reputation Quotient, an annual collaboration between Stagwell, Axios, and The Harris Poll tracking the most visible companies in America. Register to receive our 2022 research when it releases in May.

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This piece is part of Stagwell’s Marketing Frontiers series on the Creator Economy, Influencer Marketing, and Social Commerce. 

From new monetization channels for Creators to content formats to experiment with, Web3 will unlock a new chapter for the Creator Economy. Just as fast as influencer marketing hit its stride, this next era of the internet is forcing the players of the modern Creator Economy to rethink how influence can drive results. Authenticity, deep consumer-to-creator connections, and compelling content will still be the bread and butter of good influencer strategy. But how will Web3’s focus on a decentralized internet impact the ways creators, agencies, and brands interact? How can Creators help brands explore meaningfully in the budding Metaverse – and bring consumers along for the journey? Explore POVs from Stagwell’s marketing leaders on where the Creator Economy is headed in the Metaverse.

A New Class of Creators

John Doyle, Colle McVoy  

It’s difficult to imagine how the Metaverse will transform human existence writ large, much less how it will impact creators. To anchor speculation in something solid, it’s helpful to focus on three current aspects of the creator economy that may change the most when we turn on headsets, join in the Metaverse, and drop out of our IRL lives: expression, intimacy, and ownership.

Expression — Today, we may not think of event planners, architects, industrial engineers or sound designers as creators because our current social media access points don’t reward this type of talent. But in the Metaverse, it’s easy to imagine a new class of creators who at once will be able to plan an event, design an environment in which to hold the event (including lights and sound), and sell proprietary virtual products.

Intimacy — Following creators on social can feel like keeping up with a friend. As we interact in immersive, live experiences where creators exist in front of our goggled eyes, an already intimate experience will likely become even more so.

Ownership — The Metaverse will likely rewire the economics of how creators get paid. In a business with so many competing players — including tech platforms, talent agencies, and brands — creators have been subject to unfair business practices. They have formed non-profits to help restore balance in a still-forming industry. Like reinvented Bowie bonds, creators and their fans may co-own a creator’s work and the value it creates — in the spirit of Irene Zhao, an Instagram Influencer who explains why she created a DAO token to offer her fans.

Web3: Enter the Age of Virtual Avatars

Donetta Allen, HUNTER 

One of the issues that most creators face today is the indirect way that they earn compensation for work – they work tirelessly to excel in the industry and in turn increase the ad revenue and stock prices for the social platforms that can flip the switch on an algorithm at any time, significantly impacting the potential income of creators. Web3 and its central premise of creating a decentralized internet will provide a more direct link between creators and their fans. Expect this to increase the influence of creators who take steps to establish their footholds in this space now. These technologies, including virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchains, smart contracts, and cryptocurrencies, provide the tools to be fairly compensated for their work and allow creators and their communities to curate and claim ownership of their creations.

Ultimately, new business models centered in Web3 will lead to a more immersive, decentralized metaverse. As digital worlds evolve beyond simple games and marketing campaigns into fleshed-out worlds with avatars, digital goods, and experiences, the curious will seek guides to make the most of the experience, just as consumers currently look at Pinterest to plan a trip, or purchase items based on trending TikTok videos. Smart creators will adapt and prepare to meet – or lead – us in these digital spaces, pushing the boundaries of their current content and tapping emerging technology with the mindset to sell (or gift) it directly to their fans. Can you imagine a personalized birdwatching tour with a creator in a yet-to-be-created digital world or the opportunity to own the copyright of the first-ever video your favorite creator edited in the Metaverse? These unbelievable experiences are here, and creators and collaborative brands will lead the way in making these attainable to those who are currently only passively curious or dismissive of the vast opportunities – and income – available in future digital worlds.

 

Web3 and the Power of Nano-Influence

Sophia Fraioli, KWT Global 

The future and the way we connect is changing rapidly. The terms Web3, NFTs, and cryptocurrency inherently bring up many questions surrounding money and how we will “pay to play” in the digital future. To adequately talk about Web3, we first need to understand Web1 and Web2. While Web1 focused on the consumption of information, Web2 concentrated on creating and sharing information under a 3rd party-controlled system. Web3 has set to disrupt this system, bringing power back to creators and individuals by decentralizing the internet.

What does that mean for the creators and influencers that dominate the spaces Web2 has created? Estimates suggest U.S. influencer marketing will surpass $4 billion in 2022, leaving some to wonder if the practices and apps of Web2 will fall by the wayside once the “switch” to Web3 has become a reality.

