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How to Pick the Right Brand Ambassador

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With the rise in popularity of social media, influencers and third party content, brands are clamoring to figure out a marketing strategy that intuitively incorporates these new marketing formats in order to obtain a competitive edge.  One of the most popular ways brands are aligning with influencers is through brand ambassadorships.

 

With so many influencers showcasing large followings and a steady stream of content, it can be confusing as to which influencer would best represent your brand. Here are four simple tips on how to pick the right influencer for your brand:

 

  1. Profile - A good brand ambassador is an influencer with a decent following who has been creating content for at least a few years. A decent following ranges from 5,000 to over a 1 million subscribers. The key thing you're seeking is an influencer with experience. You want to be sure this person is consistently posting content and that there are no large gaps of time between the posts. Influencers with good sized followings treat their platforms with a sense of professionalism which ensures they will treat your brand ambassadorship with the same respect and attention.
  2. Personality - When seeking a good brand ambassador, you will want to seek someone who fits the identity of your brand. For example, if your brand manufactures healthy skin care products, your best brand ambassadors will be women and men who are health conscious, have great skin and who speak about healthy alternatives when it comes to beauty, food and wellness. The key is to seek those who are already in alignment with your brand vision.
  3. Credibility - A good brand ambassador has the trust and validation of his/her audience because of the consistent and trustworthy content he/she has churned out over the years. Take the time to sift through some videos or blog posts and see how they handle product reviews and hauls. Are they honest about the products or do they blindly endorse any and everything they receive. A good influencer will not sell themselves to the highest bidder - they will only promote and highlight products they believe in, use and stand by. Their credibility translates into brand awareness, loyalty and recognition for the products they endorse on their channels.
  4. Professionalism - In order to foster a healthy and successful relationship with an influencer, it's highly important that he/she is professional. Being that this individual will be an extension of your brand to the public, its best to pick an influencer who converses with his/her followers in a professional manner. In addition, the influencer should be open to feedback from you in regards to campaigns and content so that both parties are happy with the arrangement. You can gather a lot about an influencer just by seeing how they conduct themselves via their social media channels. Do an audit of their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms.

Signing up with a great brand ambassador can be the difference your company has been seeking. From increased consumer exposure to increased revenue, there are a myriad of benefits that come from working with an experienced influencer.

 

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How an Authentic Social Media Strategy Can Strengthen Brand Positioning

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In the seven-step brand-positioning process, step one on the list involves determining how your brand is currently positioning itself in the marketplace. And if a social media element isn’t part of that strategy, context will be lost in the mind of today’s ever-connected, techno-savvy consumer. In fact, implementing a solid social-media strategy is crucial to leveraging step number seven on the list: testing the efficacy of your brand-positioning statement. So if your brand’s statement of purpose falls flat on social media, it’s safe to say it won’t gain a foothold anywhere.

With that in mind, here’s some reasoning, as well as a few concrete examples, that prove how utilizing social media the right way can position your brand ahead of the pack.

 

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The earned media factor
Increasingly, earned media is overshadowing owned media and paid promotion as the more effective of this marketing-strategy trifecta. That’s because a new generation of consumers exists that places a premium on authenticity above all else. They trust people over brands, they look to peers for product recommendations, and they eschew celebrity endorsements. Brands who create a successful earned-media campaign in this endeavor will not only enjoy more conversions, they will effectively turn customers into brand advocates who spread positive word of mouth across their various social-media profiles. That’s brand positioning at its most artful.

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The influencers
Now that marketers are realizing the value inherent in generating positive word-of-mouth authentically, the question then becomes how best to accomplish this? Any earned-media campaign should utilize influencers. These are social-media personalities, regular folks, who can be enlisted to review a product or service on their medium of choice. But influencers come in two categories: those who charge for their reviews and those who request only product samples. And while it’s not an automatic deal-breaker to pay an influencer, doing so eliminates all earned-media credibility. Therefore, facilitating trust in the minds of consumers via various social-media platforms is the best way to achieve authenticity and earned-media.

 

The rise of Instagram
As a photo-sharing site, Instagram is tailor-made for any visually appealing product—especially those manufactured by beauty and fashion companies. Take this jaw-dropping statistic for example: of the 13 million social-media interactions that took place during the fall 2016 New York Fashion Week, 97% occurred on Instagram. This trend wasn’t lost on beauty powerhouse Chanel, who invited top Instagram influencers to their production facility in the South of France for a retreat that just happened to feature the company’s upcoming No. 5 L’Eau fragrance. And mass Instagramming ensued.

