Snackable Lesson 3 of 7:
People vs. Brands

Know a teenager who is into beauty or fashion? Ask what sources they follow. Go ahead, text your niece right now… I’ll wait.

You might be expecting these types of answers: YouTube, Instagram.

But instead, this is what you’ll hear: James Charles; Jeffree Star.

If you ask Generation Z what "sources" they follow, they will name people!

When influencers talk about brands, people listen. This is the basic principle that has made influencer marketing take off. Social networks are growing, and the generation that grew up using them is reaching buying maturity. With a real job and actual income of their own, they will be clicking through Instagram and other social networks and buying products they see. However, this also means that there are more people than ever on social media in general (each with lots of curated accounts), which leads to a whole lot of uniquely branded user-generated content, resulting in a whole lot of noise.

If you can cut through the noise, boosting your brand engagement with influencer marketing has never been more reasonable: forget massive influencers and microinfluencers. Nanoinfluencers with only 1,000 followers or more have become increasingly popular, especially for local brands. For a small commission, they are willing to say just about anything you want about your product, and they tend to be easier to work with. Hiring multiple nanoinfluencers instead of relying on a single big-time creator may make your brand seem like it is all over the place in a more natural way. You will appear within reach for the everyday consumer, a value that Generation Z highly admires.  

User-generated content (UGC) is quickly seeping into other types of marketing content including emails, product-display pages, and other ad campaigns. Brands have started to use a mix of professional photos and user-generated ones on these different channels to blend professional with authentic. Here is an example of this from a Munchkin email marketing campaign:

Source: UGC in Munchkin emails, created by Pixlee.

Source: UGC in Munchkin emails, created by Pixlee.

User-generated content does not have to come from influencers. Garmin is a great example of a brand that incorporates its customer stories into its Instagram posts, and it garners goodwill and engagement every time it does. It recently even put up a Story Highlight for customer stories labeled “From You.” It takes very little effort to showcase customer stories on Instagram, and it typically results in high engagement and organic social media growth every time. Don't forget to tag your customer in the post!

If you do go with paid influencer marketing, a true story and authentic photo trumps a product picture any day. Here is an example from @bridiewilkins who brings up the sponsoring product in a natural way: “Are you an over packer or under packer? I brought 11 bikinis with me for 5 days in Dubai so I think you can guess which I am… Tap to see where this beauty is from #ad #swimwear365.”

bridiewilkins influencer book image.png

A number of companies try this but cannot seem to get it right. Here is an influencer marketing campaign by Wells Fargo in the form of a story. It looks like it follows the rules, yes. But it fails for a few key reasons. First, it was clearly not written by @jigglebeatmedia. When you look at the length, punctuation, and capitalization, it is all wrong. It is not on-brand for her. Her wall is speckled with photos and videos of half-naked jiggling butts and half-naked sculpted abs. This pristinely-posed, fully-clad professional photo screams stock image. Even if this is her, in contrast to the rest of the content she posts, it feels phony. Your Generation Z audience can make a gut decision about marketing speak in a nanosecond. Make sure that if you spend the money on influencer marketing, it reads authentic and on-point for both you and the influencer.


Influencer marketing is not just influencers taking photos of products. On the contrary, some of the best campaigns are related to learning and doing. When Fiji water partnered with fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein @weworewhat, she and trainer Eric Johnson created a series of 8-minute paid workout videos called bodyworewhat, a spinoff of her handle. This campaign offered 25% off your first home shipment of Fiji water so you stay hydrated while you work for that summer body.

For B2C brands selling products with mass consumer appeal, influencer marketing is a no-brainer. Yet for B2B brands, it is not as easy. B2B buyers do not typically click on a link from an Instagram post, go to a website, and purchase something right then and there. B2B sales are more likely based on word-of-mouth and personal relationships. The dollar amount is higher but the sales cycle is much longer. The average sales cycle for enterprise software, for example, is 6 months. Buyers can spend months researching and asking questions before they purchase.

That said, content shared or created by influencers provided 11 times higher return on investment than the average display ad after 12 month, and 92 percent of marketers that used influencer marketing claimed it is effective at reaching audiences. So it is definitely worth it if you can find the right B2B influencer to partner with who aligns to your brand. But identifying the right B2B influencers is not easy. Many marketers use just one data point to determine which group of influencers to engage with: reach (how large their social community is across all digital channels). While reach is important, there are other metrics to consider as well including relevance (measures how consistently is the influencer’s content “on topic” for your brand), resonance (measures engagement and how far shared content travels), and reference (interactions with other influencers).

Today, many in B2B collaborate with influencers to create branded content like eBooks. The great news is that this media lives forever, indexed in Google. Advocates of this method say that the advantage of creating long-form content is that you can leverage smaller pieces of the asset for social media amplification, kind of like making your Thanksgiving leftovers into snacks for the days to come. Yet for this new generation of visual youth entering the workforce, I would recommend video content over text, and video snippets for bite-sized, shareable social content.

Generation Z was practically born searching for information online. They are extremely sensitive to the feeling of being “sold to.” I promise you won’t wow them with fancy text. Instead, don’t sell to them; talk with them or teach them something new.  Seeing your face will make them feel more connected to you. Generation Z craves real connection, so ditch the eBook. It is possible you will never have to write a “slick sheet” ever again either.

For B2B, there are some marketers who believe that partnering with a long-term brand ambassador may be a more successful form of influencer marketing, especially if that influencer is actually creating original content instead of just sharing. While I have not seen metrics to support this, it makes sense if sponsored learning-based content from a long-term brand ambassador is in your plan.

We have been talking about people here, and I want to make sure we are not skipping over people who directly contribute to your band story: your people. Generation Z is seeking deeper connections all around, and one of the biggest draws of your brand just might be the people they get to interact with, or the people involved behind the scenes of our business. Your employees represent your band. There is a reason that Zappos goes to such lengths to hire its customer service reps (even going so far as to pay them to leave after their initial training): because they are unique, quirky souls who contribute to the Zappos brand in every single interaction you have with one of them. This is critical for both B2C and B2B, but especially B2B who may have many more interactions prior to purchase.

How do you showcase your people? Here is a phenomenal example from Amazon:

Amazon is an enormous company and people do not typically interact with employees there unless they are calling a help center. This video, then, is a brilliant way to humanize the behemoth and inject light-hearted fun into brand personality.

Questions for Marketers to Consider…

  • How do I communicate my brand’s promise through people?

  • How should we involve influencers in our marketing?

  • Which influencers is our audience following? Which align to our brand?

  • How should we use customer stories? How would we find them? Where would we feature them?

  • How can I highlight my employees as a part of the brand?

  • How can I make customer service a differentiator?

If you enjoyed this lesson, please show your support by buying the book!

If you’re interested in talking about a research project of your own, we should meet!