Unsure how to get involved in influencer marketing or where to start? Nick White of Koodzo, the influencer marketplace, shares the strategy and tactics behind launching effective influencer marketing campaigns and how brands maintain long-term relationships with influencers. If you've ever wondered which ingredients go into the making of great influencer marketing programs, you will enjoy getting behind-the-scenes with an influencer marketing master in this interview.
What sparked your interest in influencer marketing?
I got my start in influencer marketing when at Microsoft working on the Windows Vista marketing launch, in tandem with a team from AMD charged with what we were then calling “guerrilla marketing.” I was also the editor of the newly-minted Windows blog, so I understood a thing or two about what it took to curate content for a wide audience.
Our launch team’s job was to help AMD get its head above water in co-marketing Vista, in an environment where Intel easily outstripped AMD’s spending on Windows co-marketing. We hatched a plan to seed AMD-based devices with Windows-friendly bloggers in an attempt to spur them to write about their Vista experiences. Not all of the experiences were good, to be sure – anyone who remembers that era knows that it wasn’t Microsoft’s best showing – but we worked so closely with them to improve their experiences in close to real-time that we managed to gain their trust in the process. Once the dust had settled and we’d “shined the turd” that was Vista as best we could, several of the bloggers (today referred to as “influencers”) asked us how to get in touch with companies such as Sony, NVidia and Lenovo for similar review opportunities. It occurred to a couple of my AMD colleagues and me that what we’d experienced was the start of something that had the potential to fundamentally change marketing as we knew it, so we looked into setting up an agency to broker such arrangements. HP was our first client and remains our longest-standing one to this day.
Of course, we couldn’t have predicted the 2008 financial meltdown would occur within a year of starting up, but having weathered that made us leaner and more focused as a firm. It also forced us to find a way to be completely revenue-funded, which we still are today.
What’s the point of running an influencer marketing program or campaign?
While there are certainly strategic objectives to be accomplished with any influencer marketing program, the overarching goal is to get closer to your customer. The role of marketing (and of the firm writ large) is to design, produce and sell products and services that meet customer needs. It is imperative to understand customer needs and desires, and to be able to translate those into tangible products and services. The best way to accomplish this is also the most direct. And frankly, the most satisfying to your customer as well: simply ask them. Because that’s not always feasible or sometimes even possible, influencers as intermediaries provide a more scalable conduit to understanding customer needs, and the firm’s potential for success in meeting those needs.
If someone is interested in running an influencer marketing program, what would you recommend they do first?
It’s easy to get caught up in the myriad platforms, tools, channels and so on, and hence not know where to start. These have changed a lot over the past decade. What doesn’t change, nor will it, is the fact that planning underpins success. Consequently, good project management is at the heart of everything we do. What I recommend is exactly what we do with our customers: ask first, listen second and exchange ideas third. Hold informal conversations with influencers to learn what they know—and what they don’t—in order to identify your opportunities. These could be unmet needs, gaps in communication, unexploited assets and so on.
The crux of your dilemma is this crucial question: What business objective are you seeking to accomplish? An influencer campaign charged with selling the latest and greatest offering can be very different from one looking to unload a product that’s nearing end-of-life. These two objectives each have different goals, which imply differing success measures and hence separate tactical approaches.
A still-different third objective is a fact-finding mission to identify unmet customer needs, as is implied in a new product initiative. In this case the goal encompasses all of the 4 P’s of marketing: design/production, pricing, promotion and distribution (placement). Because the objectives differ here, how you will measure success and seek to accomplish those measures will be distinct from the two previous examples.
From there, we usually conduct an audit of existing assets – owned-media channels, subject-matter experts and messaging assets. This will give us a sense of the “tools” that exist at present vs require creation, and thus we know what gaps we’ll be facing. We may also perform a SWOT analysis to narrow our focus within these assets, and also to learn whether issues or challenges exist that might not be readily apparent. Influencer marketing is very much in vogue at the moment and so everyone wants to have a piece of the action. Knowing how to apportion roles and responsibilities helps our clients stay out of their own way.
Do you view influencer marketing through a campaign lens or as building longer term relationships with influencers?
Both, really. What we explore with our clients at the outset of a relationship is the art of all the possibilities that stem from positive influencer relationships. Most want to dip their toes in to gain initial success and learn best practice that they can then internalize themselves. Over time these folks change roles and even companies, which often resets the deck for us to some degree.
What doesn’t change are our relationships with the influencers who got us to where we are today – quite a few of whom we’ve worked with since the early days. So in terms of preservation and where we put our emphasis, we think of influencers as our partners and invest in their success just as much as we do in that of our clientele.
