The CMO Summit: Influencer as Product Developer, ROI-Oriented Authenticity & Creativity at Scale

The relationships between brands and influencers are getting deeper, with creators driving their fans to the stores to take products off shelves, brands incorporating creators to the product development phase and marketers distributing “creativity at scale,” said leading industry CMOs at The CMO Summit hosted by Sysomos on Monday, May 14 in New York City.

WHOSAY CMO Paul Kontonis, The Shorty Awards founder Greg Galant and Gen.Video President Jennifer Thorpe joined moderator and Digiday reporter Kerry Flynn in the panel ‘Behind the Paywall: Truths on the ROI of Influencer Marketing and Paid Media’ to talk about the current state of branded content and what the future holds for this increasingly important part of the marketing mix.  

 Flynn, Galant, Kontonis and Thorpe discuss influencer marketing's latest trends at The CMO Summit presented by Sysomos 

Flynn, Galant, Kontonis and Thorpe discuss influencer marketing's latest trends at The CMO Summit presented by Sysomos 

“It all started with Nike working with an influencer called Michael Jordan,” half-joked Galant when asked by Flynn about the origins of influencer marketing. The co-Founder and CEO of The Shorty Awards and Muck Rack added that, while the practice of using celebrity endorsements is not new, the current scale of influencers and their niches have created a challenge for brands, which now have to deal with potentially hundreds of creators in different business areas.

“The terminology is fairly recent,” added Kontonis. The WHOSAY CMO explained that the influencer marketing practice was becoming “standardized,” making it more predictable and a more powerful component in the marketing mix. “It is considered another form of advertising,” he explained, which is also measured as media, playing a much bigger role than it’s ever had.

“A decade ago, word of mouth and buzz came from a friend or a family member,” said Thorpe. “Today, it’s about the influencers. Why? Because of authenticity.” The Gen.Video founder and president explained that the audience relates to influencers not because they are famous but because they organically built their “street cred” on a particular topic in which they can be trusted.  

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The panel went on to discuss the topic of authenticity as it relates to the size of the influencer. “There’s a tendency to assume micro-influencers are more authentic,” said Kontonis, adding that recent data shows that organic reach of a sponsored post is so limited on social that you can't make generalized assumptions about authenticity based upon a number of followers. In addition, it’s more expensive to amplify the branded content from micro-influencers than it is from creators with larger audiences. The bottom line is, he added, is the creator the right fit creatively for the brand?

But how do we find the right influencer, asked Flynn.

“Look at the list of more recent Shorty Awards winners,” said Galant.

“There are plenty of platforms that help brands find influencers. But for us, it’s what happens next,” said Thorpe. She added that, while authenticity and tracking KPIs such as comments, likes and shares was important, brands should ask themselves, “does this influencer move my bottom line?” That, she said, as well as understanding the dynamics of content creation is critical.

Kontonis introduced the concept of affinity as illustrated by the way WHOSAY pairs fans of a particular brand with fans of a particular influencer, even if he or she has never talked about said brand or product in public. “You may find out that fans of a brand really love a particular actress,” he said. He went on to add that by further reaching out and communicating with the talent you can determine their professionalism, brand safety and authenticity to the brand.

After the moderator veered into the legal aspect of influencer marketing, Galant, who explained that most of The Shorty Awards’ activations around influencers focused on earned media, admitted that FTC compliance had become a bigger part of the conversation.

The Shortys founder also added that, “The partnerships are just getting deeper between brands and influencers.” He added that influencer marketing is going beyond social media alone and into television and other kinds of media. Furthermore, Galant explained, brands are even incorporating influencers into the earlier stages of product development as opposed to casting them to promote an already finished product.

Lastly, Kontonis shared WHOSAY’s vision for the future. Recently acquired by Viacom, the company is thinking about influence marketing as “creativity at scale.” “During the last couple years, we really started analyzing the performance of talent versus brand-driven content and learned the former outperforms the latter by far,” he said. “Viacom has a brand safe advertising inventory available to brands within digital platforms and on linear,” Kontonis explained. “We are now packaging talent-driven creative for brands with all that inventory at scale. The idea is to use talent to create really great advertising and run it in all the places where your audience lives.”

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Header image credit: Alex Iby