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Opinion

Do Cookie-Cutter Briefs Kill Your Influencer Relationships in 2020?

An influencer brief is everything — the foundation on which a successful campaign will be made or not. Here are practical tips on nailing your influencer briefs to ensure long-term collaboration.

Influencer marketing has long departed the murky netherworld between PR and marketing. A consequential discipline in its own right, it has increasingly proved a potent tool for not only moving the needle on brand perception, reputation, and lift but also for flat out driving sales. That’s why influencer marketing should now sit at the core of any multi-channel marketing approach.

Content creators are an impactful,  prolific force and inspire meaningful conversations among consumers. If the past several months have taught us anything, it’s that the most agile and crafty creators can drive unprecedented success. 

Well-executed campaigns all start with a mutual understanding between influencers and brands —a solid alignment of expectations. As with any project delivered by a creative player—such as an agency—an influencer brief sits at the core. That brief, in short, is everything — the foundation on which a successful campaign will be made or not. 

Getting the influencer’s attention

Entry into working relationships with the best influencers is often doomed from the start because the brief misses the mark. Marketers tend to grasp onto the misguided notion that they need to be in total control of influencer-created content.

Why? The unshakable fear that in order to stay on message— to be on brand—the content needs to almost literally mirror the brand’s marketing lingo. That rigidity can be stifling.  Brands that don’t understand this simply don’t appreciate the essential added value of influencers.

The influencer is the gateway to the consumer who brands desire to reach —the filter through which the brand’s marketing language is tweaked, transformed, or iterated into vernacular the prospective consumer will understand organically enough to ignite genuine emotional engagement. As with any proposal, a brief to an influencer needs to get them excited about working with the brand. If you present a cookie-cutter brief, they’ll simply look for the quickest exit.    

Working with professional influencers is like applying for a job

Whether you’re seeking a long-term collaboration, content creation, or brand ambassadorship, establishing a good relationship starts with setting up an effective outreach program. 

It can be more effective to reach out with a very personal message (via the influencer’s preferred contact method and not through blanket direct messaging) to the influencer or her manager briefly highlighting the project. Don’t hit them with KPI’s, hashtags, and delivery demands in the first outreach. Spark their interest and speak to their expertise and the kinds of topics they create content around.

After all, you should be interested in working with that particular influencer for a reason, and a quick outline is all you need to offer in order to gauge their interest. Only after the content creator has expressed some interest should you provide the entire brief.

Your brief is your chance to sell yourself to creators who might be weighing multiple offers. The enthusiasm you generate with it not only influences the number of Yeses you receive, but it can also mean getting more Yeses from the top tier influencers on your target list.

That’s not all. The more enthused an influencer is to work with you, the more willing she’ll be to agree on a wide range of terms. Even prominent influencers will relax their rates, for example, to work with brands that align with their aesthetic and values. So it’s essential to put your best foot forward. 

Influencer collaborations

Influencer collaborations have occasionally come under heavy media scrutiny so getting the brief right is vital. Influencer briefs should detail the wider campaign strategy while putting influencer activity into context so that influencers understand where they fit in the puzzle and thereby more easily align their content to a common goal. 

Brands shouldn’t make the mistake of using a briefing as an opportunity to simply tell an influencer exactly what to do. Influencers know their audience, and what resonates with them more intimately than anyone, and listening to their creative input will result in a far more efficient, impactful, and authentic collaboration. 

Creating influencer briefs

Here is an excerpt of an influencer brief from a client for a gifting campaign (courtesy The Chillery).

  1. Campaign details at a glance

Keeping this section short and sweet is essential and puts an influencer in a creative mode from the get-go. Personally, I think starting your brief this way rather than with company background and lengthy details about the campaign and products is a more clear and effective way of immediately conveying the campaign’s desired objective. In other words, it’s the best way to connect with the influencer’s creative sensibilities.

  1. About the brand

Of course, it’s also important to give influencers a bit of background about the brand, client or agency with whom he’ll be collaborating. Just as brands routinely conduct research before selecting an influencer you should openly acknowledge that the influencer ought to do the same.

An introductory section of a brief can convey in plain terms what the brand stands for, which, in turn, helps both parties determine if they are a good ‘fit’. Providing this information puts the campaign in context for the influencer, helping them understand the overall motivation for the project.