However, the switch for these influencers from Web2 to Web3 may not be as complicated as it seems. With the decentralization of the internet that Web3 promises to bring, there are new opportunities for creators to make a name for themselves outside of the platforms that made them famous. DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) will allow creators to make money directly from their fan base without the middleman profiting off their efforts. NFTs, tokens, and cryptocurrency will enable fans to fund creators and potentially upend the existing relationship between creators and brands.

Trustworthiness is increasingly one of the most critical aspects of an influencer’s success, and with that in mind, it’s the nano-influencers who may gain the most under this shift. Authenticity is at the core of what Web3 promises. It will potentially be a place away from the control and persuasion of big business and those who find success in this new digital world will be those who are trusted most by their audiences.

Many say that those who profit most under Web2 will likely profit the least under Web3, but as Web3 unfolds, it’s up to agencies to pay close attention to this shift and see where we can fit into this new space. The best practices we have lived by for all brands in Web2 may be far more complicated in the Web3 space. NFTs will become a huge revenue source for some brands, while others may want to focus instead on activating their presence and engaging in the Metaverse. The change to Web3 won’t be a “light-switch” moment, but now is the time to start discussing and advising clients to be ready and stay close to their agencies as we look to succeed in this new digital universe.

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Jen Wood
SVP, Integrated Marketing
Allison+Partners

 

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When NIL legislation became law in July 2021, it opened the floodgates for college athletes to partner with companies and monetize their success. Historically, NIL opportunities were talked about in terms of appearances and autographs. But unsurprisingly, the bulk of all NIL deals to date have leaned on the success of digital solutions from social media posts and content to NFT creation.

The first nine months of this marketplace have seen a flurry of activity, but have also exposed a few opportunity areas:

  • Despite NIL legislation being touted as benefitting all college athletes, recent data from the platform Opendorse shows 51.1% of all NIL compensation has gone to college football players and 72.6% of all compensation has gone to male athletes.
  • Many experts say this imbalance is a result of systemic inequities that exist in sports. Brands could help correct this imbalance by purposefully crafting NIL programs that highlight a diverse representation of athletes across both men’s and women’s sports.
  • Even though there’s a desire from all stakeholders to have uniform NIL standards, there’s currently no governing body overseeing this. Depending on your industry, it’s still a bit of the Wild West in terms of who you can partner with. Rules differ by college and conference, leading some conferences to allow NIL partnerships with alcohol and sports betting companies, for instance, while other conferences and schools do not.
  • Brands must do their due diligence before approaching an athlete and hire an agency, especially if they’re in a highly regulated industry, to help navigate the constantly changing landscape and make recommendations around the athletes who can help achieve their goals.
  • There is great variability in the savviness and experience of those negotiating these deals, with some athletes represented by traditional agents and other athletes left to negotiate on their own. Some universities, such as Ohio State’s NIL Edge Team, have formed expressly to help athletes navigate this void. This creates inconsistencies in how services are priced and opens the door for certain athletes to be taken advantage of.

Partnering with a college athlete, as with any influencer, comes with risk. Not only are proper vetting and contract structure essential to a successful partnership, but athlete deals have more visibility than traditional influencer relationships. This heightens the opportunity for brands to be called out for unfair practices. Using tools, such as A+P’s Influencer Impact Score, helps provide consistent vetting and pricing guidance to ensure each deal is approached equitably.

One thing is for certain  the NIL marketplace’s size and influence will continue to grow. And athlete brand-building efforts will continue to be a huge focus, taking an even larger role in recruitment efforts. Not only will colleges seek to recruit college athletes who are already influencers and can bring that follower base to their school, but they’ll also look to market their institutions’ ability to help athletes build their personal brand by playing at the university. Expect athletes across all college sports to become savvier about their marketing potential and create an exponentially larger industry marketplace.

Jen Wood is senior vice president of Integrated Marketing at Allison+Partners. She’s spent the past 10-plus years of her career in Sports Marketing and Sponsorships overseeing all aspects of her clients sports marketing efforts – from sponsorship strategy development and partner identification, to negotiating multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals with collegiate and professional sports organizations and athletes, partnership activation, and ultimately measuring asset utilization and performance. She’s passionate about the opportunities sports marketing provides and is always ready to chat with an interested brand.

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This piece is part of Stagwell’s Marketing Frontiers series on the Creator Economy, Influencer Marketing, and Social Commerce. To view other content in the series, visit our Creator Economy page here. 