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Another point: there are newer businesses out there who aren’t merely saying that social-media is an important factor, but that Instagram itself is their most important touch point. Brands who can leverage the visual potential of their product and marry it with a successful Instagram strategy have the potential to draw millions of eyeballs to a single campaign.

 

The YouTube case studies: GoPro and Activision
GoPro could have been like many other consumer electronics manufacturers and relied on traditional “push” advertising to get the message out. But they had loftier goals, and achieving them meant harnessing the power of social media—YouTube to be precise. By creating a channel and allowing users to upload their own videos, they effectively turned their audience into branded content producers. This allowed them to rise above their status as a simple electronics product and become social-media powerhouse. The result is that GoPro is now synonymous with travel and adventure sports. Every indication is that it will be a while before a competing product supplants them in this realm.

This undated product image released by GoPro shows the GoPro digital camera mounted on a ski helmet, a hot item on ski slopes and other settings. Brian Stacey, director of new product development for Tauck, the cruise and tour company, likes the camera because it attaches “to pretty much anything _ your helmet, arm, leg, canoe” and can shoot images while you’re moving. (AP Photo/GoPro)

This undated product image released by GoPro shows the GoPro digital camera mounted on a ski helmet, a hot item on ski slopes and other settings. Brian Stacey, director of new product development for Tauck, the cruise and tour company, likes the camera because it attaches “to pretty much anything _ your helmet, arm, leg, canoe” and can shoot images while you’re moving. (AP Photo/GoPro)

But YouTube isn’t just for brands whose wheelhouse is the great outdoors. There is a major gaming market too. Activision is a video-game company probably most famous for its “Call of Duty” series, which is one of the most successful franchises in the history of console gaming. Not one to rest on their laurels, Activision took the then-risky move of focusing the brunt of their marketing on YouTube influencers. The strategy paid off, and their influencer videos were viewed almost 10 billion times, which is more than 20 times the views they received on the game’s own website. The result is that Activision positioned their brand front and center in the minds of gamers everywhere. And by utilizing honest reviews from respected YouTube personalities, the company achieved their monumental success the best way possible: authentically.

 

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So how will your brand position itself at the forefront of social-media influence? Will you go all in on YouTube and Instagram? Will you find your niche in newer platforms like SnapChat, the way
Burberry did to great success? Or maybe you’ll innovate beyond the rest and create a heretofore unheard of social strategy that boldly goes where no brand has gone before. The sky’s the limit.

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The Most Popular Influencer Marketing Platforms Reviewed

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Out of all the stats that illustrate the virtues of influencer marketing, this one from Expertcity speaks volumes: Influencer recommendations carry 22 times more weight than those from average customers. That’s a stark finding. And when you consider that popular social-media personalities now wield even more influence than the Kardashians and Taylor Swifts of the world, you have a trend that speaks directly to today’s authenticity-craving Millennial generation.

It’s no wonder, then, that marketing pros are going all in on this tactic. So in the interest of uncovering the brand-influencer conduit right for you, here are 14 of the most popular influencer marketing platforms in existence today, sorted alphabetically.

1. BrandBacker

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Paid media, earned media

 

This is one of the more established influencer-marketing platforms around, as it was founded in 2001. In that time BrandBacker has amassed a reported network of 10,000 influencers in multiple countries producing content in various languages. The website is streamlined, which makes signup a simple process of selecting whether you’re a brand or influencer and then requesting a video tutorial that includes pricing plans. Regarding compensation, BrandBacker influencers receive payment, discounts, or free samples, depending on the campaign.

 

One feature unique to BrandBacker is their Content Showcase. Businesses who utilize this tool can collect all brand-relevant content from across the web via a search algorithm. It then curates and organizes the content so clients can see exactly who is talking about them and when. The Showcase then allows brands to publish this curated content straight to their website.

 

Platforms supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram

 

Pros

 

  • Team Manager feature helps businesses to build a team of influencers around their brand and monitor progress and efficacy
  • Features like the Content Showcase are a welcome bit of marketing ingenuity

 

Cons

 

  • Despite offering influencer incentives other than monetary compensation, little of what BrandBacker offers meets the definition of “earned media”

2. Content BLVD

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Earned media

 

Content BLVD is a marketing and review platform that adheres to the fundamentals. Their leadership believes that true influence cannot be bought, so in the spirit of authenticity they offer good ol’ fashioned product reviews free of monetary influence. Those targeted influencers who do receive free products in exchange for YouTube vlog opinions are obligated to disclose it. Regarding service, companies pay Content BLVD a monthly subscription fee based on the number of authentic earned mentions they want each month. Content BLVD handles influencer targeting, outreach, shipping, and reporting.