Things change at firms all the time – personnel, priorities, budgets, opportunities – but the influencers are always there. Thus there’s the perennial chance to apply our skills and their leverage in adjacent areas, or even with other firms as specific people move about. In fact, some of our longest-standing clients started out at one firm and moved to another (or even a third) over time, bringing us with them and hence expanding our book of business.
It’s a cliché, but the constant is always change; the challenge is knowing how to use that change to your advantage, because opportunities are routinely found at the margins.
What is the most important criteria to help you assess whether or not someone is an influencer and would be a good fit for your influencer marketing program?
We have over a dozen selection criteria that we apply, and while each one exists for a reason, some loom larger than others in certain scenarios. Clients often begin fixated on reach, a metric we try to minimize as most important while trying not to complicate the argument. In other cases they seek feedback on prototypes or draft marketing messaging, both of which are very sensitive and yet present a huge opportunity for an influencer to enter at the ground floor or an initiative (often under NDA). In these instances, we need influencers with strong expertise in the specific field combined with thoughtful judgement. This is due not just to the sensitivity of the situation – although that’s certainly paramount – but also because the stakes are so much higher early on in a new initiative.
Contrast that scenario with another where a client needs to change perceptions, possibly from negative to positive/neutral, and you’ve got a very different situation at hand resulting in strongly different influencer selection criteria to be applied.
One criterion that I can safely say from experience is a key factor in how long we’ll work with an individual influencer, is how easy they are to work with. If we can find common ground upon which to build – if we can see eye to eye that there’s something to be gained from all parties having their oars in the water together – then we’ve got a good basis from which to start. Alternatively, individuals who are difficult to work with usually don’t get asked back, no matter their level of expertise or the size of their audience.
How do you decide which channels to use to target influencers?
We use a number of tools to identify influencers who’re a good fit for a particular program, but one of the absolute best is word-of-mouth referral. A quantity who’s known to be a good actor is oftentimes the fastest way for us to find additional influencers who’ll be complementary to our objectives. As I mentioned previously, we use numerous criteria to assess fit, but peer referral is a great shortcut that we employ as often as possible.
What’s a good process for nurturing influencers, or is it fine to approach them without any prior contact?
I’m a big believer in having someone in the middle vouch for both sides. I’m also not averse to the cold email, but in those instances you have a very limited window to get and maintain someone’s attention, so you absolutely have to know what you’re doing. Keep it brief and to-the-point, and make it abundantly clear both what they get out of it as well as what’s being asked of them. Because our clients’ needs change often, it’s important to set expectations that a long string of engagements isn’t always going to happen. But once you’re in full swing and influencers have self-identified as being strong advocates of a particular brand, the opportunities for sustained engagements then begin to present themselves. That makes for satisfied influencers who will happily recommend us to their peers.
Do you have any good templates or a standard pitch that you use to reach out to influencers? Is it a good idea to craft an original pitch for each influencer?
While we operate using a standardized pitch framework at the start, it’s imperative that any outreach not come across as boilerplate. One way to avoid this is to gain an introduction; this isn’t always possible however, so discussing recent articles that indicate a possible fit is a good way to dispel the notion that you’re a bot. We always offer to skype or call to provide more details to interested parties; this quickly highlights and addresses misconceptions, while also separating the wheat from the chaff (unserious “influencers” -- they do exist -- will balk at this next step, saving us both time).
Tell us how Koodzo might be beneficial to those wanting to run an influencer marketing campaign or develop long-term relationships with influencers.
Koodzo is a brokering tool for both brands and influencers to discover one another via content-generation opportunities placed by brands in a bulletin board-style interface. We’re entering into a phase – or arguably we already have, depending on your industry and its level of influencer marketing sophistication – where paid content is necessarily crowding out earned content. After all, influencers have bills to pay too, and their audiences aren’t a free resource. To accelerate brands’ ability to find the right influencers and present them with paid content-generation opportunities, we need a clearinghouse where the two can find one another and quickly agree to terms. In its essence, Koodzo is a free service to influencers and where brands seek the right influencer, who reaches the right audience, at the right time. Koodzo is designed to automate the process for consumer products to greatly scale the delivery of their messages in tandem with the precious third-party endorsement that all brands seek.
About Nick White:
Nick White is a broadly experienced general manager, having responsibility for business planning and financial modeling, company P&L, funding sources, sales and marketing, operations (project planning & execution), business metrics development and management, and staffing (hiring/motivating/releasing). Overseas experience combined with foreign language fluency and familiarity with numerous world cultures and markets. He serves as an ambassador for his company, ideas and personal brand at various universities, educational symposia and social organizations and has extensive public speaking experience. He genuinely enjoys being both an entrepreneur and personnel manager. And he's a lover of pithy quotes from historical figures.
His Motto: Life is short -- don't forget to laugh.