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What VidCon Revealed About the Future of Brand and Creator Collaboration

These are the three keys to successful influencer marketing according to the experts.

Jun 28, 2018

Trust. Authenticity. Creative Control. Those were the three phrases thrown around in the packed conference rooms at VidCon last weekend, where brands and creators shared the best tips on how to make a relationship work.

VidCon, which ran from June 20 to June 23, featured more than 30,000 attendees: including creators, community members (aka fans) and industry people. Several panels were held on the industry level that presented best practices for brands looking to work with creators. It also served as a way for these creators to get their names in front of brands in an attempt to monetize their content.

In the event’s keynote, Brian Solis, principal analyst of Altimeter Group, said influencer marketing is only a sliver of most B2B and B2C companies’ marketing outlays. He noted that the desire for as few as 5 percent of brands are interested in building relationships with influencers—as opposed to signing one-off campaigns with them—according Traackr and Altimeter, a Prophet company. Solis’ soon-to-be published report, Influencer 2.0, reveals that most companies are still in the early stages of influencer marketing, which is why the conference rooms at VidCon featuring discussions on how to work with an influencer were packed with representatives from brands and agencies.

Relationships and loyalty, built on trust and authenticity are the future of influencer marketing, according to Solis—a sentiment echoed by many of the experts and creators at VidCon, who shared the best practices for influencer marketing in the current climate.

Authenticity and Trust Are Key

Sit down at any VidCon panel on the third floor industry track and you’ll hear points made for “authenticity” and “trust.” Brands are looking for creators that align with their message and content, while creators are only going to work with brands that they believe in or already support. The perfect concoction of the two is considered authentic by audiences.

“It becomes how can you make something that doesn’t feel so branded that it turns your audience off while at the same time being something that feels authentic to your brand,” Benny Fine told the crowd when asked how the company he co-founded company, FBE, chooses its sponsorships during a panel discussion on how brands and agencies can work well with creators.

“People will be so much more receptive to something that’s already currently happening in their videos and so will the fans.”

When looking for a creator that could work for a brand, professional dancer Matt Steffanina, 31, who has more than 8 million followers on YouTube, thinks of it pretty simply.

“What am I always wearing in my videos? I’m wearing Jordans, I’m wearing a fitted hat,” he says. “If you are a brand and you notice somebody is always tagging you in photos: that’s a great opportunity. People will be so much more receptive to something that’s already currently happening in their videos and so will the fans. They actually get excited like ‘Oh my god congrats you’re finally working with so and so!’”

For a popular personality to support just any brand that throws money at them it can seem disingenuous. In Steffanina’s case, Antonio Brown has always been his favorite football player and he often wears his jerseys in his dance videos. He recently worked with Brown on a commercial for the video game Madden and when it was announced, Steffanina’s fans were happy for him because one of his dreams was coming true—and he was getting paid for it. That partnership allowed his fans to trust that he was only supporting things he truly cared about or was interested in.

dance collab w the GOAT!!! im shook

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The Outloud Group is an agency that specializes in influencer marketing, with 700 influencer clients and about 15 to 20 go-to brands. Kay-Anne Reed, an account executive at the Detroit-based agency, said that they’ve worked hard to build relationships with their clients so that they know what feels authentic to both the brand and creator.

“We never want an influencer to talk about something they don’t want to talk about. so it very much is we’re bringing them options,” Reed said.

“When it makes sense for the audience they’re not going to be mad about it,” Mayumi Skorski, growth associate of The Outloud Group added. “They wanna make sure it’s something that their audience is excited about.”

Build Relationships and Go All In

The creators who spoke at VidCon said brands should consider longer term deals and rather than just one-off sponsorships. They all were clear that VidCon was not only a way to meet fans, but also to put themselves in front of brands and get a better idea of company culture.

“One of the main reasons that we come [to VidCon] is to have meetings with brands,” Steffanina explained. “When you really meet somebody and look them in the eyes and get a chance to talk to them you get a vibe for who they are and how they like to run business and what kind of videos they’re looking for and you can instantly tell if there’s a connection. Which is why it’s so valuable for us to be here and to take the time to really talk to the brands and the people behind them.”

“You just don’t have a guaranteed audience, even though you have millions of followers. So, for your millions of subscribers, you just can’t guarantee any or all of them to see your content because the game has changed.”

Fine said that brands and creators want to build deeper relationships and that companies should considering going “all in” with certain channels or personalities in order to get the best return.

“The whole concept of ‘we’re trying to do influencer marketing’ is something that gets talked about a lot and yes that might be part of what you need to do, but you should be identifying who are those influential channels that you feel are such a good fit for the brand and go all in,” he explained. “I think one of the biggest issues is repeat business… You can go all in with that particular brand and that’s only going to give you much higher return over time.”

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Stacy Hinojosa, of the gaming channel StacyPlays, piggy-backed off Fine’s remarks, suggesting brands be more open to considering a two or three video deal

“Instead of splitting your budget against three videos on three separate channels, consider taking a risk on one creator and sponsoring three videos,” Hinojosa added. “I think you’ll get a much more solid result.”

Another point: putting paid strategies behind videos is now a necessity because of YouTube’s new algorithms.

According to Harvey Schwartz, EVP of talent at WHOSAY, “You just don’t have a guaranteed audience, even though you have millions of followers,” he said during a panel discussion with creator Brent Rivera. “So, for your millions of subscribers, you just can’t guarantee any or all of them to see your content because the game has changed.”

Give Creators Creative Control

Creators were clear: having creative control was one of their main priorities in partnering with a brand.

“Some degree of creative control is key, key, key.”

Andrea Brooks, of the channel Andrea’s Choice, which has more than 4.2 million followers, said some of her best partnerships were the ones where brands let her talk the way she normally would, without hitting on talking points or reading off a script.

“I know my viewers and when I’m just rambling on about something for so long, I honestly feel like it’s counterproductive like out of anger they don’t want to buy your product because I made them sit through two minutes of selling this lotion,” she explained.

Fine also named creative control as his top priority, describing the importance of making demands known up front. He explained FBE outlines in its contract to adhere to 50% of the notes from a brand.

“You’ll always find the brands that haven’t worked a lot in this space, if you’re not negotiating and talking with them always, some degree of creative control is key, key, key,” he shared. “Being familiar with what the channel does is also really great. Understand why you want to work with creator.”

Andrew Huang, added that a huge long list of talking points never works.  “That’s just not good content,” he said.

Of course creators are hoping to take full creative control as they’re accustomed to creating their own content, but for brands, it can be a scary thought. As Cassie Roma, a media and brand strategist said in a panel discussion revolving around the impact of influencers that she thinks of the brands she works with as her own children, so it’s hard to let go of the power.

Reed said The Outloud Group has ways of tackling the muddy landscape of brands and creators fighting for creative control: it’s all about expectations. For example, a brand can offer eight talking points with the expectation three of them will be talked about “to allow people to pick and choose and give them the full picture so they know how to tell the full story and how to make it their own.”