 As brands explore the Metaverse, expert investment and experimentation with digitally rendered brand ambassadors to follow. When should brands leverage virtual influencers over IRL creators? How can they navigate anxieties around virtual perfectionism, unrealistic beauty standards, and representation as they play in this space? What opportunities do virtual influencers afford that real-life creators may not? We asked influencer and social experts from around Stagwell to share their POVs:

Web3: Enter the Age of Virtual Avatars

Donetta Allen, HUNTER 

First, let’s answer the question of “what is a virtual influencer?” A virtual influencer is a fictional, computer-generated personality that acts, speaks, and posts on social media or appears in the Metaverse – like a human, but in a much more controlled way. The tech-savvy, faceless creators and brands behind virtual influencers decide how their avatar will act, dress, who they date, and what drama will – or won’t – appear on the timeline. The ability to work with a fictional character whose every move is controlled by a creator has an appeal for brands in a world full of opinions and photo re-shoots, even in a world where “authentic connection” is often a top reason for marketers to work with influencers.

That said, brands should begin exploring virtual influencers ASAP. Digital avatars are becoming increasingly common as brand partners, with companies like Adidas, Samsung, and Fortnite engaging virtual influencers for recent campaigns. It is expected that the prominence of marketers tapping into the virtual influencer marketplace will increase as the metaverse continues to advance.

Virtual influencers’ carefully curated images allow for greater messaging control, alignment with brand values, and less risk of controversy throughout the duration of the partnership. Like real creators, virtual influencers are diverse – from their ethnicity, gender, size, to interests – and brands should prioritize diversity as they do with real creators. While costly to develop, virtual influencers may be less expensive than traditional influencers to engage for brand campaigns. They are also reported to have 3x the engagement rate of traditional influencers, adding yet another compelling reason to consider virtual influencers for your next campaign. As more brands seek to work with these stylized, fictional characters and new opportunities emerge, we’ll start to see the diversification and expansion of the virtual influencer landscape so that it more closely reflects the human experience.

Virtual Influencers & Transmedia Brand Campaigns 

Natalie Goenaga, KWT Global

Digitally-rendered influencers have made a splash on our screens since 2016 when the world was introduced to Lil Miquela. Seemingly appearing out of thin air, Lil Miquela was a thoughtfully curated personification of Instagram and Instagram culture created by a startup in Los Angeles made to “question the social norms of online platforms”- while making the mysterious company millions of dollars in sponsorships. Over the last 6 years, Lil Miquela has amassed a following of over 3 million, participated in campaigns with the likes of Bella Hadid for Calvin Klein, walked with Prada for Milan Fashion Week, modeled for Chanel, Coach, Balenciaga, and named by TIME as one of “The 25 Most Influential people on the Internet.” Did I mention she has a budding career as a pop star with over 198,000 monthly listeners on Spotify? 

As the Metaverse, CGI, and AI continue to creep onto center stage, the rise of these digital influencers is sure to follow. But in a cancel-culture world that holds a magnifying glass to transparency and authenticity from creators and brands how will these perfectly engineered creators navigate the delicate landscape and how can brands appease the masses? In the example of Lil Miquela – it is worth noting that the CGI Brazilian-American 19-year-old has serious activism chops. A vocal ally, she actively supports Black Lives Matter, the Innocence Project, LGBTQ+ Life Center, the Downtown Women’s Center, and Justice for Youth. But is that enough? The digital influencer world is certainly conforming to these changes with perfectly imperfect characters that challenge the beauty industry and their inspiring backstories and diversity to conform to the new mold. And while all creators carefully tread this sensitive landscape, with virtual influencers there is a sense of more control and brand safety and stability as their presence is meticulously and carefully crafted. 

As the most active consumers of influencer content, Millennials and Gen-Z want influencers and brands to do one thing well – and that’s to keep it real. With virtual influencers, that’s admittedly a bit harder to do. Balancing the line of when to activate real influencers and those in the digital space is a new tension brands will have to navigate but provides plenty of creative and unique opportunities. Activating virtual influencers for campaigns in an overly saturated influencer market creates thumb-stopping content for those “big splash” moments – like the recent Adidas collaboration with virtual influencer RUBY9100M who designed a custom sneaker for the brand and released her debut single alongside the launch. 

Another powerful tool that can be leveraged by digital influencers? Transmedia. This newer storytelling technique can tell a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using today’s current technology. Much like a traditional 360 campaign, transmedia campaigns allow digital influencers to tell your brand’s story and transition it across multiple virtual environments with ease. A virtual influencer will remain recognizable anywhere, so brands can leverage them in a TikTok video, Instagram post, or in a video game. And when it comes to costs, brands are able to activate virtual influencers for larger-than-life ideas that may not be possible with IRL creators without breaking the bank. Want to “fly” your digital creator around the world? Want to launch a campaign with them in space? Virtually anything can become possible.

