Influencer marketing is no longer in its infancy. Creators with influence are regularly commanding, five, six, and seven figure-fees to help popularize products in across way more consumer product verticals than you’d think. With all that in mind, we’re giving influencer marketing some dedicated attention. In Behind The Brand Deal we’ll talk to the individuals who orchestrate the deals and make the content that contribute to this multi-billion dollar industry.
You can check out all the installments of Behind The Brand Deal right here.
If you’re an avid watcher of YouTube you’ve undoubtedly seen videos mentioning Best Fiends. And if you’ve seen videos mentioning Best Fiends, chances are you’ve gone onto play the free addictive puzzle adventure game. And if you’ve played the addictive puzzle adventure game, chances are you’ve spent some cash to positively augment your in-game experience.
Best Fiends hit $100 million in lifetime revenue back in December 2017, just three years after its initial launch. That’s in part due to video game developer Seriously Digital Entertainment‘s continued investment into the Best Fiends ecosystem and its ancillary programming. But it’s also in part due to a bold marketing strategy that in early 2016 shifted nearly all of the game’s marketing budget to YouTube influencers.
While other installments of Behind the Brand Deal have given a peek into an influencers‘ take on influencer marketing, how top managers view sponsored content, and established public relations firms have participated in the trend, this is the first article we’ve published in the series that explores how a successful company approaches influencer marketing at scale. And when we say at scale, we mean it. Best Fiends has worked with influencers to produce over 2,000 pieces of content to date.
We were lucky enough to ask Seriously’s SVP of Brand & Marketing, Phil Hickey some questions about how he approaches influencer marketing and how he was able to architect such a successful strategy.
Tubefilter: While most companies have only recently dived into influencer marketing, your company began working with influencers as early as 2014. What drove you to adopt influencer marketing that early? Was there any internal resistance?
Phil Hickey: Before we launched Best Fiends in 2014, we asked a lot of peers and friends in the industry what was working for them marketing-wise and what wasn’t. The most common answer of what they couldn’t get to work was YouTube. Everyone was spending their money on performance marketing, so we saw YouTube as an opportunity to cut through the clutter with our small launch budget.
Around the same time, I read a Variety article of the most influential people in Hollywood for teens, and YouTubers had taken over the list. We realized that influencers had a unique relationship with their fans — an aspirational and honest one. Fans could relate on a personal level as well as connect in a way no one would be able to with an “A-list” celebrity. It was now a two-way conversation.
It was also helpful to us that 70% of YouTube views were viewed on mobile devices, meaning that they were one click away from a download. With a limited launch budget, we decided to do an integration with PewDiePie, who was by far the biggest personality on the internet globally at that time.
TF: You were pretty bold to go where everyone else was having trouble! When making that decision, how did you decide to move forward and make it work for you when it wasn’t working for others?
PH: As a company we like trying new things and being the first to test interesting marketing initiatives. We also use data-informed marketing mixed with creative instinct to try and make a lasting impact. And as I touched on earlier, since the space was not working for others, it was unsaturated at the time and allowed us the opportunity to break through on an influential platform that could scale.
TF: Most people may not be aware of the scale you operate at on YouTube, but after commissioning 1,300 videos in 2016 and another 800 in 2017, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned from making such a massive amount of content?
PH: There is no easy way to do this. Every talent needs to be vetted, which is a manual process that you can’t get around. Every video must be reviewed as we take things like advertising disclosures very seriously. We have a network of trusted partners that act as an extension of our marketing team, which include multi-channel networks, agencies, managers, and the talent themselves. We’ve found it’s important to do influencer marketing at scale, rather than one-off collaborations with creators.
Additionally, measuring success is challenging, but we know what works. We use benchmarks from previous campaigns to measure against ourselves which helps us understand how to hit our goals.
TF: You’ve talked about the need for “trusted partners” when operating at such a high level. How does an agency, representation in the form of a manager or agent, or multi-channel network become trusted?
PH: It’s important from a brand perspective that the agency, representation, or multi-channel network has creators that have built credibility within their communities and know their audience. We also need our agencies or representation to know our product and our brand and also understand how our message will translate to the creator’s audience. We want the content to be as authentic as possible while still hitting upon our key messages.
TF: One of the biggest pain points for influencer marketing professionals is around identifying influencers. How do you identify talent?
