Video Essentials

Brands React: Why Is it So Hard to Let Go and Trust Influencers?

Ever since online video influencer marketing has been a concept, one piece of advice always crops up: Brands need to stop trying to control everything and trust the influencers. Influencers know how to speak to their audiences, the experts say. When brands are hands-off, the final product is more authentic. Well, now it’s time for the brands to react.

Kamal Bhandal

While that advice might be sound, it isn’t easy. A conversation with Invisalign at VidCon, where Invisalign was a major sponsor, led to the following interview. Online video influencer marketing is ideal for Invisalign, since the product is mostly sold to young people, and the company has worked with many of the biggest names on YouTube, such as Kurt Hugo Schneider, JoJo Siwa, and Alex Aiono. Invisalign has benefited from its relationships (as have the many online stars who now have straighter teeth) and it will continue to work with influencers. But that doesn’t mean letting go and trusting the talent is easy.

The following is a lightly edited interview with Kamal Bhandal, senior director of consumer marketing for Align Technology, about why influencer marketing can be a scary proposition, even for companies that have used it for years.  Tell me some of the online video related influencer projects that Invisalign has done.

Kamal Bhandal: Sure, so we have been working with influencers for a few years now and one of the examples of the campaigns we have worked on is our partnership with AwesomenessTV. We just came out of VidCon which you’re familiar with, as that’s where we met. As we worked with Awesomeness for VidCon, we planned the program so that we could really connect in with teens in such a way that was authentic and native to how they want to consume content.

Some of the content that we’ve worked with Awesomeness on have been influencer-led, where the influencer actually uses the product, uses the Invisalign aligners, and then is talking about or sharing with our audience how that product fits into their lives. They do it in their own voice, in their own natural way of talking about the highlights of the product. Other things that we have done have been much more curated where we work with influencers or different audiences, maybe even real users of Invisalign, from the everyday perspective, who will talk about, in a much more curated way, what their experiences with Invisalign are. It’s been a combination of both, I would say. Both a brand-led curated story as well as influencer-led and having influencers talk about their own personal experiences in their own voice. I understand several online influencers have straighter teeth thanks to their partnerships with you. Could you give me some names of creators that you’ve worked with?

Kurt Hugo Schneider

Kamal Bhandal: Sure, so through our Awesomness program we’ve worked with creators such as Jordyn Jones, we’ve worked with Karl Hugo Schneider, we’ve worked with JoJo Siwa as another example. Those are just a few of the names that come to mind. Ever since influencer marketing has been a thing—which has been several years now—the prevailing wisdom has been let influencers do their thing. The more brands can step back and get out of their way, the more authentic and effective the message will be. We are still hearing that repeated even up to this VidCon. I understand that it’s not always that easy for brands. Is that what you’ve experienced?

Kamal Bhandal: Yeah, I think that as brands and as marketers, we’ve all had a set way of creating content. And that set way of creating content has always been a controlled curated story that takes months and months of planning and is told in exactly the way in which the brand wants it to be told. And I think that what’s been hard for brands has been to pivot into the new world, which is much more influencer-led and let go of that traditional model, which has been that perfectly curated and edited story.

I think that what makes it hard for brands is one, to really let go of that control, but two, also to be in an environment where you’ve got some new things that you have to consider as a brand when you are having an influencer tell your story. It’s a different way of going to market that requires us to think differently, we’ve got to work really closely with influencers to ensure that they understand who we are as a brand, that they understand what can and cannot be said about the brand, but are doing it in a way that is still in their own voice, however the style of voice that might be, right? If their voice is much more of a humorous voice, we want to make sure that they’re still leaning into what is true to themselves and what connects in with their audience, but ensure that as they’re doing that, that they’re not saying anything about the brand that is not true. So we have to work really closely with them to ensure that they are able to articulate in their own words what those benefits for the brand might be. In your experience, where are the biggest pain points in adopting this new style of hands-off marketing?

