Samantha BaierSamantha Baier

We hear a lot of nonsense about “influencer marketing” these days, as it’s become a buzzworthy phrase that people use in all kinds of convoluted and circular ways. Navigating a space that, depending on your definition, includes everyone from Hollywood celebrities and athletes to bloggers and fan Twitter accounts, can be daunting and overwhelming. So, let’s make it simple. As a marketer, define “influencer” as the most influential source of information or content to your desired audience during a specified time, not just the celebrities or athletes with the highest follower counts.

With this definition as a guiding light, the quality of the entities to work with becomes much more important than the quantity. It’s time to shift our focus from a costly reach model to a more efficient way to impact consumers.

O'Dwyer's Dec. '17 Entertainment & Sports PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Dec. '17 Entertainment & Sports PR Magazine

For instance, in order to amplify Tide’s “#BradshawStain” moment during the Super Bowl XLI broadcast (in which Terry Bradshaw appeared with an embarrassing stain on his shirt), our Taylor Digital Sports team meticulously researched and vetted who and what would help Tide’s message reach the most engaged audience during the most-watched event of the year. In order to engage with avid NFL fans, we worked closely with the @NFL and @BleacherReport Twitter channels. To reach more casual Super Bowl viewers, we tapped a cross-section of popular comedians, lifestyle influencers and athletes who are all known for commenting on culturally relevant moments in real time.

The homework paid off, as the influencers drove significant conversation volume and engagement in the brief period of time before Tide’s orchestration of Terry Bradshaw’s humiliating on-air stain was revealed in their award-winning television spot.

But determining the right influencers to work with is just the first piece of the “influencer marketing” puzzle. You’re choosing those influencers for a reason, so it becomes imperative that the content they post is the kind of content that is proven to resonate with their audience. Influencer content has to be relevant to your brand’s audience at the right time. Around a sports platform, timing is even more critical, as fan sentiment can change on a dime, or as quickly as it takes your favorite team’s quarterback to throw a pick six. That’s why we place such an emphasis on remaining nimble. The entire allure of social media is real-time interaction. If you can’t be as flexible as the conversation, the audience will look right past what you spend your time and money creating. But if you do it right, you can garner more meaningful engagements for less investment.

For a brand to achieve this, the biggest win is to add value to the fan experience — rather than to simply add to the noise — and that starts with audience insights. For instance, when marketing in the NFL, we often emphasize that “NFL fans” are few and far between. Fans are fans first of their teams. In that respect, there are 32 separate, individual fan bases, and in order to speak to their passion, you have to know how to speak each fan base’s unique language.

This means your approach has to be targeted and nuanced, and that requires a deep understanding and feel for individual fan bases. But the homework is worth it in the end. A Cowboys fan isn’t going to react the same way that a Panthers fan would. (I live in Charlotte and we do exist! #KeepPounding)

Gatorade understood that concept when it launched the “Let It Shine” spot with Cam Newton around kickoff last season. The video started with all the negative press Newton received coming out of Super Bowl 50 and followed his preparation for the 2016-17 season. This ad spoke specifically to Panthers fans like me who wanted redemption after a less-than-stellar Super Bowl performance.

However, the ad’s focus on bouncing back was relatable for all NFL fans looking for a fresh start to the season — except for the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos, of course. This success may also have led the brand to its newest “Make Defeat Your Fuel” campaign featuring a range of athletes, including Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, fighting through loss to experience success.

This content also showcases another important component of “influencer marketing.” As consumers become more discerning about the content served to them on digital platforms, maintaining authenticity becomes paramount. This means treating your influencers as partners and taking a customized approach to each interaction.

Fostering these relationships takes time and often means finding ways to add value beyond product and monetary compensation. For example, instead of paying per post, a sponsor can offer influencers insider access to their favorite team through VIP experiences. This access-vs.-investment approach results in a motivated influencer who creates the kind of content his or her audience craves.

As marketers, the right influencer for you could be a media outlet, a league, a team, an athlete or a fan. Regardless, working together to provide that level of customization is an extra, yet critical step in building the kind of long-term relationship that creates a trusted brand advocate. The expensive transactional relationships of the past are replaced by achieving truly genuine advocacy. This is the ultimate win, as that passion will only seep deeper into the content, creating a greater, lasting impact on brand reputation with your target audience.


Samantha Baier is director of Taylor’s Digital Sports group.