 

Content BLVD caters to businesses with physical consumer products rather than, say, software or general services. This strategy has allowed them to carve out a niche of over 6,000 YouTube product experts and 3,000 product companies. Content BLVD’s influencer program has driven more than 40 million views for their customers since its beta launch in the spring of 2015.

 

Platforms supported: YouTube

 

Pros

 

  • The focus on consumer product companies enables streamlined fulfillment of ongoing campaigns.
  • Simple “Set it and forget it” model is a huge time-saver for product companies.

 

  • The elimination of sponsorship fees brings brand awareness campaigns within reach of smaller product companies. Plans start at just $200 per month.

 

Cons

 

  • Only YouTube influencers at the moment.

3. FameBit

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Paid media

 

If FameBit’s goal was ease of use, then their platform is a runaway success. Businesses new to the site will find a simple homepage with two tabs: one for content creators and one for brands. Then it’s a straightforward sign-up process and on to the creation of a branded or sponsored campaign. Brands choose from a variety of social media platforms, the type of content they’d like to create, and finally the campaign details. This includes a drop-down menu listing price-range options starting at $100 all the way up to $10,000+.

 

After clicking the tab to create the campaign, the advertisement goes live and is open for bidding from FameBit’s network of freelance content creators. Brands can see profiles of interested creators as well as featured influencers segmented by category. FameBit earns a service fee of 20% per transaction for accepted bids.

 

Platforms supported: YouTube, Instagram

 

Pros

 

  • Easy sign-up process for both brands and creators
  • Straightforward user interface
  • Self-service client dashboard allows businesses to create an entire influencer campaign in four steps

 

Cons

 

  • Impersonal despite a strong messaging system; it’s a fast-food method to creating an influencer campaign
  • The strict “business transaction” nature of FameBit’s platform robs influencer marketing of its authenticity
  • The hefty sponsorship fees price most small companies out of the market.
  • Many influencers complain about the time it takes to repeatedly “pitch” brands, and the low acceptance rate from companies.

4. Revfluence

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Paid media

 

Like FameBit, Revfluence has a straightforward homepage with sign-up options for brands and creators. Where Revfluence diverges from its competitor is in its expansive network and highly detailed analytics dashboard. It offers an ability to connect with some 200,000 influencers filtered by industry, location, demographics, content quality and niche keywords. They also tout a customized CRM collaboration tool that puts brands in direct contact with dozens or even hundreds of influencers at once. Businesses can then track each individual campaign’s performance and measure ROI via the same dashboard.

 

And for those brands who still have cold feet about influencer marketing, the website offers case studies highlighting specific examples of Revfluence’s success.

 

Platforms Supported: YouTube, Instagram

 

Pros

 

  • Large database of influencers from which to choose
  • Detailed analytics dashboard tracks all relevant metrics

 

Cons

 

  • Not great for first timers; brands need to be well versed in the finer points of influencer marketing before signing up

5. Influenster

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Earned media

 

Around since 2010, Influenster is a marketing and review platform that aims for earned-media credibility with product opinions offered in vlog, blog or simple review form. They also operate under the same disclosure rules as Content BLVD. On the surface Influenster appears to be doing something right, as the platform has a user base of some 1.5 million “influensters” who share their likes and dislikes across social media.

 

To further enhance the user experience, Influenster supplements their reviews and recommendations with coupons, giveaways and rewards programs.

 

Platforms supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+

 

Pros

 

  • Rates “Influensters” by hundreds of data points, including social connections
  • Mobile app allows Influensters to post reviews in real time and reach audiences at the moment of purchase.

 

Cons

 

  • Brands have no control over messaging
  • Some product “reviews” can be light on substance. This is a result of members increasing their social media activity in order to earn “badges,” which in turn help them receive free products.
  • Reports of some members being disgruntled after not receiving free product packages

6. Izea

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Paid media

 

In Izea’s world, bigger most definitely means better. In their quest to become the largest marketplace platform around they’ve absorbed other content websites, such as Ebyline. These tactics have allowed them to amass a database of over 250,000 influencers operating across multiple social platforms and filtered by reach, quality and other metrics. That’s more than enough content producers to satisfy the needs of the some 50,000 businesses and brands already signed up with Izea.