Virtual or Real, the Strategy is the Same
Kelli Goss Johnson, Allison+Partners  

Brands should approach virtual influencers as they would an IRL creator: for authentic brand partnerships, campaigns, awareness and messaging, while ensuring that the brand’s consumers and social audience fully understands that the virtual influencer is exactly that (and not a real human or animal).  Virtual influencers can be utilized over IRL creators when the brand wants more control over the content and its many aspects, in addition to creative freedom of the content developed.

Real or not, these influencers should also be ‘on-brand’ and have the same value properties as the brand, while offering loyalty, exclusivity and brand affinity to the partnership or campaign. They are also brand safe (you won’t catch them in an unflattering paparazzi moment or posting something uncomplimentary on social media) and can be activated when, where and how a brand wants them to. And while virtual influencers have been criticized for their perfectionism, so have IRL creators, leaving the door open for virtual influencers to socially share some of their more imperfect moments and make them more relatable or ‘real.’ There is also opportunity to cross both an IRL influencer into the Metaverse with a virtual influencer, supporting the authenticity of the virtual influencer while introducing the IRL influencer into a fully digital ecosystem.

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Jay Powell
SVP, Communications,
MMI Agency

 

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At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders and social distancing drove hordes of Americans to their devices to connect with family and friends. It also helped fuel more online purchases that might typically have been made in-store. Cue the rise of shoppertainment – a phenomenon at the intersection of online shopping and influencer livestreaming that brands are eager to leverage, emboldened by the success live-streamers have found across Asia-Pacific.

As an integrated communications and media firm that has remained at the forefront of marketing innovation since inception, MMI is uniquely qualified to support brands through this latest evolution of commerce. After digging into performance data, examining industry reports, and speaking with brands and influencers, we have compiled a quick start guide to help your brand execute a winning influencer livestream campaign.

Shoppertainment in the digital age is the latest way brands utilize influencers to make the social shopping experience more entertaining and authentic. Shoppertainment rests on influencer livestreaming, which is often less polished than the slickly-produced shorts created by brands and influencers for official campaigns.  For leaders worried about brand safety and consistency across platforms, this imperfect content might be troubling. But Caroline Vazzana (@cvazzana), style influencer, says the imperfection of livestreaming is its charm.  “The beauty of going live is that not everything needs to be (or can be) perfect!”

At MMI, we love helping brands connect with their target audiences in new ways and across new platforms. If you’re planning to tap into growing trends that can positively impact your bottom line, like livestreaming, our influencer marketing team has the experience to support you..

Jay Powell

SVP, Communications, MMI Agency

Livestreams Sell Out the Digital Shelf in China

In 2020, the shoppertainment took off in China; two-thirds of Chinese consumers purchased products via livestreams that year. During Taobao’s 2021 Single’s Day, China’s unofficial shopping holiday that is four times larger than Black Friday in the U.S., China’s two most famous livestreaming stars sold a total of $3 billion worth of products via separate livestreaming sessions. The verticals driving this success in China are cosmetics, beauty products, fashion, and food.

Influencer livestreaming is gaining traction, as evidenced by increasing viewership and conversion rates. Per Bloomberg, social commerce is expected to accelerate over the next few years, with U.S. sales reaching $1.2 trillion by 2025.

Instagram and TikTok Take Center Stage

Initially a photography-focused app, Instagram now prioritizes video content to keep up with its competitors, most recently with the introduction of Instagram Live Shopping. MMI facilitated a collaboration between a large skin care brand and beauty and lifestyle influencers Paola Matute (@paox33) and Melody Acevedo (@melodyslife) to promote holiday season self-care products via Instagram Live. 44% of Instagram users shop Lives weekly, making them an effective way to place your product directly in front of consumers.

Brands are also finding success on “the QVC for Gen Z,” TikTok Live, whose “Top LIVEs” category makes it easy for live content to be discovered by users on the platform. MMI executed a TikTok Live on behalf of a major hair care brand, hosted by Vazzana, to promote an innovative new hair styling product line. Viewers chatted with Caroline during the session and posed questions that she answered live, creating an interactive environment for viewers. Click-through rate to the brand’s product page exceeded campaign expectations.

Influencers can seamlessly livestream beyond social channels via a brand’s website by incorporating livestream shopping platforms like buywith and talkshoplive. This allows the audience to shop directly on the e-commerce site, along with the influencer, in real time, removing path-to-purchase friction, increasing engagement and boosting conversions. Large brands and publishers who are already livestreaming shoppable content across these platforms include Walmart, Buzzfeed and Hearst.