Jordyn Jones

Kamal Bhandal: I think the biggest pain point first, is for brand marketers to accept the fact that you’re not going to have this traditional type of story being the output. What I mean by that is very, very specific messaging around here’s exactly how I want the benefit of the product stated. Here’s exactly what the key reasons to believe are, and here is what the story arc should be. And I think that that’s the biggest hurdle. I think once you get past that, I think that then if you start to think about some of the pain points, it really comes down to, what is true for your particular industry. So for us, as an example, being a medical device company, it’s important for us that we ensure that influencers understand what the product does and what it doesn’t do, and so that’s been key for us to continue to work really closely with them on. Just to really ensure that there’s not anything written about the product that’s off label. How do top executives at the brand respond to this new style of advertising, executives who aren’t in marketing?

Kamal Bhandal: I think that largely, everyone understands that as the marketing world changes, so do we. And I think that what becomes really important for all of us at the ground level is to ensure that we are keeping our individual organizations up to speed on how the marketing world is changing and therefore I think that what all people want, is that the marketing that we are producing is connecting with the audiences that we want to connect in with. Talking about the influencers themselves, I’ve heard horror stories about teens who are little divas and don’t like to work with brands, and rebel against getting too much instruction. Has that been your experience, without naming names of course?

Kamal Bhandal: I think that we’ve been very fortunate. I would say that the influencers that we’ve selected to work with, and also those who have approached us to work with them, have been pretty good. I think that when you think about the types of folks that we’ve worked with, those that I mentioned earlier, everybody’s been really great about being their own real self and being open to how to talk about the product and being able to take Invisalign based on their own individual experiences and talk about it in their own way. So I think that one of the things that has been helpful for us has been that our product has a natural affinity, that Invisalign has a natural affinity with this audience, and I think that because of that, and because of the positive experience that they’ve had with Invisalign, it’s been a pretty smooth ride for us to be able to work with influencers and not run into, I think maybe, some of the issues that other brands might face. How much coaching is the right amount when working with a popular influencer. What are you careful to do and not to do?

Alex Aiono

Kamal Bhandal: That’s a great question. For us, what becomes really important is to hit on some of the key dos and don’ts, right? I mentioned earlier that we’re a medical device and we always want to ensure that we are coaching the influencer on here’s what the product does and here’s what you can’t say. Sometimes what we do is, in that conversation with the influencer, we’ll go through a conversation and the influencer will ask us questions. These are questions that are top of mind for them, these are things that they might say in their own life, and they’ll ask us, is this okay to say, or I explain it this way, does that work? And I think that’s the right approach, because we want to be able to coach on the absolute must-haves and the absolute don’ts.

To answer the part of your question that’s about how much is too much, I think that if you find yourself writing a script, you’ve gone overboard, and you are past the threshold of that balance that you want to strike. I think that if you get to a place where you’re trying to write a script, or you’re trying to control the arc of the story, I think that it’s too much. I think really working with influencers and coaching them on “here are the key points to hit, here are the key messages to hit,” and just a few, not too much, so that they can do it in their own life, I think is the key.

I think the other part of the prep that’s important is really to sit back and hear from the influencer, from their mouths and their words, how they would describe the product and/or their experiences with the brand, and then use that as your jumping off point to determine where you need to go from there. Because often times, I think that what we find is the way in which they describe their experiences is pretty close to how we would like for it to be described and therefore it’s really more of a finesse or fine tuning in certain areas as opposed to a complete redo. It’s pretty impactful to have them communicate in their own style and in their own voice. Is it standard when creating a contract with an influencer to have a clause where you get review process, where you can see something before its posted? Is that standard?

Kamal Bhandal: I think it depends. I think that we’ve had some instances where we have the right to see it, but maybe do not have the right to provide input. I think that what we always try to do is to negotiate being able to work closely with the influencer in such a way where we can see the content and have the ability to strike anything that is over the line or not true, but we’re not in a position where we’re going to be able to redo something. So are you saying that’s the desirable contract? Or is that the most common type of contract, where you can see something and have something removed ahead of time, but not reshot?