 

Those who create an account have the option of three payment plans ranging from $0 to $299, all of which offer various services such as ShareMonitor URLs and SocialSearch Groups. These are analytics tools that keep track of, among other things, URL shares and hashtag popularity.

 

Platforms Supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat

 

Pros

 

  • No shortage of content producers
  • Comprehensive website features everything from marketing research reports to investor information

 

Cons

 

  • Has so many affiliates and subsidiary companies that some brands Izea lists as their clients don’t even know they’re doing business with them
  • Since its inception in 2006, Izea has embraced pay-per-post marketing, effectively eliminating any and all earned media credibility

7. TapInfluence

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Paid media

 

TapInfluence’s mantra is “Content created by consumers for consumers.” With a database of 30,000 opt-in influencers, they seem primed to deliver on that promise. But what sets them apart from many of the marketplace options is that they focus primarily on the software, touting speedy workflow automation, precise influencer identification, audience targeting and multi-channel analytics tracking. They offer three pricing plans: standard, enterprise, and agency. The plans for enterprise and agency offer unique features such as onboarding, account managers, influencer strategists, pitch meetings and partnerships. TapInfluence’s website also features successful case studies.

 

Platforms supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine

 

Pros

 

  • Comprehensive software featuring a number of resources and tools
  • Tap Library offers eBooks, videos and webinars

 

Cons

 

  • TapInfluence’s standard price plan starts at $1,999 per month, which makes it cost-prohibitive for many smaller businesses.
  • Boasts of a “200% ROI” are difficult (if not impossible) to verify

8. Traackr

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Paid media, earned media

 

Traackr operates primarily as a marketing campaign manager with a focus on brand-influencer communication. The site facilitates dialogue, so businesses can glean insight directly from influencers and sculpt their social-media campaigns accordingly. This is a good thing, since Traackr works with influencers on all major social-media platforms as well as a number of blogging sites. Besides offering robust influencer profiles, Traackr has an equally detailed analytics engine that automatically keeps tabs on brand mentions, daily post updates and trending content.

 

In keeping with the communication theme, the site allows businesses to track conversations in real-time with multiple contacts. This also applies to email and Twitter feeds between influencers and brands. Traackr also provides supplementary marketing reports and data services.

 

Platforms Supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+

 

Pros

 

  • Built-in communication tools facilitate communication between influencers and brands
  • Detailed online profiles of Traacker’s influencers

 

Cons

 

  • Poorly organized website contains too much text and too little direction
  • Some users have reported the platform as being “buggy” and prone to glitches

9. InstaBrand

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Paid media

 

Instabrand holds its own with the other players on this list regarding features and functionality. It offers the “greatest hits,” like a large database of influencers operating on all major social platforms. And signup is a simple one-click process right from the homepage. According to InstaBrand they have an extensive client list of some of the biggest names, including Universal, Colgate, Pepsi and H&M.

 

One way in which InstaBrand is looking to capitalize on new social trends is through their Snapchat Labs feature. This tool allows brands to utilize Instabrand’s pool of some 12,000 Snapchat influencers to reach that coveted 18-29 Millennial demographic.

 

Platforms Supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat,

 

Pros

 

  • Advanced search engine lets brands filter influencer results by a number of criteria including demographics and post relevance
  • Assigns campaign managers to offer personalized attention

 

Cons

 

  • Website is heavy on content but light on substance and detail of Instabrand’s platform

 

10. Instafluence

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Paid media

 

Instafluence has carved out a unique niche for itself by offering influencer services to clients looking to promote their mobile app. The platform leverages the popularity of social-media celebrities to boost downloads of the apps in question. Another selling point is that they offer to build a loyal Instagram following for the brand and then hand over the reigns so they can continue promoting on their own. Their client list includes heavyweights such as Viacom and Dos Equis, and many of their celebrity influencers enjoy millions of subscribers.

 

One interesting turn of events is that Instafluence was acquired by Disney’s Maker Studios in 2015. The platform can now utilize that production company’s some 55,000 YouTube channels and roster of celebrity vloggers to help promote client apps.

