DOmedia’s out-of-home advertising marketplace is the largest database of OOH vendors in the U.S. While many billboard companies are household names, there are hundreds of other innovative vendors that are pushing the industry forward. We highlight some of those vendors in our Alternative Media Spotlight series. Today, we focus on a leader in influencer marketing: Sway Group. We recently sat down with Sway’s Chief Revenue Officer, Allison Talamantez, to discuss their innovative approach.
DO: Could you tell me about a little about what Sway Group does?
ALLISON: Sure! At Sway Group we help brands create meaningful relationships with their consumers by partnering them with influencers. These are people who help brands spread their messages and marketing. Take those people, then put them into content, stories and soundbites with images that really help our consumer build brand loyalty and drive business goals.
DO: What made you guys decide to start the company? What was the spark of inspiration that made you realize this was an opportunity?
ALLISON: We were all blogging; back in 2009, blogging was where the influencers’ story really was. My business partner Danielle, CEO of Sway Group, was blogging in the evening about food, and I was blogging about iPhones, my daughter and life in California. Francesca, COO of Sway Group, had a popular blog, and Tiffany, President of Sway Group, had her foot firmly planted in the online community. But that was on the side from all of our “real” jobs which gave us a unique, business-centric perspective.
We knew if we didn’t have real KPIs attached to what we were doing, the influencer marketing industry was not going to be successful. Our business operation started in 2011, which put us in a position to help influencers take marketing content and ask, “how can we help move the needle? What are the KPIs we’re working toward that will resonate with brand partners at the corporate level?” That’s how we got here and we stay true to those concepts, even as they continually evolve.
DO: I imagine taking that analytical approach pays big dividends for you. What do your clients think about it?
ALLISON: They love it! It’s really nice for them to say, “we need great content and we need to see it do something for our business.” And our programs do just that. You really can’t get away with doing content marketing that looks great on paper if it doesn’t have a direct correlation to business goals anymore. Our programs, and the KPIs we move the needle on, have enabled us to truly grow and build partnerships for our clients.
DO: Could you describe some of your clients to us I’m assuming mostly B2C, correct?
ALLISON: Yes, we work with agencies and brands, from niche brands to global brands and Fortune 50 companies. Depending on the program, the brands range from big box ventures to local restaurants, or from retailer trying to get traffic to their store or driving an ecommerce message.
DO: And that kind of has to do with the nature of influencers, that’s more of a peer to peer thing?
ALLISON: 100%! When you’re doing anything in social and crowd support, specifically influencers, ensuring that you have the right influencer for the brand is important. We have a network of 90,000 influencers and 20+ years combined years of experience in the influencer space. Add that to our proprietary technology and we are really able to be specific about their traffic. Analytically, we use things like Google Analytics to support the numbers, but we also believe in using a human lens to make sure we are pulling in the influencers with the right voice and reach to make the best use of our client’s budget.
DO: What are the characteristics of the ideal influencer, could you describe that person for me?
ALLISON: That is very specific for each brand. The ideal influencer is someone who can connect to a target consumer. For example, if you have a series of outdoor ads in a specific city, and you know you want to add an influencer piece to the specific niche, that’s when you can truly see an impact. The key influencer is going to be the difference. If you’re working at a store, and it’s a tween-focused consumer product or platform, that would be very different than focusing on an older millennial group.
DO: You talked about blogging, what other platforms do you see coming into their own or on the horizon?
ALLISON: From a company perspective, we are platform agnostic. That means we’re always looking at all different mediums for the messages we’re amplifying on behalf of our clients. Obviously, Snapchat is on the rise. But Facebook is still a phenomenal platform reaching tons of people across all demographics – young and old. There is also a lot of interest on video across platforms, and Live video options are a game-changer if you ask us!
DO: According to a recent study, about 60% of marketers say that they will be increasing their budget for influencer marketing this year. Why do you think that the budgets are shifting in that direction? Obviously, it’s not because the marketers just have more money; it’s a choice to move from one bucket to another. So why do you think influencer marketing is getting hot right now?
