“There is great content on the Internet. But holy mother of cheeses, the Internet is not made out of content… the Net offers us a common place where we can be who we are, with others wh
o delight in our differences.” – www.newclues.cluetrain.com
As 2017 warms up on the West Coast (and finishes off another record-setting winter of storms on the East Coast), I am flying back to Eugene from LAX. This past weekend, I made the acquaintance of many socially-active and food-informed young people at Natural Products Expo West, the largest gathering of natural foods brands in the world. In marketing terms, these individuals are called “social influencers.” Folks like @diningwithdevyn and @alessandrataryn speak to audiences of 10,000 to 20,000 about how they incorporate branded products into their plant-based lifestyle.
My prediction is that 2017 is going to be the Year of the Influencer for startup brand marketing. In the food and beverage space, startup brands are building influencer and ambassador programs by the truckload. The savvy among us use a targeted, personal approach to engage with influencers. The rabid among us leave the door to ambassadorship wide open through online forms and general invitations. Regardless of approach, the mindset of marketers is universal: leverage exist social networks to enhance your brand.
This understanding is a bit one-sided in benefit. I ask myself, what is the mindset of the influencer? As Sean Thornberry pointed out a few days ago, there is a lot of money and status to be made by blowing up a personal brand through influencer programs. There is also a lot of adventure to be had as well. Still, this piece by seasoned brand ambassador Tara Folk indicates that the ambassador just wants to represent the brand and themselves professionally and honestly. This brings us to a fundamental truth that marketers must remember:
Celebrate your ambassadors.
The socially influential people that your brand engages with for ambassadorship are just that: socially influential people who want to engage with your brand. They have influence over their community because they do their thing and follow what they believe in. Because of this, they have found freedom.
The best brands among us will respect and cherish independence. The best brands build relationships of solidarity with ambassadors whose actions, activities, and dreams naturally resonate with what the brand stands for. My shining example is Lululemon, who catapulted to stardom by supporting the efforts of 1600 select yogis. Lululemon knew these influencers as people, and gave them the resources to enhance their own personal brands. As Lulu ambassador and community organizer Tyrone Beverly puts it, “[Lululemon]’s agenda is to support your agenda.” I think that is a pretty radical idea, and one with a ROI that can go bananas.
Be you, and be you forever. Everything else is just noise. Stay up and stay with it!
Joey J | CEO | Sohr Performance + Nutrition