 

Platforms Supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Instagram, Vine, Snapchat

 

Pros

 

  • The purchase by Disney means Instafluence can deliver a massive rolodex of genuine social-media celebrities
  • The only platform on the list that focuses solely on apps

 

Cons

 

  • Focuses solely on apps

 

11. Niche.co

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Paid media

 

Niche is an influencer platform with quite the social-media pedigree. One co-founder, Rob Fishman, worked the social beat at Huffington Post, and the company hired Vine celebrity Cody Johns as its creative director. Starting in 2013, Niche found early success with Vine campaigns in the world of film and retail. Now they’ve opened up their platform to all the major social networks and, according to their website, work with over 30,000 content creators.

 

For the benefit of everyone involved, Niche creates a single profile for their creators that aggregates all content from their various social profiles. Then they display these profiles in a leaderboard, complete with full analytics tracking, so brands can see which influencers are moving the needle the most.

 

Platforms Supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr

 

Pros

 

  • Leaderboard helps brands decide which influencers will deliver the most engagement to their campaign
  • Comprehensive profile helps creators see which of their content is hitting the mark
  • Niche takes a hands on approach, being involved in most aspects of the campaign creation

 

Cons

 

  • Website doesn’t make it easy to engage with content creators; brands who want free reign to create campaigns and communicate with influencers directly may feel stifled

12. Octoly

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Earned media

 

Octoloy is a French platform that has also gone all in on YouTube. Billing themselves as the “first Free Store dedicated to creators,” the site is an automated marketplace that connects brands with vlog personalities. In just a few steps, brands can search a database of influencers and create a campaign by offering nothing more than free products. Most of the influencers on Octoloy are beauty YouTubers, and the site claims to monitor some 800,000 channels.

 

Like Content BLVD, Octoly places a premium on authenticity and honest reviews. They charge a fee for brands to access their database.

 

Platforms Supported: YouTube

 

Pros

 

  • Doesn’t pay influencers; focuses on authentic product reviews

 

Cons

 

  • Octoly is limited by focusing predominantly on beauty items—although they are branching out into video games
  • Only YouTube influencers
  • Lack of practical info (or even a demo or tutorial) on the homepage means businesses that sign up with Octoloy are doing so without knowing very much about how it works

13. Grapevine Logic

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Paid media, earned media

 

The last YouTube-only option on the list, Grapevine works with over 200 brands. Like Content BLVD and Octoly, the site offers influencers product packages in exchange for reviews. Unlike the two other sites, Grapevine also deals in paid sponsorships. Like some of the best options, the homepage is in simple WordPress format, and they offer their own analytics engine to help brands and agencies find the most visible influencers.

 

Platforms Supported: YouTube

 

Pros

 

  • A database of over 60,000 influencers
  • Pairs brands with a dedicated account manager to facilitate the process

 

Cons

 

  • Only YouTube influencers
  • The option for influencers to receive monetary compensation diminishes earned-media potential

14. Popular Pays

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Paid media

 

This website offers speed and ease of use to help businesses leverage the power of Instagram to promote their brand. On the speed end, Popular Pays promises that visitors can list a campaign in six minutes, receive proposals from Instagrammers 24 hours later, and have the campaign up within a week. By focusing almost exclusively on Instagram (they have dabbled in Pinterest and Snapchat, too), Popular Pays can keep their website streamlined and simple.

 

Popular Pays boasts a network of over 25,000 Instagrammers who have created sponsored campaigns for top brands including Nike, Target and Glenlivet. As for the bread and butter of Instagram—the photos—the site offers brands the option to use original photos from the content creators themselves, or full-rights pics from Popular Pays’ database.

 

Platforms Supported: Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest

 

Pros

 

  • Straightforward website free of visual noise
  • Popular Pays stays out of the pairing process, letting brands and Instagrammers find each other organically
  • Great for sponsored content on Instagram

 

Cons

 

  • Caters primarily to just one social-media platform
  • It’s a bid marketplace, meaning Instagrammers get paid for their services, thus eliminating any earned media

 

While there is no single winner on this list, certain sites might be a better fit than others. For example, those who want an established option dealing in multiple social platforms may opt for BrandBacker. On the other hand, those who want to create an earned-media video advertising campaign could be better off with Content Blvd. And businesses without previous influencer knowledge looking to setup quick campaigns with minimal hassle might prefer FameBit or, or Grapevine Logic, or Popular Pays. It all depends on the brand.

If you represent an influencer marketing platform that you feel I should have included, just say so in the comments.

 

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5 Reasons Brand Integrations Don’t Scale (Yet)

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No one wants to stake their advertising hopes solely on traditional ad buys anymore. But to shift real spending to brand integrations like product placements, sponsored YouTube videos or sponsored events, advertisers need standardizations and efficiencies that just don't exist yet.

