Conventional advertising tactics, from celebrity endorsements to brand sponsorships, are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Especially for millennials, who have been inundated with that sort of thing from the cradle, overt marketing tends to fall on deaf ears and desensitized eyes.
That doesn’t mean that these audiences aren’t watching television, using cell phones, and staring at computer screens. It just means they’ve been conditioned to tune out most of what has passed for advertising in the last 30 years.
And it’s tough to blame then, really. They want messaging and content that is relatable and that will speak to them on a more human and personal level. They want to hear from normal people about real relationships and authentic experiences. This is why it is important to talk about “co-creation” and how it impacts influencer marketing.
From Influencer Marketing to Co-Creation
With celebrity endorsements, a company could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a famous actor to push a particular product or service. Influencer marketing goes beyond that by opening up the possibility of a real, creative partnership between people who are, in most cases, “average joes”, and brands who have something of value to offer this kind of person.
When these two groups form a relationship that is mutually beneficial and start making great content together, this is called co-creation. Brands that co-create campaigns with influencers are more capable of speaking to audiences that have moved beyond the reach of traditional advertising methods.
If this sounds a lot like plain old influencer marketing, you are right. Co-creation can be seen as a type of influencer marketing, but co-creation is also another step forward. Co-creation embodies two core aspects of human nature: creativity and cooperation.
The Collaborative Difference
Let’s take a look at the difference between co-creation and other familiar approaches.
In the old-style approach of celebrity sponsorship, a company pays a million dollars to promote so-and-so image of their brand to people. The celebrity isn’t involved in the process; they usually do what’s scripted and get paid. This doesn’t involve much creativity and it is only the semblance of cooperation.
Co-creating campaigns with an influencer is another step toward authenticity. It typically means that a company recruits an individual with significant social media influence and works with them to create a campaign. Ideas, thoughts and briefs are exchanged. Below are some facets of co-creation:
Money may be involved, but some influencers (enthusiasts mostly) even forgo monetary reimbursement when given the opportunity to co-create campaigns for their favorite brand. Influencer co-creation is mutually enriching, to be sure, but it transcends the unidirectional nature of tit-for-tat sponsorship contracts. It isn’t just a purchase of services, and more than money changes hands.
Co-creation carries a variety of benefits for businesses, some of which are:
- You develop real life demonstrations of how real people use your products
- You keep your image fresh
- You expand the variety of voices speaking to your audience
- You leverage your co-creator’s audience
- You gain access to your co-creator’s knowledge and creativity, which is invaluable
- You build a marketing relationship that goes beyond sponsorship contracts
Here’s something intriguing: the co-creation approach to influencer marketing didn’t just spring out of nowhere and it isn’t the random result of fad and fashion. Brands started adopting it out of necessity.
The Need for New Approaches to Influence
The production of engaging content is the biggest marketing challenge out there right now, whether you are talking B2C or B2B. Whichever way you slice it, co-creation is an opportunity not to be passed up:
If you look at the charts above you realize that for marketers it has become less a question of large advertising budgets and more a question of getting the attention of their audience. It doesn’t matter how many millions you can throw at an ad campaign if it isn’t going to penetrate your target demographic.
In this environment it only makes sense that, instead of paying the Kardashians $200,000 each for a single brand post, a brand can partner with a half-dozen “average joes” who each have a close-knit and attentive following.
These individuals, who are termed “long-tail influencers” and have fewer than 10,000 followers, are voices that customers will actually listen to because they are not actors in commercials. Co-creation, which enrolls the long-tail influencers more directly in the marketing process, is just the next natural step in the evolution of marketing.
That isn’t to say that creative cooperation is limited to these long-tail influencers. Co-creation can also take a B2B form when one brand partners with another brand.
Old Spice and Taco Bell had some fun with this kind of thing back in 2012:
Co-creation is deceptively powerful and even counterintuitive, but once you stop to look at how conversation works it makes total sense.
Joining the Conversation from the Ground Up
Think about it. What kinds of posts do you see plastered all over your Instagram and Facebook feeds most of the time? Cat Memes and pictures of your friends’ dinner?
