For Brands: The Four Levels of Influencer Marketing

Adweek recently published a very well-written article by Kerry Perse titled It’s Time for Marketers to Change How They Select and Reward Influencers that makes the case for building long-term, mutually prosperous relationships with influencers.

One of Perse's primary points is that when brands can develop a core group of influencers into real advocates (or brand ambassadors), it’s a much more effective long term strategy than executing a full calendar’s worth of one-off sponsored posts.

She divided brands’ influencer programs into three different levels, which are laid out verbatim below:

Level 1 uses PR to send free brand product and information to target influencers, hoping for earned media (or at least a response).

Level 2 allocates media spend to pay relevant influencers with desirable audiences to create “cool” content that showcases the brand in a positive light.

Level 3 builds meaningful, advocate-level relationships with influencers who authentically love and embrace the brand in a way that spans beyond a video, campaign or launch.

Perse argues that brands will eventually need to move on to Level 4, which would require them to listen to influencers’ drive to evolve and be viewed as a business. In Level 4, “marketers treat content creators as businesses, help them add value to their brands while bringing value to their audiences—and both sides see greater benefits.”

This diagram provides a great visual to represent her view of Level 4.

Here at Cohley HQ, we have countless conversations every week with brands and influencers who are both looking to get the most out of this ever-changing space. The conclusion that Perse draws is in line with data that we’ve aggregated: When brands and influencers take the time to get to know one another and build trustworthy relationships, the results are stronger by every possible measurement for both sides.

However, we think Level 4 can be given a more robust definition. In a typical influencer collaboration today, brands are hyper-focused on the immediate results that an influencer’s posted content (be it a post or a video) brings. How many new followers did we get? How many new impressions did the collaboration yield? What were the traffic metrics, and how much money did it make us?

These are all important stats, but they’re short-sighted.

To us, a “Level 4” influencer strategy involves the regular acquisition and reactivation of influencer-produced content across social channels, email marketing campaigns and even ad spends.

Brands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on professional video shoots but often find that that content, stretched thin, only populates their marketing channels for a fraction of the calendar year. If they’ve advanced to Level 3 of Perse’s scale, brands are already working with influencers who they have relationships with.

If you’re a brand marketer, why not look beyond the initial benefits of influencer collaborations, pay a bit more for full ownership of the great content influencers are producing on your behalf and reactivate it? You could reap both the short term benefits (follower bumps, drive traffic and revenue etc.) and build an Asset Library full of great content.

Cohley. Level 4. Activated.

Note: The article referenced was written by Adweek guest contributor Kerry Perse of Horizon Media, based in New York, New York.