 

Sitting down with in-house brand marketers, PR agencies, creative agencies and media buyers, we hear two consistent statements, again and again:

 

Yes, we want to get more new and interesting brand placements.

 

No, we can't scale them yet, and that is what's holding us back.

Interestingly, we've found that the issue is not whether brand integration is the right choice-- different media and placement types afford a huge range of options advertisers are curious to explore. So, even though the specific objectives of in-house marketers and their bevy of agencies can vary significantly, there's usually a brand integration option that fits the bill as part of their marketing mix.

 

For example, while a PR agency may focus only on earned media placements like unpaid product reviews on blogs, a media buying agency might look to secure paid sponsored posts on blogs. In both cases, a similar intent is there, but the questions remain: Which blogs are right for their audience? What kind of deals do those blogs want to do? How much should those placements cost? Will I get the exposure I paid for?

 

Answering these questions takes a lot of work. And the challenges multiply when you consider more media channels.

 

"We want more of that."

When the folks at Lyft, the car-sharing service, scored a huge brand integration with Conan O'Brien on TBS, the segment earned more exposure for their brand than anything they had done before. The YouTube video is currently at 14.6 million views and counting, on a show that nets about 862,000 viewers per episode. They knew they wanted to do more of those kinds of integrations, but they had no idea how. In fact, Conan's team had contacted Lyft in the first place, so the placement wasn't strategic at all-- it was luck.

 No one wants to pin their marketing success on luck, but when you want your brand to become a pop cultural touchstone, how else do you get in front of the right audience, in the right place, at the right time?

 

Every day, we hear from agencies whose clients want them to come up with something new and different. Few advertisers are content with the status quo, but knowing what to do about it is another story. For many, brand integration is the place to go for that "feather in the cap" as an agency their clients can't live without.

 

Because the options vary so widely, however, developing an idea, then finding the right fit ends up presenting too much of an open-ended question. With lots of spend to cover and little time to do it, small custom deals are difficult to justify compared to much bigger, more clearly-defined ad buys, with measurable outcomes.

 

Native Ads to the Rescue?

For one media buying agency we talk to, syndicated sponsored content is a solution they use, albeit less than ideal. By pushing client-approved content through a platform like Nativo, they are able to secure placement on many sites at once, with great tracking to boot.

 

The problem, of course, is that they look at those placements as "advertorial" content, and not authentic integrations. The tactic fits their need to fulfill larger media buys and measure the outcome, but it falls short in their branding objectives, because most native ads often end up feeling just like that: an ad. Many blog publishers we work with feel the same way, and would rather not syndicate anything to their own publishing real estate.

 

As one agency rep put it,

 We agree.

 

Don't Product Placement Agencies Have This Covered?

Product placement agencies, and other kinds of brokers who help advertisers find the right placements for their brands have been at it for a generation. Like real estate agents, travel agents and stock brokers, however, they tend to focus on one medium, and keep the process closed and cumbersome.

 

We talked about this problem in depth when we explained why we're building a marketplace, not an agency, network or ad platform. Agents and brokers do have an important job to do when information and expertise is hard to find, but in many cases, that's not true anymore. 

 

That said, efficiencies in the brand integration market just aren't there yet, which is why we do what we do. Here are five of the top solutions we think an effective marketplace should offer to help brand integration take off.

 

1. A Place to Find All the Right Opportunities

When buying traditional advertising, you know where to look and who to call-- the infrastructure is there. Not so with brand integrations. Media is so highly fragmented both across channels and with countless more properties to choose from, where to find the right opportunities is the first challenge.

 

A marketplace allows content creators of all types to list the placement opportunities they want to make available directly to advertisers. So if a podcaster wants to let advertisers know about her publishing schedule and the kinds of sponsorships she has available, she can do that and set her terms. At the same time, a blogger or YouTuber is listed in the very same place, making it much easier for buyers to find the inventory that's actually for sale, rather than hunting down potential partners one at a time and asking the same question, over and over again.

 

2. A Place to Share RFPs with the Right Partners

We know that when agencies want to get placements done, they can't just sit back and hope good opportunities present themselves. They embark on a heavy outreach effort to put their RFPs (requests for proposals) in the hands of any potential content partner. Often they rely on specialized agents like the ones we mentioned above, to delve into their own contact lists to get it done.