Best Practices for Lively Livestreaming

The world of influencer livestreaming can be daunting to brands that are accustomed to controlling every aspect of influencer content development. MMI’s philosophy for content creation is to give influencers “freedom within a framework” to do what they do best and create content they know their followers will engage. MMI compiled this list of tips to consider as you craft your influencer livestreaming strategy.

Go with the platform where your audience spends the most time..

Meet your audience where it’s already engaged to maximize the reach and life cycle of your content.

Go with someone your audience trusts.

87% of Instagram users say influencers have inspired them to make a purchase. Collaborate with an influencer your audience already looks to for advice to drive conversions.

Go with someone you trust.

Identify creators you’ve worked with in the past who will understand the nuances of your brand as well as the required FTC and platform-specific disclosure policies.

Go with the content format your audience engages with most.

Examine past organic social and influencer campaign performance to determine the content type(s) with which your audience is more likely to interact.

Go with the platform where your audience spends the most time..

Meet your audience where it’s already engaged to maximize the reach and life cycle of your content.

Livestreaming, shoppertainment, and social commerce are new domains for today’s brands. To drive results, they will need to get comfortable with leaning on influencers and ceding creative control where necessary. We’ve found, though, that the best collaborations occur when influencers are given the freedom to create what works for their audiences. Acevedo affirms that the resulting livestream “feels authentic, yet informative for the audience.” When you’re ready to see influencer livestreaming work magic for your brand, MMI’s influencer marketing team is here to support you every step of the way.

See how MMI helps brands break through the noise and stand out here.

MMI Agency is a modern brand lab where performance meets possibility. Our mission is to inspire action by combining our end-to-end approach to reaching consumers with our tenacity for data.

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With the advent of social commerce, influencers have never been more important. Global sales driven by social commerce will triple to $1.2 trillion by 2025. At the same time, user-generated content is on the rise, accounting for 39% of weekly media hours consumed by Americans. We’re living in the age of nano-influence, driven by the professionalization of the Creator Economy and brand investments in social commerce.

In the old days of influencer marketing, celebrity partnerships were strong drivers of top-of-funnel marketing. A-listers like Betty White gave brands wide-ranging exposure. No wonder brands lead with celebrities at the Super Bowl; on a stage with a hefty price tag, leveraging talent with a built-in fan base makes sense. Salesforce’s recent Big Game ad with Matthew McConaughey was a memorable callback to his 2014 hit “Interstellar.” It likely did little to drive conversion when it aired but drove conversation for days afterward.

With the rise of social commerce and performance measurement, creators boast an enviable position in today’s brand marketing playbook. In-app social marketplaces that let consumers shop the entire funnel on Instagram and TikTok mean the power of a single influencer post holds more weight than ever before. Consumers no longer need to see your website to make a sale – and it’s likely they don’t want to!

Nano-influencers are today’s driver of commerce. TikTok, more than any other platform, is driving this trend. Over the past two years, TikTok has democratized the digital world, allowing creators to reach a large audience on the app without a substantial following (and, in some cases, hardly any following at all). The algorithm prizes discovery over drudgery, priming niche content and creators with fewer than 10K followers to capture eyeballs (and results).

In this landscape, nano influencers are an authentic way for brands to connect with consumers. Frequently the tastemakers and thought leaders of their niche communities, they command the respect of small but mighty followings. Consumers are more likely to view them as friends than other-worldly celebrities, adding trust and engagement. Studies have shown that while 3% of consumers would consider buying a product in-store if promoted by a celebrity, that number jumps to 60% for a nano-influencer.

Dunkin’ recently tapped into various influencers with fewer than 50,000 followers to power its latest “coffee-first” campaign. Analysis showed nano-influencers generated higher engagement rates, with an average engagement rate of 5.2%. Dunkin’ succeeded in organically growing a support base for its coffee ambitions.

Nano influencers also can help brands drive a positive impact on diversity & inclusion. Being purposeful in curating your influencer marketing partnerships can ensure your brand does its part in platforming diverse perspectives. Consider how nano-influencers from yet-unengaged segments might supplement your core marketing activities for major product launches. Launching a new foldable exercise bike for the WFH generation? Consider partnering with TikTok influencers who produce content on career acceleration for P.O.C. talent. You never know what content may come of the effort!

As nano influencers proliferate marketing campaigns, it’s critical brands have agile, scalable solutions for influencer marketing management. Creators should be natural extensions of the marketing team. Investing in the right tech to reach, negotiate, and communicate with them is essential for success in this era of super-charged social commerce.

