The end of 2015 saw plenty of online predictions that this year would be the year when Influencer Marketing goes mainstream in a big way. The cultural change in how celebrity endorsements work and their effectiveness is old news for people like Andrew Graham, co-founder of Heard Well and manager of such Internet sensations as Connor Franta, Kian Lawley, and Jc Caylen through his role at Big Frame. Graham has been collaborating with social media talent for years, building businesses and helping brands connect with younger audiences through YouTube celebrities they know and trust. As he and his stable of social media creators celebrate the amazing success of the Heard Well record label, which releases curated compilations of undiscovered artists, we caught up with Graham to get his thoughts on the industry and how it is finally recognizing the incredible value to be gained by working with social media influencers.
Congratulations on the huge success of Heard Well, your record label that has hit the top of many charts with compilations curated by YouTubers like Connor Franta and Jc Caylen. What is the secret to the label’s success?
Heard Well is a next generation record label that was birthed out of the idea that we could license great music selected by social media influencers who have active fan bases. We compile this exciting undiscovered work into an album people love. When someone like Connor, who has a deep connection with his fans, says he’s excited about a new musician, his fans are naturally going to be
interested. Our Heard Well talent have become trusted tastemakers building 21st century ‘mix-tapes’ for their fans and that’s why we’re seeing all of this success from our compilations on the Billboard charts. It’s also an ideal validation that influencer marketing drives not just word-of-mouth but real sales.
And we’re going to build on that success. Connor has a couple of additional compilations on the way but we are pushing to release more original material from the phenomenal talent that Connor, Jc (whose compilation hit #1 on the EDM charts) and others at Heard Well are finding. We also think this will work on the road. We’re planning to add live events with the same concept in mind. We think fans will enjoy seeing this amazing new talent at concert venues.
Variety and others have noted that the most influential people with Millennials and Gen Z are YouTube stars. When will we stop calling your clients “YouTubers” or “Social Media Celebrities” and just call them what they are – influential celebrities?
When should we have? Last year? Longer? (laughs) The real answer is that there will be a watershed moment that will trigger the change. There are already huge stories of success from Connor Franta’s books and clothing line to movies from SMOSH and brand activations throughout the industry. I think we’re on the verge of something where a really big brand, like a Coke or Pepsi level, will sign up and work with a social media creator like Connor or Michelle Phan to great success. That will dovetail with some second thing, such as an influencer’s company blowing up like the next Honest Company, something on that scale. That’s when we’ll see a real difference and we can stop thinking of them as something different that requires another word in front of ‘celebrity.’
Remember also that these folks are the whole package. They are content creators who produced, marketed and distributed work that connected with huge audiences. They know their channel and medium better than anyone because that’s where they have worked and been successful at building real relationships with their fans.
Clearly influencers can get their fans excited about popular music and video games, entertainment – fun stuff. What about influencer marketing for less exciting industries – for example, B2B products and maybe other things that it’s a little harder to get a YouTuber excited about.
Well, there may be a hole in the market there. People like Connor, Tyler Oakley – they are content creators and distributors, yes. They are also brilliant marketers. It’s different people who would do the advocacy but these guys could be idea people to bring on as consultants. I mean, Beyonce is great songwriter but she works with other people to do the business end. The talent I work with are people who have all of this naturally integrated in what they do so they would be ideal to help figure out a program for other kinds of businesses.
Of course, you want people who care about what they talking about or it’s really not an influencer activation. Without the authenticity and ensuring the creator cares about what they are endorsing, it won’t work. I will say that even if it’s not the most interesting or fun subject, we have done activations where there was a cause or a purpose that helped line a brand up with the influencer. For example, Connor Franta did a successful campaign with the Art Institute where he was excited to be part of a project that encouraged creativity and was being done for a good cause.
What are brands doing wrong when they engage influencers to be part of their campaigns?
They’re getting better, actually. The biggest issues now are about getting projects done. For example, the approval process. A lot of the popular channels like Snapchat and Vine are fast-paced and production time can be short. We need the approvals to be quicker. The internet is moves fast and brains need to be nimbler.
Part of that comes from working regularly with the same talent. When brands and the talent have a relationship, there’s more trust and things can move along at a better pace with fewer rounds of notes, more control for the creator and a closer to real-time level of marketing.
What else is in store for influencer marketing in 2016?
The good news, as I said, is that brands are starting to finally lean in on influencer marketing. They are understanding that our talent are like TV networks and they’re booking multi-video engagements with them. Instead of one-off activations, we’re discussing editorial calendars and building regular engagements with them. By building long-term relationships, there’s an opportunity for brands to have a spokesperson with real trust and a built-in audience that has a true connection with their audience. That is how influencer marketing will grow and start to become a table stakes component of all campaigns.
Photo credit: Heard Well