About the campaign

To help focus influencer content production it pays, as mentioned earlier, to outline the wider campaign goals for the business. Briefs should share with influencers the central point of the project and inform how their piece fits into the puzzle. Is the aim to build awareness or drive sales?

One caveat I’d like to add here that you should always distinguish between a gifting and a paid campaign. Gifting activities should always go through a similar onboarding process after an influencer has agreed to collaborate.

Nevertheless, the briefing itself doesn’t need to be a treatise. It shouldn’t be lengthy and unwieldy to read—filled with marketing lingo and demands that would make any reader feel the walls are closing in. If money doesn’t exchange hands, a brand needs to quell the tendency to be that control freak who spews demands. The most important thing is to not constrain the content creator partnership through too much information, or lack of it. A clear, concise brief grants influencers the freedom to create content that feels authentic to their personal style and for their audience, while still nodding to the brand’s expectations.

For gifting partnerships, legal aspects can be woven into the briefing at the end, such as adhering to official guidelines disclosing the partnership agreement etc.

For larger partnerships that involve high payouts, a detailed contract is always recommended to protect both sides.

Setting the scene

It’s hard for marketers not to micromanage— to let go and allow an influencer to independently create content on their behalf. Ultimately who knows the brand better than the brand? But the truth is the content creator knows her audience and specifically what kind of content converts, without hard selling. 

If the brand puts shackles on the influencer’s creative content process, the result will often look like design by committee—some shoehorned marketing stunt easily detectable as a corporate ad. The very thing that turns consumers off and likely not a realisation of the brief. The brand surely won’t get anything out of the collaboration. KPI’s will have been unmet, leading some to mistakenly question the wisdom of using influencers in the first place. 

As for the creator, she might even lose some loyal followers since she’ll appear as a sell-out. Followers aren’t stupid. They know influencers are attached to brands because most of us are. We’re all consumers. But we don’t follow influencers to watch ads. We watch the influencers for the exciting and entertaining content they produce. And we’ll be more likely to take a serious look at a brand our favourite influencers appear attached to if it feels like a genuine connection—an integral part of the influencer’s identity rather than just another brand they’re shilling for.

Influencer marketing does not work like traditional marketing, and therein lies its power.

The not so nitty-gritty details

There’s nothing wrong with detailed creative direction. But it should never impinge on the influencer’s craft. Detailed shouldn’t mean dictatorial. 

If a marketer describes a vision of a person walking on a vast field with a voice-over employing a particular tone and uttering very specific language, all meant to convey the feeling of freedom and nature, the message here is “we want to convey freedom and nature”. Not: “you should put someone on a vast field with this particular voice over etc etc“. 

Still, some points are vital, so the content creator has a framework from within he can operate with confidence. 

One of my pet peeves are dos and don’ts. They often times sound condescending and insulting. However, some highly regulated industries need to spell out a few points to pay attention to, like the CBD sector as well as the alcoholic beverage and the gaming industry.

The target audience, desired posting times, promotional codes or special links, the hashtag and tagging strategy, and a suggestion of how both sides agree on the final content should be part of this section. 

Mood boards and Inspiration

A nice touch is to keep influencer briefs fresh, vibrant, and engaging with a creative style guide. Include an image mood board with any visual stimulation to echo the desired look and feel of the content required. Use the brief to provide examples that will inspire artistic and imaginative ideas, and allow influencers to retain creative control, led by a clear vision. You can also share past campaign content and press coverage featuring the brand story.

An influencer will most likely have their own signature aesthetic that they would need to adhere to for content to remain authentic. However, this can be discussed in more detail during the briefing process, to ensure both parties are coming out of this collaboration satisfied and happy, hopefully, to continue their partnership for campaigns to come.

The many forms of influencer briefs

Influencer briefs can take many forms – written documents, slide presentations, mood boards, conference calls, or face-to-face discussions. The common element is that it’s a mutual learning and planning process, with both parties outlining what they can bring to the table. 

Brands that skip the briefing stage or opt for a quick bullet-point approach risk losing a vital connection with the influencer and may jeopardise the opportunity to build fruitful relationships and secure future support. Think of your potential relationship with influencers as a world of ideas with your brand at the centre of it. The brief is the gateway, and it’s offering a bountiful, limitless landscape.

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