Kamal Bhandal: That’s pretty common for us. Have you ever had to have something edited out before posting?

Kamal Bhandal: [Pause] We have. I think that over the course of time, in all the years that we’ve been working with influencers, we’ve had instances where something was said on camera that just was not true, and as a company that really prides itself in making sure that we put things out there that are true and also because we are a medical device we are hypersensitive to that. There’s been instances where something was said and we’ve had to cut it. How common is that?

Kamal Bhandal: I would say that it happens less frequently than frequently. Does it damage the relationship with the influencer in any way to have ask for that kind of thing?

Kamal Bhandal: I don’t think it has for us. I don’t think it’s damaged anything. I think that one of the lessons that we’ve learned through the course of time in working with influencers has been that we’ve been able to refine our approach up front and refine our prep with influencers in such a way where we have been able to avoid those instances becoming a common practice. But we’ve had a pretty strong relationship with all of the influencers that we’ve worked with and we’re fortunate in that way in that we’ve cultivated those relationships ahead of time and they’re pretty understanding in terms of the camera rolls and sometimes you say something and it isn’t quite the way in which the brand could actually say it and therefore it’s the cutting room floor, but I think that they’ve been really great to work with in that instance. It’s definitely a learning for us on the brand side. Given that you’ve had some pretty positive results and mastered the area, why do you think it’s difficult for brands to let go, when it sounds like there’s a lot to be gained by going in this area?

Kamal Bhandal: I think for the most part it’s control. I think that when you think about marketing, and you think about what marketing used to be, marketing used to be a world of beautifully curated content that you had full control over. What I mean by that is you were in control of the edit suite, you had rounds and rounds of edits, you had scripts that would help you tell the story that were done in such a way where every single word in that script was debated, vetted, discussed, and so forth, and I think that in this new world marketers are being forced to live in a different world that challenges that type of thinking and that type of approach, where you are essentially handing your brand over to many, many, many other people and that can be a scary thing for brands.

I think that the key is for brand marketers to really accept that this is the new way of marketing and I think that it’s a vehicle of marketing that is here to stay. My advice to marketers is always give it a shot, right? Be smart about how you go about it but you’ve got to give it a shot and you’ve got to learn how to make it work for your brand, because that’s really what the audiences are looking for today. Are the results worth it?

Kamal Bhandal: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that there’s no better endorsement for your brand or no better marketing for your brand than having others talk about it from their own personal experiences and I think that gone are the days where brands are talking at people. I think it’s much more about talking with people and having conversations with people. The more that you can do it in a way that’s going to resonate with the audiences, and influencer marketing has been one of those routes, I think the better off brands will be. Let’s end with a few tips that you’ve learned from experience, that you would pass along to a marketer who is just getting into this area, working with young online video talent. Maybe some things that wouldn’t be immediately obvious that you need to do to get good results.

Kamal Bhandal: I think the first thing is to really be choiceful about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. And that’s as a marketing team, or as a brand marketer, really sitting down and asking yourself the question, “What is it that we’re trying to accomplish and does influencer marketing, or working with influencers, fit into that?” That’s one, because I think that too often brand marketers could jump into something that’s trendy without thinking it all the way through and think that, “Hey we should just really be working with influencers,” jump into it and not have a strategy in mind. I think that being choiceful and sitting down and deciding what it is that you’re trying to do and determining how influencer marketing works itself into that is important. That’s one.

The second, I think, is then determining what’s the key story that you’re trying to tell, and choosing influencers or identifying influencers who you think are going to be able to tell that story in their own way as it relates to your brand.

And I think that the third piece of advice that I would have is start small and learn from that small start and then build from there. So really having that crawl, walk, run approach is important. I think that sometimes people may have a tendency to jump right in and be full-fledged, and really I think that without having some type of experiences behind you to help you understand how this all works, what type of prep you need in terms of your own thinking within your own team, within your own organization, can lead people astray. The best strategy poorly executed doesn’t result in a great win. Thank you so much.


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