Why brands need to pivot to long-term influencer partnerships in 2022
Short-term influencer partnerships work well as a sandbox to test your foundation: they give you the flexibility to experiment with different creators and platforms, and in time, you’ll start to get a sense of which content (and which creators) stick.
This is important, because as shoppers spend more time online, they're becoming increasingly wary of ads. The data doesn’t lie: A study by the American Association of Advertising Agencies indicates a mere four percent of consumers believe today’s advertisers create ads with integrity.
Translation: 96 percent of people think ads are, well, pardon my French, but: Full of shit and not to be trusted.
Neilsen survey data echos this claim, with text advertising, online banner ads, and ads on social networks being some of the least trusted forms of advertising amongst consumers:
In the sphere of influencer marketing, this rings true as well, which makes sense as to why one-and-done sponsored posts with creators tend to stick out like a weed. They’re often perceived as fleeting at best, and inauthentic at worst.
This is why focusing solely on short-term creator partnerships limits your potential ROI: Sporadic sponsored content often feels less authentic, leading customers to question the partnership between a creator and your brand.
They’ll ask themselves: “Is this a legitimate trustworthy recommendation, or just a chance for this influencer to make a quick buck?
While there’s a time and place for short-term influencers, it seems that the strongest ROI comes from long-term influencer partnerships that expand reach and build customer trust over time.
Let’s dive in and look at why more brands are pivoting to long-term influencer partnerships.
Why long-term creator partnerships pay off
Fans and followers trust their favorite creators as voices of authority, so when they share a product with their communities, it instantly boosts the associated brand’s credibility.
Long-term partnerships with creators and influencers allow brands to tap into organic communities, thus accelerating brand awareness and trust. With an ongoing partnership, creators can share a brand’s products more organically within their feeds over time, rather than firing off a quick one-time mention.
Plus: People often have to be told something several times before they remember it. When followers see the same brand recommended over and over by the same person, the “stickiness” of the brand (and its products) increases as time goes on.
As an example, let’s look at two brands doing long-term partnerships well: Hollister Co. and Blendjet.
Fashion brand Hollister has a collective of 32 influencers who lead live shopping streams, build collections, and do account takeovers. The influencers create most of Hollister’s TikTok content. It’s not a collection of one-off advertisements; it’s a place for entertainment and reflection of Gen-Z culture long-term.
Beyond elevating your credibility, there are many other benefits to long-term partnerships. Let’s look at a few.
Ongoing conversations with engaged audiences
Engagement doesn’t stop when brands take a break from paid social. Influencers often drive brand awareness within their communities even without ad spend behind the content.
So how do you do that? Encourage creators to create collaborative style content, where they can spotlight other complementary products along with your brand’s. Consumers use a blend of products in their day-to-day lives, which is why showing how products work together helps content feel more authentic. Plus: It gives the creator more freedom to show products in action.
Going back to influencer Jen Selter: When creating content for Blendjet, she often spotlights another one of her clients if it’s a complementary brand (like Vital Proteins) within a Blendjet video so viewers can see how the two products work together. Her cross-promotional content keeps the conversation going between paid ad campaigns and is a win-win for both brands.
Supplement your creative asset production
You don’t have to lean on pricey photoshoots or expensive video production to create valuable, great-looking content (plus: these routes are often time-intensive to execute.) Creators can supplement your content bank with quality material for future posts and campaigns across channels.
Once you find out which creators have the highest ROI when it comes to content creation, it’s wise to invest in a long-term agreement with them. Doing so helps ensure an ongoing working relationship and a reliable pipeline for production of creative assets.
Let’s turn back to Blendjet for another example. When it was time for the brand to expand and diversify their network of creators, they started by experimenting. After a couple of high-performing videos from one particular creator, they decided to invest in a long-term partnership with her.
And it worked.
Now, their “Hot Girl Summer” video has more than 12,000 views on TikTok.
Savannah Sanchez, a social media advertising specialist, says this approach is common. In her own business, she has a small team of content creators who work with specific clients for a few months or up to a year. “Typically, when the client sees that the ads are performing well, the client will come back to me and want more content from that creator,” she said.
Lasting influencer relationships: Tips for brands
Maybe now you’re wondering: “Okay, but how can brands make the most of long-term partnerships with creators?”
- Find influencers who align with your brand
Choose influencers who reflect your brand aesthetics. Think about their tone and the type of content they share. Is it funny? Educational? Both? What kind of content makes sense for your brand?
