Balance Brand and Influencer Power to Unleash Creativity in Emerging Digital Spaces

By Hannah Anderson, Associate Director, Brand Partnerships at Cycle

Brands: as you voyage into newer platforms like TikTok, I know what you want from content creators. You want them to replicate your message, follow your cues, and provide content to populate the new space the way you advise.

Good news: when it doesn’t fully work out that way, it’s for the best.

Wanting more creative control in new spaces is understandable: uncertainty creates tension, so you want certainty in how your brand shows up. Influencers – who know these spaces well – seem to have outsize control of the process. Creators of all levels can be quick to disregard guidelines, populate their own talking points, or go off-brief to suit their understanding of their audience. Feels risky, right?

We’ve all seen sponsored content where the brand gets no more than a passing mention. In response, brands look to assert more control, leading to more uniformity of messaging and thought. When this happens though, you end up with content that feels inauthentic and removed from the talent and their feed. In short, you get a commercial – and commercials don’t work well on talent channels. Old creative models won’t be the answer for new spaces and talent. And while the pendulum has swung towards influencer control, especially on platforms like TikTok, a full swing back to brand-controlled content isn’t the answer you think it is.

The best creative influencer ideas will be built on balanced partnerships, suiting the needs of all parties, and performing well on talent and brand channels.

Remember, you’re partnering with talent because of their personal brand. So take specific steps to incorporate balance in each stage of creative collaborations.

When selecting a creator partner, consider key factors for balance. The ideal talent aligns with your brand messaging and aesthetic, is likely to use your product, is speaking to an audience you aren’t, and is interested in being a real partner. You’ve defined this unicorn; now, how to find them?

Talent sourcing combines art and science but there are metrics that best indicate a fit and will help achieve balance. Follower demographics and affinities, engagement rate, brand safety, and content creation abilities are the first layer to examine; if talent don’t align for one of the criteria, they aren’t a good fit.

Less tangible elements to selecting a partner who will be open to balance can be discerned by key questions. First, how many brand partnerships do they have? You want to partner with an authority in the space, but not one who is frequently working with your competitors. Second, how much effort have they put into past brand partnerships? If they do the bare minimum for one partnership, they likely will for others. Finally, do they engage with their audience? Influencers known for replying to fans generate high levels of engagement on all posts, and provide the trust you seek.

Creator briefing is a major factor to achieving balance. Too broad and the talent’s happy but the message is lost; too prescriptive and the creator feels hemmed in, yielding mediocre work. Top performing content strikes a balance between the two.

So rethink a few brief mandatories. Is there a creative spark, or key story? Are you aiming for purchases, visits, or awareness? These answers will define what’s mandatory and what’s nice-to-have. Your brief should always include a brand overview, program overview, and imagery (yours and the influencer’s). These elements help immerse them in your world, as they aim to convey your message and aesthetic.

Then, before talent formally takes over, include specifics on what you are expecting to see from their initial creative concept. You want to know where they will shoot, and which key messages they plan to hit in their content and caption? Balance in their concepts will ensure you’re aligned before content gets produced, and any feedback should be mindfully shared and constructive. This is your brand, but through their eyes.

Talent success metrics can help answer the question: was balance achieved? The performance metrics from platforms and tracking software will provide the quantitative analysis of how your influencer performed. Qualitative factors take more work to discern.

First, every campaign should include sentiment analysis to determine if the content resonated with the audience, and also be examined for any comments indicating that balance was achieved. Next, add specific focus to consideration of your experience with your creator. Were they willing to be a good partner? Would you want to continue the relationship? Did you think the content interpreted the brief well? Most talent should come out on the positive end of these questions if balance was integrated in early stages. However, in a subjective industry, some favorites will always rise to the top. Finally, explore how your partner viewed the relationship. You’ll get the most honest results with an anonymous survey. Ask how they felt about the briefing, creative ideas, and the framework you provided. Ask for POV on your products, and their intent to continue using or purchasing from your brand.  

Balancing the creative needs and wants between your brand and your partners takes work, but yields high-performing results that speak to your audience and lead to long-term relationships with talent who share your brand values.

To craft your brand in these new spaces, no need to obsess over control when balance does the trick.

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