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Is an influencer C.P.E. model the way forward?

There was an interesting piece by Lucinda Southern on Digiday recently looking at performance based pricing in influencer marketing. It’s a hotly debated area and there have been calls for more consistent and transparent pricing models. Recently we’ve seen sites like being set up to document the who, what and how much in contracts between creators and brands. I wanted to elaborate on our thoughts on the debate.

What are brands paying for?

Campaigns using paid influencers are a reality of today’s marketing space and there’s no coming back from that. It’s now a viable alternative / addition to sponsorships and media spends in the marketing mix. However, brand marketers are often unsure of what they are going to get from it – or even want to get from it. For some, paid influencer marketing comes with an aspiration of building long term brand advocate or partner. Yet this is not a particularly realistic ambition. It can be a fantastic awareness driver and excels at enabling brands to reach the right audiences.

With newsfeed algorithms proliferating, content reach is now a cool metric again and brands are looking back to reach with a certain fondness. And the right reach matters a lot as most are experiencing much lower organic reach everywhere. Although it’s not officially seen as a media spend, this is sponsored content and there are some very close parallels to a traditional digital media buy.

The takeaway here is it’s important to be realistic with what a compensated influencer approach will drive. Done well it’s a great way to reach, and stimulate interest among, a highly engaged audience. What it isn’t is a direct route to brand advocacy.

So what about a CPE costing model?

Whether we’re talking celebrity brand ambassadors or YouTube stars, the brand value exchange will always be a subjective affair. To expand on this point from a social media perspective, the influencer essentially wears two hats. First there’s influencer as creator. This amount of effort is heavily dependent on how the brand integration plays out. There’s a time element here. And time can be money. Then there’s influencer as media owner. This element governs how and when their audience will be ‘hit’ with content. This latter area lends itself far more to benchmarkable CPE metrics.

But this is a complex area. Reaching a niche audience who are purchasers of a high value, low volume product will be very different to a mass audience who are purchasers of a low value, high volume product. Not all potential customers are created equal. Brands and their agencies will have different perspectives on what they want to pay to spend time with any given community. It will differ markedly by geography, industry and even product. A flat CPE that fails to take this into consideration, won’t work.

The authenticity debate

And now to authenticity. I don’t think anyone would argue that an element of authenticity is lost when posts become transactional. But with trust in institutions on the wane and ad blockers rising in popularity, it’s a good time to be tapping into social media influence as trust is still comparably high compared to other sources of information.


There are inherent dangers of commodification in looking at influencer partnerships purely in the same way as a banner ad. And on the influencer side, those who’ll see money as their prime motivation will probably not survive. It’s sure to show in their content over time. Just look at what happened to the mummy blogosphere.

Social media stardom is now an aspirational career path and no longer the reserve of the passionate hobbyist. The relative storm in a teacup around YouTube drama is actually part of the self-reflection taking place in the space. It’s focused attention on the key motivations for being out there in the first place. And it’s an important debate to have.

Pay per partnership

Influencer marketing is becoming an increasingly complex space to navigate. Profiling and matchmaking tools / expertise are never more important than today and we expect to see more brand investment in this area as well as greater selectivity on behalf of influencers themselves on the brands they are willing to work with and how the brand partnership comes to life. A couple of selfies taken with the latest energy drink positioned on the table behind will be seen for what it is; lazy product placement from someone who doesn’t really give a shit and probably hasn’t even tasted the drink. In those cases, a transactional CPE approach is probably OK if that’s all you’re after.

Perhaps the bigger need is for marketers to better define the role paid influence will play in their communications plan. This is sure to vary by brand and will govern the spend apportioned to influencer efforts. We predict the most successful creators and brands will work to develop deeper, more meaningful partnerships to maintain authenticity and maximize community value. This will take more time and effort and will be harder to base remuneration on a CPC, CPM, CPE type model.

The advocacy north star

Paid influence has become a key marketing tactic for many brands wanting to reach new audiences and generate engagement. And there’s a lot to be said for working with influencers in this way – when done well. So we’re onboard. But we’d also love to see more and more brands turning attention to finding ways of supercharging genuine advocates. This is where there’s potential to build long term relationships. The power of word of mouth on purchase remains the most potent driver of sales. Brands who focus exclusively on PPP will fail to drive the lasting advocacy that really matters.