From there, look at the influencer’s target audience. Who does their content appeal to?
Find influencers with the same lifestyle as your target customer. If you target Gen-Z wellness enthusiasts, look for creators in the same age bracket who spark conversations about health and wellness. Want to connect with nature-loving hikers? Find creators who share content about fitness and spending time outdoors.
Blendjet started with a fitness influencer to appeal to the health enthusiast segment. Hollister works with young content creators to appeal to Gen-Z. The approach for both brands was tailored to reach their target demographics.
Bottom line: Do your homework and make sure there’s audience alignment before doing a long-term engagement with a creator.
That being said, don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk from time to time. Case-and-point: PacSun partnered with Kendall and Kylie Jenner in 2007, more than a decade before Kylie became a billionaire. It was a financial risk at the time, but the partnership elevated PacSun as an L.A. lifestyle brand and paid dividends.
- Prioritize engagement over social following
There are influencers of all sizes out there:
- Micro-influencers: <25,000 followers
- Mid-influencers: 25K–100K follower
- Macro influencers: 100K+ followers
However, the size of a creator’s social following isn't everything. Creators could have a million followers, but low engagement rates (meaning less brand awareness and fewer purchases.) Be sure to analyze average engagement rates on a creator’s posts to get a feel for performance before locking into a partnership with him or her.
Speaking of engagement rates: Micro to mid-sized influencers often have higher engagement rates. Pay attention to how the audience engages and how the creator responds. Is there an active conversation happening in the comments, or just … crickets?
You’ll connect with more target customers by partnering with influencers who align with your brand and have an engaged audience.
- Focus on relationships, not transactions
Social media is transactional enough as it is. Give influencers a memorable experience. Don’t treat your influencers like another number, and instead, invest in building genuine relationships.
Griffin Thall, CEO of Pura Vida Bracelets, says you often have to be more like friends with your creators than business partners if you want them to truly feel like a meaningful partner to your brand. They do this by not only keeping in touch with their partners, but by also taking them on beautiful destination trips where they can create content together in-person a few times per year.
“You need to text [creators], call them, and ask them how their day is. If they posted a funny story about their breakfast, maybe ask them how the avocado toast was. I can’t stress enough that the only way to win is by becoming friends with your influencers.”
-Griffin Thall, CEO of Pura Vida Bracelets
- Allow creative freedom
Long-term partnerships thrive on mutual trust. Influencers must have the autonomy to create according to their brand. Without creative freedom, influencer content is at risk of coming across as out of touch and inauthentic.
Creators are good at what they do. Trust them. They draw people in because they know how to entertain and engage with their audiences.
Hollister, for example, lets creators bring their own personalities and styles to each post they create, whether it’s a dance, short skit, or funny montage. One creator went with the theme ”doing dad stuff in dad jeans.”
- Expand creator opportunities
Creators can often offer far more than ads, posts, or page takeovers. Consider creative partnerships beyond content creation, such as:
- Featuring an artist’s design on your website, packaging, or product
- Commissioning an artist for an in-store mural
- Commissioning branded NFTs
One example of this can be seen with LA-based retailer Fred Segal, who partnered with Subnation, a media tech holding company, to curate original NFT drops for an in-person exhibition. The companies commissioned a variety of artists, including music photographer Henry Diltz, who created an NFT version of his Crosby, Stills, & Nash album cover.
- Collaborate on exclusive products and collections
Collaborations reinforce brand loyalty for creators and fans alike. After you build audience trust and gain traction, explore ways to team up with your influencers. Take them from creator to collaborator. Can you team up to create exclusive products or special collections? Probably!
This approach can be wildly effective. Vitamin A, a swimwear company, partnered with Instagram influencer Halley Elefante (@TheSaltyBlonde) on a product giveaway contest that helped promote their co-branded collection together. Her posts led to more than 500,000 impressions, a 400% boost in sales, and 30% uptick in website traffic in the days immediately following her post about the giveaway.
Collaborations give customers a new way to engage with your brand and support their favorite influencers. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Influencer partnerships: from transactional to relational
Content is often fleeting, which is why collaborating with influencers for more than a single post or short season is a smart long-term play. When emerging creators align with your brand aesthetic and values, take the opportunity. With long-term influencer relationships, you’ll boost brand loyalty and deepen customer trust.