There’s no one like a trusted friend to give you advice, about your relationships, your job or the best place in town for ribs. It’s an emotional connection that is truly authentic, and one that brand marketers try to duplicate with brand advocates. These are people who may not necessarily be your friends but that you can relate to, people who want to share their love for a product or service. After all, getting a designer handbag onto a celebrity in the latest issue of InStyle may be great for a brand’s image, but an endorsement by an everyday influencer, someone more like you and me, forges a deeper, more genuine connection and is 50 times more likely to influence your purchase intent.
Everyday influencers run the gamut from cute teenyboppers to 20-year-old beer-swilling guys to mommy bloggers, depending on the product being hyped. When Levi’s last year was looking to connect with millennial women, it selected up-and-coming young women in the fields of fashion, music, art and social change to form a community of like-minded women across the globe.
The campaign, called Shape What’s To Come, involved 50 women from the U.S., U.K. and Japan who detailed in handcrafted journals how they are shaping the future and who inspired them along the way. The “traveling journals” were revealed as part of Levi’s brand sponsorship at the first TEDWomen conference in Washington, D.C., last Dec. 7 and 8, where a documentary film showcased eight journal contributors’ stories. This year the campaign moved to India where Levi’s once again uncovered game-changing millennial women who completed the journals and presented them in October at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh.
For Levi’s, finding these influencers was key to the success of the program and to maintaining its brand authenticity. It was involved every step of the way, but leaned on Grow Marketing, San Francisco, to craft a curated list of appropriate women.
Grow approached the challenge as a casting call, using a proprietary, person-to-person approach. The process begins on the ground with a network of partners who are tapped into their local areas. These people work their connections to uncover influencers who match the brand’s psychographic and demographic target.
“Other influencer marketing agencies have huge and overused databases of consumers who they continue to tap into—they are hand raisers who have said they would like to receive free Cheetos or Pampers or whatever it is,” says Gabrey Means, co-founder and creative director at Grow. “Just by opting in, these people are probably not going to be mouthpieces that we need.”
Grow engages the potential influencers nominated by its network in a dialogue, screening them to ensure they are the right fit, that they are genuinely passionate about the brand and that they bring deep social and professional networks to the table. Its list of influencers changes with each project to match the needs of each client. Influencers are never reused. And they’re uncompensated.
In India this year, working with Levi’s and TED, Grow worked through rounds of interviews to narrow the pool, eventually settling on 16 women to be part of the journal project. Three of them got to attend TEDGlobal in Scotland.
“It seems like a lot of work, but you want to make sure your influencers are the most powerful,” Means says. “They are the heart and the power of the program. It will only be as strong as the women at the center of the wheel.”
Michael Perman, senior director of global marketing at Levi’s, agrees. “Perhaps more than any other brand, we are defined by people who wear our brand and the cultural connections that they have. So, if we associate ourselves with the right people, people who have integrity and who are doing original work, who are innovative, and are expressing themselves in a useful, change-making manner, that’s good for our brand.”
While Levi’s Shape What’s To Come may evolve, Perman says the brand will continue to seek women who represent its values.And maybe even some men, too. EM