PH: Over the years, we have amassed a network of trusted partners. When a new project arises, we’ll send them a brief to curate potential talent for our campaigns. Then, we review every talent recommended (the videos, their audience demo, their social footprint), make a decision on whether they are a fit for our brand, and then we try to make a deal. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to scale this operation, so we roll up our sleeves and put in the work.
TF: While most mobile games utilize gamers for promotion, you have found success using multiple verticals other than gaming. What made you branch out into different verticals?
PH: In the beginning, we partnered with creators from all verticals to find what worked best for us. As we evaluated performance, we saw immense success in the beauty and lifestyle vertical, the family vertical, and the LGBTQ+ vertical. Interestingly enough, these creators initially questioned why we wanted to work with them since they weren’t “gamers.” However, we think anyone can be a gamer, especially with such a casual game like ours.
We’ve ended up being many creators’ first gaming sponsorship and that has been very powerful. And because we also have a brand-centric creative process, with our games being an introduction to the world we have developed, we have found that influencers are excited to work with us, as we feel a bit different than most game companies.
We have an incredible data science team at Seriously, so we are able to identify influencer demographics that are likely to connect well. In addition, all of our marketing campaigns across the company are measured on a return on ad spend (aka ROAS) basis, where we tie the performance of our marketing directly back to revenue and engagement. It is amazing how measurable our media buying has become. We’re in a perpetual state of optimizing our marketing, and we’ve seen how well non-gaming verticals can perform for us.
TF: One vertical you mentioned that has been amazing to Best Fiends is LGBTQ+. Why is that? Furthermore, do you believe there’s great influencers in that vertical being overlooked?
PH: Definitely. It’s a tight-knit community, and I think we were one of the first brands to support the community at scale. Unfortunately, at the time, that community wasn’t getting its fair share of brand deals in comparison to others. We saw the amount of creativity and entertainment coming out of the LGBTQ+ community plus its incredibly loyal and engaging audience and knew it was a great fit for our marketing. We’re proud to have worked so closely with the LGBTQ+ community and will definitely continue to do so in the coming years.
TF: When commissioning such a large amount of videos, what is the internal review process? How do FTC Guidelines factor in?
PH: We have an internal review process for every step of the partnership, and we take it very seriously.
Before we sign the deal, we thoroughly vet each talent through their YouTube channels and other social media presence. Then, we have a straightforward brief and video review process where we ensure the content adheres to all FTC (or other regulatory agencies of relevance) guidelines. As an internal rule, we will not partner with any talent not willing to follow those guidelines because we respect the consumers’ right to easily and transparently recognize a branded partnership.
TF: In previous installments of this Behind the Brand Deals column, both influencers and representation have made it clear the more the influencer is trusted the better the results. As a brand that has found great success with influencers, how do you weigh in?
PH: Results depend on how influencers and brands are able to creatively and organically integrate the brand’s message in a way that works for the brand, the influencer, and the audience. Brands need to respect the authentic relationship influencers have with their audience to ensure a successful campaign.
TF: Unlike most people utilizing influencer marketing, you’ve actually included Easter Eggs into the game that come from influencers. What was the thinking behind this?
PH: We believe that connecting the marketing and the product is what best moves the needle for us. When both the product and marketing work together, especially with context, it’s very powerful. Having a YouTuber design Easter Eggs or hide their logo in the game is very fun for the influencer and their community, too, which translates into a successful campaign for all.
TF: Of all the videos that you’ve commissioned since 2014, what is your personal favorite?
PH: This is a hard one because we’ve commissioned so many great videos. It’s always an instant favorite when the influencer has used his/her imagination to create something fun, unique, and even surprising. A few creators that come to mind are RoseEllenDix, Markiplier, Tré Melvin, Joey Graceffa, Rosanna Pansino, and Random Encounters.
TF: For people brand new to Influencer Marketing, what’s your one piece of advice?
PH: My advice is to focus on the engagement and not just the number of subscribers.
After overseeing the talent and talent integration departments at Machinima, Chris Landa most recently served as the Sr. Director of Content & Partnerships at YouNow, where he worked with top talent and brands to maximize their presence on the platform. With a wide range of expertise around brand integrations and original content featuring creators, Chris recently launched Transparent Influence, a company focused on accountability and transparency in Influencer Marketing.
You can check out all the installments of Chris’ Behind The Brand Deal right here.