 

Once the RFPs are distributed, advertisers need to wade through the proposals and negotiate the final terms with each chosen partner. In the same way that a marketplace puts available inventory in one place, it would also facilitate buyers broadcasting their needs, to quickly and efficiently build a list of appropriate partners, reducing the need for creators to go out on the hunt for advertisers.

 

3. Standard Ad Units

Before the Interactive Advertising Bureau helped to establish standard digital display ad units, buying and selling online display ads was hard to do. No one knew what they were getting, without a great deal of back-and-forth. Brand integration is undergoing a similar phase in which content creators are starting to deliver brand integrations that fit an expected format. For example, YouTubers are beginning to use sponsored videos, branded videos, paid reviews and product hauls as discrete brand integration types with specific meanings.

 

When evaluating different opportunities, or sharing the kinds of deals they want, advertisers and content creators need a commonly accepted vocabulary to make buying and selling simple. When every deal first requires an in-depth discussion, fewer deals happen.

 

4. Standard Pricing

Over a year ago, we began surveying advertisers and content creators to find out how sponsored content should be priced. What we discovered is that no one really knows. Because custom placements take work on the part of the creator, they tend to set prices based on time, effort, and how much they like the brand. Advertisers, naturally, don't care what a creator thinks his or her time is worth-- they prefer a cost-per-thousand views (CPM) model, like they're used to from display ads.

 

Because placement types are so variable across media channels and even within a single media channel (see the ad unit discussion above), and also because they live inside the content, not next to it, how and when an audience is exposed to the brand makes pricing tricky. There are solutions developing, but until buying and selling happens in one place and deal terms are captured, there's no way to efficiently price anything. As of now, pricing follows a largely ad hoc process.

 

5. Buyer/Seller Protections

Following from the concern about ad units and price is the worry that whatever it is, it ends up being a bad deal. And since many brand integrations are developed in concert with creators who write and produce the content themselves, this is no small issue.

 

A display ad looks just like the advertiser expects it to. But what about a branded video? Is the brand presented in an appropriate light? Is the production quality as expected? Was the brand exposed to as many viewers as expected?

 

Conversely, content creators express concern that if they put in the work, they may not be paid in full and in a timely manner. When a simple creative difference can derail an otherwise promising collaboration, for some, the risk can be too burdensome.

 

By processing transactions through the marketplace in which clearly detailed expectations are standardized, and the disbursement of funds is controlled, buyers and sellers can more confidently pursue deals with parties they don't know. Mature industries have robust regulations that help ensure smooth transactions and perhaps that will develop in time. For now, however, the brand integration industry just needs a few simple controls, not unlike those that users already enjoy through markets like eBay

 

Brand integration strategies are growing up, and as traditional advertising yields more share to strategies that enhance the consumer experience, rather than interrupt it, the infrastructure that supports it has to grow up, too.

 

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How to Kill Mobile Display Ads

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Mobile advertising is a pain. Perhaps because it happens in the palm of my hand, it feels more off-putting than an ad in a desktop browser. Or perhaps because we tend to consume mobile media in smaller chunks, every interruption is an amplified inconvenience. Can we kill off mobile ads already?

 

Advertisers Pay for Our Media Addictions

According to eMarketer, total media ad spending in the US will have reached $180.2 billion by the end of 2014, showing it's strongest growth in a decade. Advertising on tablets and smart phones is driving that growth with a whopping 83% rise over the prior year. That puts mobile ad spend in third place, behind only TV and desktop/laptop advertising, and ahead of newspapers, magazines and radio.

 

But we're just getting started. Digital ad spend could balloon to $26 billion in 2015. Wow.

 

With consumption of mobile media growing along with user base, it's only natural that ad dollars would follow. And despite the control that digital and mobile options provide consumers, as we've seen from generations of TV commercials interrupting our favorite shows, we'd much rather put up with the ads than pay for the content.

 

Just this fall, the NFL reaffirmed it's stance on broadcasting the vast majority of it's games on the big free networks, to maximize viewing audience (and therefore profits). Paid subscriptions to services like NFL Sunday Ticket, the NFL Network and the NFL's mobile app represent just a tiny portion of football consumption.

 

Adults in the US still watch over four and a half hours of old fashioned TV a day (a drop of just a few minutes over the prior year), and overall consumption of TV is up when we count time-shifted viewing and streaming. Even though Millennials are watching less live TV, it doesn't mean they are abandoning it.