When leveraging the power of nano influencers, do not overlook the vetting process. Brand safety controls are key in the wild west of today’s platform-fragmented internet, as is closely managing influencer spending. Many marketers fall prey to the hidden costs of fake follower bots on their influencer efforts, which threaten to diminish a campaign’s chances of success and harm trusted influencer relationships. Bot detection is vital to ensuring brands are getting the complete picture. At Koalifyed, we leverage our platform’s built-in S.N.I.F.F. technology to help brands reach a higher R.O.I. for their influencer marketing investments.

We hear success stories every day from brands utilizing nano-influencers to hit their marketing KPIs. We predict the gap between the brands who invest in this strategy versus those who don’t will only widen in the coming years as platforms double-down on social commerce development and authentic brand marketing remains a priority for consumers.

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Christine McDermott
VP, Veritas/Meat & Produce

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This piece is part of series on Social Commerce, Influencer Marketing, and the Creator Economy. 

A decade ago, brands looked to influencer agencies to connect with the ‘who’s who’; today, they come to us to wield the transformative power of social influence through their entire marketing stack. As part of the agency that felt so strongly about the term “influencing the influencers” that we trademarked it, I am keenly aware that influencer marketing long predates the current hype that social media has generated around the industry. When we look at the prioritization of influencer marketing in today’s marketing mix, it’s no longer considered a nice to have but rather a core component of brand planning.

It wasn’t always this way, though. This has provided a fascinating opportunity to watch the shift in the marketplace from a client service perspective. In today’s creator-centric economy, brands require influencer marketing agency partners to keep apace the transformation in this space.

From Impressions to Engagement

In the days of blogs and burgeoning social media channels, the most significant opportunity influencers afforded was the chance to reach new audiences. The focus was almost exclusively on maximizing the number of impressions from influencer content. Guaranteed organic reach and high blog readership provided cost-effective ways for brands to reach audiences that otherwise may never have interacted with them. The deep relationships that influencer marketing agencies held with influencers were critical to obtaining the best earned and paid opportunities for our brand partners and allowed for agility in influencer placements.

As social channels moved into the spotlight, accounting for more media hours consumed across generations, the focus shifted to engagement. The goal was to measure the attention content could generate through authentic connection with audiences in an increasingly competitive digital world. With this, we saw the rise of micro and nano influencers who built strong relationships through two-way communication with their audiences, maintaining consistently high engagement. Trusted recommendations from the right influencers could bring your brand into the consideration set for your target audience. Dedicated audiences of nano influencers also provided an opportunity to access niche consumer segments that otherwise would be challenging for brands to find. Our key to success was pairing the right influencers with our brands, ensuring alignment on values and demographics. 

The Creator Economy

Today, getting the right message to the right person at the right time has never been more critical – or more difficult as the consumer ecosystem becomes increasingly sophisticated. New channels and content formats provide evermore opportunities to attract and engage new and existing audiences with relevant content. Moving influencer marketing from a single tactic to a full-funnel approach creates a new world of opportunity for brands, while at the same time raising countless new considerations. With all these factors to contend with, the role influencer marketing agencies take on has never been more critical. Today’s influencer marketing agency partners must help clients navigate this ever-changing world by:

  • Going beyond the numbers: As data-driven marketers, it can be attractive to make decisions based solely on the immense data we now have at our fingertips. While these are fundamental parts of our discovery and vetting processes, we believe it’s equally important to review the qualitative elements of an influencer agreement: alignment with brand values, the types of social conversations creators drive among their followings, and, importantly, any content or connections that may increase brand risk.
  • Capitalizing on available technology: Today’s digital tools provide capabilities that aid every step of the process: diving deep into audience demographics, reviewing years of content to ensure brand safety, authenticating audiences to remove bot traffic, and analyzing results. The available options can also be overwhelming. Here, the right mix of talent (agency experts with a deep understanding of the landscape) with technology (digital SaaS and DaaS tools) can supercharge campaign results. 
  • Keeping human connection at the center: True influence is built on strong connections between agencies and influencers and influencers and their audiences. Authentic connection is essential, from the relationships we build to the content we create. 
  • Letting creators be creative: Our influencers are partners in the creative process, not simply another outlet or a channel to distribute brand messages. Influencers know their audiences better than anyone. Leaning into their insights and creativity will lead to more authentic content and experiences that resonate. True partnerships with influencers allow for co-creation and collaborations that can excite and convert. 
  • Researching and reviewing: Due to the steady growth of influencer marketing, we now have a wealth of research to help inform and guide everything from partnership models to accurate approaches for optimizing reach. Every campaign is an opportunity to test, learn, and then review performance to better optimize results in the future.

