Regardless of the industry segment or specific details of the campaign, the best influencer relations programs have one thing in common: the value exchange between brand and influencer is balanced. Each gives something of value to the other, both are satisfied with the exchange and nobody feels taken advantage of.
In paid media like advertising, this exchange is easy to understand. Publisher — whether online or off, broadcast or print — develops an advertising package based on audience demographics and content. Company pays an agreed-upon rate for its ad to appear within the media vehicle. Publisher gets money; advertiser gets eyeballs.
In influencer relations, the equation is a little more complex, but it’s not rocket science.
For the influencer, balanced value means that the program offers something interesting and relevant to his or her interests or activities, and the “ask” — what the brand hopes the influencer will do as a result of the offer — is proportionate to what the influencer has or will receive from the brand. And let’s be clear — there’s always an ask, even if it’s only implied and the pitch includes the oft-repeated words, “if you choose to write about this on your blog…”
If the company asks too much of the influencers — for example, multiple posts and status updates in exchange for a few tubes of toothpaste — the value equation is unbalanced.
From the company side of the equation, the cost of the program has to be justified by the results. That means setting, and measuring, realistic objectives, and culling out programs that don’t deliver. The best way to do this is to build long term relationships with the online influencers that truly matter for your brand.
I tend to prefer simple programs aimed at small numbers of influencers so the brands can really focus on the “fit” with the influencer and add sufficient value to the pitch. Plus, we all like to feel special, and nothing says “not special” like a promotion aimed at hundreds.
One of the best influencer relations programs I’ve seen recently (and full disclosure, I was a beneficiary of it) was the Gap’s outreach prior to the 2010 BlogHer conference. The company reached out to the conference speakers, offering us a styling appointment at our local Gap where we’d get to try on the new Fall clothes.
The initial email was fairly vague; while I’m sure most of the women assumed we’d get a gift card of some sort, there was no specific dollar amount mentioned. The fun and convenience of a styling appointment at a local store, combined with the fact that many women in the BlogHer community were already acquainted with the WOM agency doing the outreach was enough. It was easy to say yes because we didn’t have to do much.
The genius of the program was its generosity. Instead of the token gift card I’m sure many (including me) expected, every speaker got a $400 clothing allowance. That’s two or three outfits, depending on what you picked.
There was no requirement to wear the clothes at the BlogHer conference, although it was clear that the brand hoped the participants would. In the document circulated to the stores (yes, I peeked — it was attached to the rack of clothes I was picking from), we were described as influential women, and the reason for the promotion our participation as speakers at the conference where our clothes would be seen by hundreds of other women.
As for results, many speakers tweeted and blogged about their experience and most wore their new Gap clothes during the conference. Quite simply, we were grateful for the generosity and it was fun sharing the experience with friends and fellow speakers. And that’s where the company gets its value in the exchange.
Smart marketing all around. Had the gift been less generous, I’m certain the activity at and around BlogHer would have been far more muted. Had the outreach numbers been smaller — only a select few top blogs versus all the speakers, regardless of size of blog or niche — the impact would have been far less. Had the outreach been focused on the top mom or style blogs that normally get such offers, it would have been just another influencer relations program. Instead, by reaching out to the small group of speakers, the Gap recognized the women for their achievements. That’s special.
No influencer relations program escapes without a few criticisms, and the Gap Magic promotion is no exception. I think there would have been less criticism if folks were more aware that BlogHer strives to have 80% new speakers every year. The speaker roster doesn’t equate to an A-list of any kind, unless smart accomplished women willing to share their knowledge and experiences with each other has become one.
If that’s the case, I call that an Amen-List, not an A-list. This year, I think there were more small, niche bloggers than ever before speaking on topics like loving your small blog and work-life balance. For some, it was their first time ever speaking at an industry conference.
The Gap Magic program was not an official BlogHer sponsor program. Had it been, perhaps there would have been more emphasis on the merit basis for the selection of participants. Attention clothing brands: something to think about for next year.
As for ROI, it’s too soon to tell, but the program must have been pretty inexpensive, given the total costs of retail marketing. According to agency Brand About Town, about 100 women participated. That’s $40,000 in clothes at retail price. Even if you add in a generous amount for overhead and agency costs beyond the wholesale cost of the clothes, it’s still far less expensive than an ad in a fashion magazine.
On principle, with BlogHer, I tend to prefer the programs of official conference sponsors because the sponsor fees offset registration costs for the attendees. In my next post, I’ll talk about the sightseeing trip to Ellis Island that sponsor Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project did the day before the conference started. Preview: it rocked!