In order to make influencer marketing work for your retail brand, the first step is to make sure your brand values are aligned perfectly with your chosen influencer. This might sound straightforward, but many brands fail to look beyond the influencer’s carefully crafted public-facing persona.
Brands need to go a step further and look at the whole person, rather than their public persona alone, to figure out what truly matters to them. That way, you’re able to better assess the true brand risk, and plan ahead for any potential issues that may come up.
Consider the cautionary tale of influencer Nadia Bartel, who was dropped as promoter of Australian-based vitamin brand JSHealth Vitamins after she was filmed snorting a suspicious substance. It’s the brand’s job to weed these issues out and do the appropriate digging before signing a contract.
Know the influencer’s audience
The next step – and something else many brands often miss – is to look at the influencer’s audience. Who is their demographic? What are the audience’s values? Don’t assume that the influencer’s age, preferences, or values are exactly the same as their audience’s.
Social listening can go one step further to help you discover the audience’s likes, interests and pet peeves. You’ll also be able to find out their level of loyalty towards the influencer, and whether they’ll stand by them during a crisis.
Once you’ve figured out who the influencer’s audience is, consider if they align with your own target audience and brand values. If they do, great. If they don’t, you might want to reassess whether the partnership is worth pursuing.
A great example of shared values comes from Nike’s association with civil rights activist and former quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nike understood that Colin’s values were deeply embedded in the person he is, to the point where he was willing to risk his entire career to stand up for his beliefs.
Nike’s values are clear and well-articulated, which was further proven by its willingness to stick by Kaepernick, even when his activism caused controversy. As a result, their partnership has been incredibly successful, long-lasting, and well-respected by Nike’s customers – who share similar values.
The infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad is almost the exact opposite to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick partnership. Neither Jenner nor Pepsi were particularly known for their civil rights activism, yet they decided to launch a campaign that was fully centred on a vague, ill-defined ‘protest’. Without a clear match of shared values – or any values at all, for that matter – the campaign was doomed to fail from the start.
Steps for damage control
So, you’ve done your research, matched your values, and things are going well. Then, unexpectedly, your influencer says or does something to incite a backlash, and you’re wondering where it all went wrong. What should you do?
While the JSHealth Vitamins/Nadia Bartel incident was unfortunate, the vitamin brand did a great job of cleaning up the crisis as quickly as possible. JSHealth responded swiftly and with a clear message that distanced itself from Bartel and made it clear the brand did not condone her actions.
At the same time, the founder stuck to the brand’s own values by acting with compassion towards the influencer: “I’m human and compassion is what the brand has always represented. I truly wish this individual strength and peace during this time and although I do not condone what happened, I am a believer that humans make mistakes and we are not a brand that wishes to beat anyone when they are down.”
Retailers should also be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket, and instead select a handful of influencers with shared values. That way, if one does something controversial in this unforgiving ‘cancel culture’, your brand will still have others. If they’re a new influencer who hasn’t worked with your brand before, consider attaching them to a single campaign or product, as opposed to your entire business, which further limits the risk.
Retailers must decide if the awareness and credibility that can result in working with an influencer outweighs the brand risk they represent. Ultimately, that decision must come down to a commitment to shared values, honesty, and forming an open dialogue between your brand, the influencer, and your audience.