Of course there are millions of news pieces floating around too, but the point is that co-creation is very different from media platforms where the content is provided from an external source and then expected to infiltrate the audience like as a foreign substance. That is how television advertisements have worked in the past, and it their weakness today.
Coming back to co-creation, Lee Oden hints it is the fastest and best way to cut through information overload. In terms of influence and marketing, the usual process involves a partnership between a brand and a long-tail influencer. Both of them will work together to create and publish compelling stories to increase brand awareness, increase mobile app installs or boost online sales for the brand’s website.
The process is a kind of open innovation where ideas are exchanged. Brands create services, experiences and products in collaboration with influencers, utilizing their intellectual capital, and in return giving them a direct role in what actually gets designed or developed and promoted.
If you’re looking to co-create content with influencers, expect to go through the following steps:
1. Find Subject-Matter Experts
Influencers need to be carefully vetted to ensure they have the competencies, motivation and background required to co-create campaigns. Partnering with subject-matter experts is the key to creating great campaigns as the required knowledge to accelerate the co-creation process is present within the individual(s) already.
While you can manually hunt subject matter experts via blog research and social media profile analysis, it requires a big investment of time and resources. Luckily, platforms like Buzzoole automate the process of finding subject matter experts. By listing relevant profiles, such automated platforms narrow down your influencer search, which makes it easy for brands to choose key individuals.
2. Set Campaign Targets
After you’ve vetted a list of influencers and selected a group you’ll be co-creating the campaign with, it’s time to set targets for the campaign in collaboration with subject matter experts. You’ll need to consider the type of information/content consumers want to see, and what objectives the co-created campaign will help your business achieve.
The campaign should be based on what’s needed. In this case, you can analyze customer data (social media insights, analytics, loyalty programs, etc.) to set targets that will enrich their experience. The Business Value Global Study by IBM Institute found that more customers are sharing their data with brands, and in return, they expect brands to give them what they want. Co-creation can be used to deliver just that.
Another tactic is social media listening. By taking into account what customers and brand advocates are suggesting, you can integrate relevant content into your campaigns. The influencer you’re working with will also analyze the feedback and come up with campaign targets that should help advance your business.
3. Co-Create Fun and Authentic Content
We talked about millennials at the beginning of this post. Did you know that 43 percent of them rank authenticity over anything else when consuming news? They have to trust a campaign before reading the content inside it. Co-creation is meant to be authentic as long-tail influencers – who millennials very well relate to – are given a major say in the campaign.
There are several ways to go about being authentic. With influencer marketing platforms, these individuals are able to follow the guidelines that are inserted in a brand’s campaign brief while keeping their own tone of creativity and voice. A report pointed out that several Fortune 500 firms have included co-creation in their innovation strategy.
For B2C campaigns as well, you’ll need to create engaging content with influencers. The key to making them happy (without necessarily providing incentives) is to propose co-creation ideas that provide them a way to increase the exposure of their own expertise without necessarily being forced to endorse or promote a brand’s products.
ThinkGeek does a great job at encouraging people to co-create content on its Instagram account. The brand curates photos of long-tail influencers who wear and test ThinkGeek apparel and products. Take a look at this photo for example (the Instagrammer has less than 10,000 followers, but an active follower base).
By giving this Instagram user a mention (encouragement for co-creation), they’re able to collaborate on further demonstrations. This also encourages other users to use hashtags that’ll help ThinkGeek discover them. And for the influencer, they get recognition from the ThinkGeek Instagram community, which has over 60,000 followers.
This is an example of organic co-creation. There’s another option – ThinkGeek could create a separate Instagram page for influencers, identify 100 long-tail influencers to participate on that page using hashtags, and then promote the best work on its Instagram account. It can be sort of a competition, and the winning influencers will also be motivated to share their work with their own social following.
Co-creation not only makes a brand look authentic but makes its influencers feel good about the recognition received. The tips mentioned above will help you get the most out of co-creation and provide more context to your partnership with influencers.
What are your thoughts? Have you used co-creation in your influencer marketing campaigns?
Feel free to leave comments.Fabrizio Perrone
Fabrizio is CEO and Co-Founder at Buzzoole. Serial startupper since 2007, he founded Fan Media in 2008. In 2010, among the first in Italy to deal with Buzz Marketing. Get in touch with him at @fabrlzio