ALLISON: The thing about influencer marketing is it allows you to have a personal connection with people you don’t always know in real life. Influencers create content which helps to convert someone. No matter what we’re doing in other areas, no one is saying the only way is influencer marketing by any stretch of the imagination. But, by increasing your spend on influencer marketing, you have an opportunity to essentially reach more people and often times new people, which makes an ad buy work harder and smarter. What we find so often is that our agencies are adding an influencer component to their programming because it just works better for the brand.
DO: How is there a positive relationship between influencer marketing and out-of-home in particular?
ALLISON: In any execution, whether that’s a billboard or some other form of media, we’re helping to take a message and give it a human perspective, an authentic voice. We have people within specific target groups who can further explain a message consumers are seeing in OOH advertising and make that conversion level even higher. We don’t recommend one or the other, we see influencer marketing as a supplement to an out-of-home campaign, the icing on the OOH cake, if you will.
DO: Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about disclosure. What kind of protocols do you have in place for disclosure for your influencers?
ALLISON: We’ve been following the letter of the law in terms of disclosure since our beginning in 2011. We find it top of mind with our clients and their clients as well because the reality is the FTC is not going after random individuals. They’re cracking down on the big players like the Coca-Cola or L’Oreal. We focus on making the content resonate while still creating relationships without cutting any corners on the distributing their disclosure.
DO: What would you say to a potential advertiser who is new to influencer marketing or worried about aspects of disclosure? What would you say to help them understand why it’s beneficial and also how you commit to it?
ALLISON: It’s important that influencer marketing be authentic but also honest and our influencers have a strict code of ethics they abide by. Plus, it’s the law. We ensure our clients are protected in a few ways. First, we provide our influencers with significant training on the latest rules from the FTC. We also have an entire quality assurance team checking every post that goes live to ensure our influencers are disclosing properly.
If a client for some reason thought they could get around disclosing, we’d be very honest with them: the risk is not worth it. As an advertiser, it’s your responsibility, and it’s our responsibility as a vendor to ensure we are following the law. Some marketers are worried they’ll lose the organic authenticity of content by having an influencer disclose their relationship. It’s a fair concern as we know consumers are increasingly skeptical of ads.
Howeve, the goal of an influencer program is to kickstart that organic dialogue online, and it’s happening more and more. Plus, our influencers aren’t just writing for the sake of writing. They’re writing because they have an honest opinion to share, even if the post is sponsored, and their audiences trust them to only share honest opinions.
DO: I think people will appreciate the commitment that you guys have made to this. Was it difficult in the early years to stick to your guns on that?
ALLISON: Honestly, no. It wasn’t hard to stick to our guns on this because it’s part of who we are. We look at things from a strategic standpoint. In a campaign, we want to know how we can make that content work for a brand over and over again. That was very similar to the legal piece. We knew if we did our due diligence, it would only help us in the future.
DO: Makes sense! Shifting gears again, you also mentioned technology being a big part of the equation. What makes you different on the tech side?
ALLISON: From an influencer management and client service perspective, we have a proprietary portal allowing us to filter geographical and important data. So, the real secret sauce is the technology. The benefit of technology is once you get that data out on the influencers in our network, our experienced team comes in figures out how those subset of people could work for a particular type of client. It’s technology plus a human lens, that’s really what makes us different.
Then we have the reporting side. Of course we have all the standard data you’d expect from campaigns, but we are also analyzing data to know what components of our influencer’s non-sponsored content is driving the most engagement. This helps us tailor our sponsored content programs so we’re seeing the best results for our content. We are converting that totally organic content and looking at the entire picture. The secret is that combination of the human brain and, frankly, having so many people on the ground that really understand and are involved.
Interested in learning more about Sway Group? Click here to view their profile in the leading marketplace for OOH and alternative media.