It’s hard to talk about mar­ket­ing these days with­out talk­ing about influ­encers. A recent ANA sur­vey revealed three-quar­ters of nation­al adver­tis­ers now lever­age influ­encer mar­ket­ing, and 43% are plan­ning to increase their spend­ing on cat­e­go­ry in the next 12 months. The word “influ­encer” is every­where, tossed around by media agen­cies, mar­ket­ing strate­gists and brands so much in the past sev­er­al years that it has near­ly lost all mean­ing.

The cre­ator com­mu­ni­ty, how­ev­er, by-and-large steers clear of the use of the term, while the younger gen­er­a­tion attrib­ut­es it to a par­tic­u­lar type of online per­son­al­i­ty. It’s embraced but mis­used world­wide, often stat­ed in exec­u­tive meet­ings as a catch-all for the mod­ern con­tent cre­ator.

It’s time to evolve and rede­fine. For brand mar­keters who tru­ly want to res­onate with their audi­ences, these dis­cus­sions should be more about “frien­der­tain­ment” — tai­lored, com­pelling con­tent that engages tar­get audi­ences by act­ing as a friend who under­stands the types of media with which they want to engage.

Changing the model

Sure, you can dish out mon­ey to have the lat­est influ­encer list your prod­uct on a social post. But will that real­ly move the nee­dle for your busi­ness or pro­duce ide­al results? Prob­a­bly not.

To suc­cess­ful­ly dis­trib­ute a brand mes­sage, com­pa­nies need to con­sid­er a broad­er ques­tion — what is influ­ence as defined in mar­ket­ing terms? From there, brands can begin to iden­ti­fy the mes­sages and dis­tri­b­u­tion (i.e cam­paigns, cre­ators and con­tent) that will res­onate most with tar­get audi­ences. Strate­gi­cal­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing and engag­ing with these audi­ences requires a thought­ful mix of art, sci­ence, and human cap­i­tal to max­i­mize results.

Before imple­ment­ing any cam­paign, it’s essen­tial to ful­ly under­stand: your audi­ence, the places and plat­forms where they spend their time and how and why they engage with con­tent on those chan­nels. We all know that younger demo­graph­ics are spend­ing more time on social than tra­di­tion­al TV or oth­er medi­ums. But what ecosys­tems are they tru­ly inter­act­ing with, what con­tent do they engage with beyond views or likes and how do they act indi­vid­u­al­ly on these plat­forms?

Fur­ther­more, brands should also have a deep under­stand­ing of the plat­forms their audi­ences are on: what types of con­tent are shared; what per­forms bet­ter and why? Why do audi­ences have per­son­al con­nec­tions through the plat­form? Are videos or sta­t­ic images the pre­ferred method of con­tent? Brands hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on social media must know the answers to these ques­tions and how their audi­ence is nat­u­ral­ly behav­ing on key plat­forms before cre­at­ing con­tent that gets out rel­e­vant mes­sages to these chan­nels.

Threading together themes

As brands dig deep into the social and dig­i­tal worlds, they will begin to get a sense of what trends res­onate most with their audi­ence. It’s impor­tant to iden­ti­fy com­mon themes or threads through the TV shows, cre­ators, and con­tent they view. For instance, we have found that escapism is extreme­ly pop­u­lar with younger mil­len­ni­al audi­ences. They want to get a break and dis­con­nect from the real world, even in their free time and are enter­tained by con­tent that brings them away from real­i­ty.

From that dis­cov­ery, brands should ideate expe­ri­ences that fit this mold — through immer­sive expe­ri­ences, for exam­ple. Allow your audi­ence to get com­plete­ly caught up in the con­tent you are pro­vid­ing, whether that’s through allow­ing them to par­tic­i­pate or vote on future sto­ry­lines or cre­ate con­tent of their own that is fea­tured on your plat­forms. Incor­po­rate acti­va­tions in real life that cor­re­spond to your dig­i­tal or social con­tent and allow fans to get up close and per­son­al with their favorite cre­ators.

Addressing the in-house trend

Anoth­er aspect for brands to con­sid­er is the shift we’re see­ing with tak­ing influ­encer mar­ket­ing in-house to build a longer-term strat­e­gy, which I believe makes sense and is a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion as the space has grown up and is prov­ing effec­tive.

That said, I think it’s impor­tant to note that brands who are tak­ing ser­vices in-house are gen­er­al­ly either lever­ag­ing influ­encer tech-part­ner­s/SaaS for more scal­able, turn-key, and PR-like approach­es. Many are still using out­side part­ners to help with tal­ent match­ing and exe­cu­tion.

Wrapping up

Brands that lever­age the idea of frien­der­tain­ment will nat­u­ral­ly fit into the places and types of con­tent where their audi­ences already are. Instead of push­ing a sales mes­sage, or hav­ing an influ­encer do so, they should invest in cre­at­ing con­tent that leaves audi­ences want­i­ng more from the brand — not less.

The future of brand mar­ket­ing lies here. It’s not a ques­tion of how to get your mes­sage front and cen­ter, but instead how to cre­ate con­tent and con­cepts that authen­ti­cal­ly tie in your mes­sages to con­ver­sa­tions already being had.