How Brooklinen, TULA skincare, and others find, evaluate, and select creators
Brands have a visibility problem when it comes to ads.
The numbers may not shock you: 40% of laptops already use ad blockers, and the rest of the Internet is catching up with this trend. As a result, one-third of all advertising campaigns simply don’t work.
As a result, brands have to answer this question: what happens when people stop paying attention to ads?
Trust becomes the new currency.
According to Nielsen, 83% of respondents trust the recommendations of friends and family, and 66% trust opinions from fellow consumers.
With the social media explosion, today’s brands have to find creators to work with, as they’re an incredible source of trust with shoppers. This is part of the reason the influencer marketing space is expected to expand to a $15 billion industry by 2022.
Brands are already shifting strategies. This year, 75% of brands plan on creating a dedicated influencer marketing budget. The problem is that many brands don’t know where to start.
- If it’s all about trust, who should they trust?
- And once they’ve identified potential creative partners, what comes next?
- How can brands vet creators to ensure a good match with the creator’s voice and audience?
We can draw inspiration from brands that already have a system in place for finding their ideal partners.
Creating evaluation criteria
The first question brands have to ask about influencer marketing (or creator marketing) is simple: Should they handle this work in-house, or work with a third party?
The appeal of in-house “influencer” marketing is that it gives brands tight control to call the shots around messaging, content, and budgeting.
The appeal of reaching out to unique, third-party creators? There’s still control, depending on each brand’s approach. But brands also get to work with well-established external voices.
In the end, the decision comes down to brand preference. Here’s how top brands often identify third-party creators they haven’t met or worked with before.
Finding the right creators to work with sets the stage for proper alignment. That can be a challenge if you’re a brand with a wide demographic.
At bedding brand Brooklinen, for example, collaborators include artists, interior designers, lifestyle tastemakers, and parents. They maintain brand cohesion when working with creators via bottom-line evaluation criteria, including the influencer’s authenticity, audience engagement, and quality of content. From there, they looked for creator partners who matched their company values.
In another example, Tula Skincare aligned with its creator partners by looking to its customers first. For Tula, it was important to learn the language of customers interested in skincare. They discovered, for instance, that 96% of their customers were more likely to purchase from a brand that uses positive language.
Tula responded by creating the #EmbraceYourSkin initiative that engaged body-positivity creators and influencers like Tess Holliday, Tennille Murphy, and Nyma Tang. By putting a focus on the right values, they developed content together that truly resonated with their audience.
Qualifiers for a good creator partner will vary depending on the brand’s needs. However, there are a few keys to watch for:
- Engagement. “We know they will be a good partner if they have good engagement,” said Sophia Pushkin of Good Stock Soups. Pushkin said their brand measures engagement by looking for honest, authentic content. They also look for posts and captions that demonstrate thoughtfulness.
- Positive reviews. How do creators inspire their own audience? What kinds of reviews do other brands leave them? In this case, it helps to work with a creator marketing platform that makes it possible to compare one creator’s reviews against another.
- Genuine affinity for your brand or market. Pushkin says she looks for someone who truly loves the brand. “These creators [want] to work with us and will post genuine content that feels relatable and achievable,” she said. “You can always tell when content feels forced.”
What do successful creator advertisers like Brooklinen and Tula have in common? They position themselves for long-term brand affinity. Not every creator will be a match for a given brand. So how do companies vet creators for genuine enthusiasm for the product?
To start, brands often look at a creator’s history with other brands:
- Is the creator genuine in wanting to create valuable propositions for their audience?
- Are they conscious of how their audience receives messaging?
- Or do they simply “toss out” every available deal that comes their way?
If it comes down to trust, brands can’t simply buy influence. They have to build genuine relationships with an audience. They do this by seeking out like-minded creators.
In one of the most famous influencer marketing fails of all time, celebrity Scott Disick copy-and-pasted the entire instructions for an Instagram caption, including “Write the below.”
Not exactly a great way to win over an audience.
About three-quarters of consumers will trust opinions they see on social media. That includes friends and family. But it also includes influencers. Brands succeed when they don’t take this trust lightly. Strong creators know that. As a result, they work to preserve the integrity of their relationship with their audience.
There are two universal values in creators that every brand can look for: genuine passion and authenticity.
At accessory company Victoria Emerson, they look for passion and design sensibility.
But it’s not just lip service: They create custom jewelry collaborations with creators they can share with their communities, too.