There has been a tremendous acceleration in influencer marketing growth and investment. When done well, it works. When we examine the transformation of influencer marketing and the creator economy in just a few short years, it becomes clear that more evolution is to come. Leaning on agency partners with deep knowledge of the discipline, facility with the technology tools driving efficiency through the space, and authentic relationships with influencers will help brands get the most out of this fast-moving space.

 

 

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By Mark Penn, Chairman and CEO, Stagwell

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Marketing Frontiers is a new series from Stagwell exploring the methods, mediums, and messes modern marketers will grapple with over the next decade as they chart transformation in the discipline. This March, Stagwell is exploring the future of digital audio.

“Trust is local and the future of communications is personal,” is the advice one of the agencies in our portfolio, Targeted Victory, has for today’s clients looking for an edge in the marketing communications. That shows out in the data we have; per a 2021 Harris Poll study, 65% of people tend to trust news and information from local sources more than national ones – with wide-ranging implications for news literacy, political campaigning, and regional brand strategy.

Knowing this, it’s no surprise that one of the most effective media channels for mass communication remains broadcast audio. Our partners at iHeartRadio know this well; Gayle Troberman estimates radio reaches nine out of 10 Americans, spanning geographic, ideological, economic and interest divides. Why does it remain such an effective channel? Because radio is an authentic channel of communication ruled by strong personalities who’ve built credibility as local experts delivering news, information, analysis, and entertainment at the regional level. At the end of the day, with thousands of information touchpoints at the fingertips of today’s consumers, they still want to have a trusted voice be their guide into everything from the news to sports fandom.

Because transformation is cyclical and the digital investments of today mirror analog patterns of consumer engagement, brands have an easy strategy to keep an edge in the brewing audio content wars: shore up local audio personalities, content and partnerships. As the gold rush ensues around digital audio, the most effective content beyond the AAA and celebrity-driven audio series like Smartless, the most effective content will be driven by personalities that 1) command an authentic connection to their bases 2) can breed long-term loyalty 3) are viewed as truth as trustworthy sources of information.

Tactically, this means operating on two fronts: one, identifying and developing up-and-coming digital audio talent to steer the production of new podcasts, limited series, and other creative audio experiments; and two, finding existing broadcast radio hosts with compelling regional followings that can be scaled across national audiences. Where the digital acceleration of the past few years is promising is in its ability to take influence-drivers from niche audiences and cast their content to the masses. Brands – often predisposed to celebrity endorsement and partnerships — shouldn’t overlook the potential for effective content partnerships that rest on plugging into the most-listened afternoon radio personality in a key consumer region and integrating them into ongoing marketing efforts.

This strategy has the most immediate applicability to the podcasting space, which is flush with investment now as brands like Spotify double down on their offering and others foray into the category. But don’t discount the concurrent rise of voice-enabled devices. These “bots with benefits” are moving beyond the home to places like the office (our own headquarters at Stagwell is outfitted head to toe with Amazon Alexa devices), to commutes, to retail experiences, and more. Partnerships between Teladoc and Amazon Echo underscore the grip voice will have on consumers in this next chapter of connected devices. Why should these bots be voiced over with androgynous, android-like audio? Celebrity partnerships have already suffused the space – brands should take the next step and pair voice devices with strong local personalities, giving consumers the chance to get their weather report from their local radio star; or navigate the virtual grocery aisle with their favorite influencer.

The audio content wars will be a global race to drive awareness and commerce, but that doesn’t mean brands have to enter the fray as global players. Anchoring your experimentation with new digital audio marketing opportunities in a local approach is a surefire way to drive effective results.

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Amid the global consumer craving for new experiences driven by the pandemic, social audio bloomed in popularity through 2020 and 2021. A year later, some of the buzz around the platform driving the trend – Clubhouse – has fizzled, but experiments in the space from key social platforms like Twitter and Reddit, and audio superstar Spotify, show there’s still terrain to be mapped. But are consumers into social audio? What opportunities does the content create? And what are the barriers to widespread adoption and growth that brands should be on the lookout for? Stagwell’s experts from KWT Global, HUNTER, and Meat & Produce address where social audio is headed in 2022.

Niche Will Drive the Social Audio Experience 

Jessica Spar, SVP, Digital, KWT Global

Social audio isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but the bigger questions are: Who is tuned in? And where? Clubhouse was meant to be the next big thing, but its fifteen minutes of fame have passed. Was this because the format didn’t ultimately have long term potential? Or because it was a good idea with poor execution? Twitter Spaces seems to be banking on the latter, yet with significant shifts in the cultural and social landscape over the last few years, Twitter may not be primed for the success it expects.