 

Here's the point: We could live in an ad-free world; we choose not to. We could buy Hulu Plus and Netflix, and DVR live TV, and pay for premium apps. We could install ad blockers on our desktops. Mostly, we don't bother.

 

For all the hoopla about how advertising can trash the user experience, we seem content to let it be, and let it pay for the stuff we want to see. That's as true on mobile devices as it is on the other screens (and pages) we like to look at every day.

 

Do Mobile Ads Even Work?

The short answer: Often, they don't work at all.

 

A great deal of research has shown that many CMOs are dissatisfied with their mobile ad performance. And they should be. According to a recent study published by the American Marketing Association, most mobile display ad campaigns "have no significant effect on consumers' product-related attitudes and intentions."

 

For some reason, that doesn't seem to affect spending growth at all. Mobile is such a juggernaut that advertisers are more willing to waste money on it than sit on the sidelines and risk missing out.

 

At the same time, cool new start ups that purport to revolutionize the mobile display ad experience are getting a lot of attention. This week, MediaPost reported on Ad Hunter, a new app that makes a game out of finding and killing mobile display ads. Can it work, despite it's need to control other apps without permission? Will their innovative subscription model work? Will consumers even care? I doubt it.

 

If many mobile display ads don't even affect consumers in a way that bolsters the brand, what is the incremental performance improvement advertisers will see from a minuscule subset of users showing them what ads they manage to definitively "dislike?"

 

How long can the mobile ad industry grow if display ads remain the persona non grata in most consumers' mobile experience, as well as in many marketers' budgets?

 

Brand Integration to the Rescue

It surprised me to learn that the majority of time users spend on mobile devices is dedicated to apps, not browsers: 85% vs 15%. Of course, that makes sense; screen size doesn't afford an ideal browsing experience. Mobile users are more likely to be after information or an interaction that a mobile-optimized app is uniquely suited to provide. Does that mean mobile is an ideal medium for brand integration, instead or in addition to display ads? I think so.

 

There are two definitions of 'brand integration' that pertain to this discussion. Let's call them 'big B' and 'small b,' to borrow a political convention. Big B Brand Integration refers to the work most often overseen by creative agencies to integrate a consistent brand message across media channels, and usually to do so around interesting/entertaining/informative content.

 

You may also hear it referred to as integrated marketing communications or, as Saatchi & Saatchi calls it, integrated advertising. Even though marketers are conflicted about what words to use when, this explainer video wins the definition, so here it is:

 

 

Small b brand integration, on the other hand, includes all the specific ways that brands can be integrated into the consumer experience. For the sake of mobile examples consider:

 

• product placement in a YouTube video
• a podcast sponsorship
• a paid product review
• product integration in a video game
• a sponsored blog post
• a sponsored recipe
• event sponsorship with an attendee app
• product placement in songs and music videos
• entertaining branded videos
• sponsored webinars and ebooks
• sponsored contests and giveaways via social

 

The objective, whether thinking about brand integration at a high strategic level, or through any number of tactical options is, as Saatchi & Saatchi put it, "to create more memorable and emotional advertising for the consumer, not only because of it's marketing message, but because of the experience that comes with it."

 

wrote about a brand integration I personally appreciated, when Magellan sponsored a challenge inside my RunKeeper app. They achieved what we like to call an embedded brand message-- the brand's message was embedded in my experience as a runner.

 

Mobile display ads are no more embedded in the consumer experience than are banner ads in a desktop browser. We've come to see them as background noise. However, they may play a role improving brand recognition when coupled with product placements, as some research has shown that product placements can actually improve the effectiveness of interruptive ads.

 

More importantly, perhaps, is research showing that product placements can change our implicit feelings about a brand or product. From Ian Zimmerman, PhD., in Psychology Today:

 

Product placement can directly influence our implicit attitudes, such that our attitude toward a TV program or film becomes unknowingly associated with products placed in that TV program or film.  Specifically, the emotions we experience while watching the program are transferred to products placed in that program, though we’d be unaware of the transfer.

 

Do these feelings also transfer from apps, digital media properties, events, games or songs we enjoy? It's certainly possible and worth exploring.

 

If the rapid shift from monolithic broadcast media to highly fragmented and highly personalized on-demand media is to continue (and it will), advertisers are going to have to get more personal with their target users and provide them value through advertising, not just another interruption.

 

What do you think? Will ad serving technology ever improve the mobile display ad experience for users, or is that a lost cause? What else can advertisers do to provide value to their mobile audience?

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