They also implement this enthusiasm into their own campaigns. Victoria Emerson sends along new products with every new campaign, hoping to generate fresh buzz.
At Harper Coats, passion and authenticity are just as important. “Paid or not, influencer marketing is held to a much higher standard of authenticity than most other forms of digital marketing,” said Rachel Thaw, CEO of Harper Coats. “A good partner sort of has to have a little fling with your brand.”
According to Thaw, relationships with creators are most valuable when creators are enthusiastic. They show off the product, wear it, and share it. And audiences pick up on that enthusiasm...even through the lens of social media.
Finding and sourcing creators
When seeking partners, it’s worth investing in an in-depth search. Ultimately, it pays dividends beyond a one-off campaign. In fact, 56% of brands use the same influencers across different campaigns.
At Victoria Emerson, company brass met their creators during their cross-country roadshows. Today, many of their core influencer partners have relationships dating back four or more years.
Trust comes from good creator vetting from the outset, but it also comes from finding the right influencers in the first place.
Brands do best when they’re a part of their own community. At Australian clothing brand With Jéan, they make a point of looking at which influencers they follow and find most engaging.
Rather than set up new campaigns right off the bat, With Jéan builds these relationships slowly.
“We are constantly branching out to find new partners,” said the company’s co-founder Sami Lorking-Tanner. “In addition, we curate lists of each collection to launch with a group of different girls.”
As a result, they’re able to identify trends easily and to create messaging that resonates with their target audience. After all, they’re part of it.
Once brands know who they want, where do they go to find them? At Brooklinen, one of their favorite exercises is to “find them in the wild.”
Brooklinen explores the hashtags their audience finds most interesting. There they find creators who are already connecting with their audience. They don’t enter into this search with any preconceived notions about which creators generate the most interest. They simply look.
“With so many people staying at home this last year, we found there were endless dialogues to share, from experts who could provide valuable design advice, to mom influencers sharing their weekend family rituals in bed, to young professionals looking to spruce up their living spaces...which have now become makeshift offices.” - Julianne Fraser, Founder & CEO of Dialogue
Of course, even creators that brands discover “in the wild” require vetting.
That’s where a creator marketing platform comes in. It provides a 360-degree view of a creator: experience, background, and audience engagement. Platforms also make it easy to run side-by-side comparisons for new campaigns.
Building consistent workflows
Making influencer marketing work isn’t only about identifying potential creators. It’s also about ensuring consistent workflows that create fresh content.
Here are some ways we’ve seen content creation work with each brand:
- Build an open-minded content approval process. Top brands are willing to outsource innovation to the creators themselves. Too many rules can stymie creativity. For With Jéan, there is no set approval process for creative work. “We look for girls that are different and creative with their content and style,” said Sami Lorking-Tanner. “These factors outweigh the number of followers they have for us.”
- Make a choice: paid influencers or product gifting? There’s no need to max out the budget right away. Harper Coats dipped its toes in the creative waters with product gifts in early campaigns. They used that as a springboard to test new concepts and discover which influencers worked best with them. From there, they moved to revenue-sharing agreements. This helped weed out which creators weren’t interested in the idea of working with the brand long-term.
- Structure workflows to continue long-term creator discovery. Tula Skincare enlisted five high-profile collaborators for their “Share the Spotlight” initiative. They then asked each collaborator to identify three additional creators. Their goal: find more influencers who exemplified the values of confidence and inclusivity. With long-term thinking, every campaign can feed into the success of the next.
A good long-term workflow begins from the very first campaign.
“Set up a call and get to know them, their methods, their pricing, and their strategy,” said Thaw.
Pushkin agrees. “One of our goals...is to find influencers who will be long term,” said Pushkin. “Almost like a part of our team.”
A future where creators win
There’s no need to launch a creator marketing campaign in a day. It’s not a marketing trend that’s going away anytime soon. But this is the time for brands to get their foot in the door. You’ll want to have relationships with creators well in place by the time the industry reaches a saturation point.
This isn’t just a long-term play, either. There are immediate advantages to working with creators. According to Harper Coats (which took a slow-build approach to creator marketing), even a small dose of third-party perspective was an immediate boost.
“I was happy to gift [creators] products of their choice, get their feedback, and be introduced to their community,” said Thaw.
It was a foot in the door. That’s especially important when the door leads to revenue, a thriving community, and a steady flow of new customers.