Twitter is counting on mass appeal for Twitter Spaces based on its 300 million+ monthly users. However, the masses are moving in a different direction – younger audiences are increasingly leaning into Instagram and TikTok as their platforms of choice, with video as the dominating medium. Social audio has a completely different definition on these platforms. Where Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces focus on live conversation, TikTok and Instagram’s definition of social audio includes everything from audio remixes to sharing the latest sound trends, which doesn’t require the same level of focus, attention, and participation as the live conversational formats of Clubhouses and Twitter Spaces.  

To succeed, Twitter Spaces will need to rely on highly engaged niche interest groups, which is a model already owned by Reddit. As a platform founded on niche interest groups, Reddit is now throwing its hat into the social audio ring as well with Reddit Talk. Reddit could succeed where Clubhouse failed (and Twitter Spaces seems to be failing), as they have the framework for success built into their platform already. The platform’s subreddit model and moderation policies lend themselves well to a similar setup for live audio discussion. Clubhouse, on the other hand, was still working through the right setup for rooms when users started to lose interest, and Twitter’s struggles have come in on the moderation side of things. Without clear moderation frameworks, brands may find social audio experiences too risky.  

All to say, no clear winner has emerged in the social audio game when it comes to live conversation, so it will be interesting to see which platform, if any, can get it right! 

Platform Investment Means Social Audio is Here to Stay 
Michael Lamp, Chief Digital Officer, HUNTER 

Despite Clubhouse’s fizzle-out, there’s still a ton of heat around social audio. Twitter Spaces has outpaced all its other recent innovations and is driving a lot of thumb-stopping based on the way live Spaces appear in the mobile app (à la IG Stories…just begging to be clicked). Spotify launched its version of audio rooms – Greenroom – in July of 2021 and Facebook continues to promote its Live Audio Rooms with select Creator partners.  

Perhaps most indicative of Social Audio’s staying power, though, is Reddit’s offering: Reddit Talk. A mobile-only product for a while, it rolled out to the web version just this year, adding several new features, including the ability to listen to recorded sessions.  

Beyond these specific products offered by existing platforms, the broader trend of sensorial social is what we’re watching, buoyed by the staying power of podcasts, ASMR and long-form, audio-as-video content. From sight to sound to virtual realities in the metaverse simulating touch, where will the fight for consumer attention take us next?     

Content Creators Hold the Key for the Future of Social Audio 

Christine McDermott, VP, Meat & Produce   

Amidst the “we’re all in this together” enthusiasm of 2020 (remember after work Zoom drinks? Yea, sorry to remind you…) friends, families and companies jumped into the online world headfirst. The need for connection, exacerbated by the pandemic, was real but screen fatigue quickly set in. This combination created a gateway for an explosion of audio content. While it appeared to have been spurred on by our “unprecedented times,” the audio movement had been building for years with the groundwork laid by the increasing popularity of podcasts.  

This brings us back to Clubhouse: despite downloads having plummeted after the initial hype, every major social platform has continued to invest in the development of audio. Think Twitter Spaces, Facebook Live Rooms and Spotify Greenroom. Notably, the names of these efforts focus on referencing physical locations, highlighting the opportunity audio provides for greater connection and inclusion across hybrid brand ecosystems. Even LinkedIn has recently jumped on the bandwagon, extending their live events to include audio-only events. Audio-only can level a playing field in terms of providing engagement opportunities without judgment on appearance or location (i.e. no need for staged Zoom backgrounds…) 

No social form of social media is an island, or could possibly exist in isolation, and thus the popularity of audio has bloomed beyond audio-only channels. For years, the advice brands and agencies heard from Facebook was to design content for sound-off as well as sound-on. This was based on the insight that most users would consume content while silently scrolling through feeds. Now users discover cultural moments by tapping into trending audio on TikTok; the audio content drives the cultural relevance consumers are seeking in their entertainment consumption.  

The key to the future of audio lies in the hands of creators, both from a platform and consumer perspective. The possibilities here are immense: since it is more cost effective to create high-quality audio than video, audio’s proliferation will enable new and underrepresented voices to enter the mainstream. Additionally, audio content and interactions allow for deeper discussions around key issues we face today while simultaneously enabling a greater level of empathy to be built between listeners. Imagine the nuance that voice provides enhancing conversation and discourse, as opposed to the impersonal, text-based comment battles we see across social media so often. Through strategic creator partnerships, our brands can find authentic ways to enter the conversations that are matter to their consumers.  

With the ongoing evolutions we are seeing in this space – from increasing formats and channels to greater accessibility options – audio will continue to play a more important role in our social mix, from channel planning to creative development.

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