Influencer strategy 2023: brands need to leverage creator direction over creative direction

Posted by Abby Oldroyd in Analysis

2 years ago


  • Creator direction is a skill brands will benefit from investing in next year and needs to exist alongside creative direction.
  • True diversity is key for commercial success and mastering this will allow brands to reach new audiences in the economic downturn.
  • Campaign strategy needs to be the result of “working backwards” – defining the target audience, analysing the content formats they respond to and pinpointing where these formats thrive. 

“You shouldn’t have an influencer strategy, you should have a unified brand strategy and a core role that influencers fit within that,” says Alex Myers, founder and CEO of Manifest. “If you take a unified strategy, then influencers don’t end up feeling like a paid media channel.”  

The question of how deeply influencers should be involved in a brand’s creative process has long been hotly debated. Consumers want to follow people – not companies, and brands should leverage creator direction over creative direction, feeding a growing appetite for unfiltered, transparent communication. This is the shift that has to happen in 2023 according to those shaping the industry.

Does this mean the idea of the bread-and-butter paid influencer post is dying? Myers think so – he believes brands should pay for creators’ expertise and audience. While this forces brands to relinquish some editorial control, he argues why this is mutually beneficial. 

The importance of creative freedom

“The influencer model is most exciting when you afford talent with creative freedom, because you end up with the unexpected,” he tells CORQ. “Influencers should feel like they are kick-starting a movement.” 

Myers references his agency’s collaboration with profoundly deaf lifestyle influencer Jazzy Whipps and multi-disciplinary creative Akala as part of the Samsung KX co-lab series. The pair designed the first music track for deaf people. This campaign demonstrated how emotive marketing is a potent promotional force that will engage your audience in a way that inspires action while offering true personal connection. 

“That’s what is missing from influencer marketing,” says Myers. “How are we going to make people feel with this campaign? And, what does real credibility look like? You have to bring the full ‘human’ of the influencer into the campaign.” 

Charlotte Williams, founder of SevenSix Agency which produces campaigns that are purpose-led, with diversity and inclusion at the centre, echoes Myers’ sentiment. “Commercially, it’s a really good idea to be inclusive, because you’re going to reach a much wider audience,” says Williams. “We look at the UK population and then the region we want to target.” 

While marketing to diverse groups has always been a successful strategy for brands, Williams says they too often miss the mark. “22% of the UK population have a disability, so that should mean 22% of your creator pool should have a disability,” says Williams. ”That way, you’re being true to the audience that you want, not necessarily the audience you have. This is often not the case.”

Working backwards

Most brands take a broad approach to audience targeting on social media. But, truly targeting your desired audience requires a highly granular approach that will vary depending on which platform you use. 

“Brands should work backwards – considering first and foremost who their key target audience is and what content format will best deliver on their key objectives,” says Edward East, founder of Billion Dollar Boy

East points out each platform has its merit, with user demographics and behaviours varying. Having a range of platforms to work from means you can hyper-personalise your campaign strategy. “You should choose a platform based on the audiences you’re targeting and adapt content outputs to the format of the platform to achieve the best results.” 

Likewise, Josh Harding, co-founder of The Good Influence, notes each platform has a strategic purpose. “Higher-cost products thrive more on Instagram, where there is a millennial audience,” says Harding. “Lower-cost products thrive on TikTok with a Gen-Z audience.”

Micro influencers

Naturally, the target consumer determines the talent a brand will work with. While East notes macro influencers are still a useful marketing tool thanks to their amplified reach, micro influencers are the unsung heroes. He says this comes down to three factors: their cohesive community of followers, they cost a brand less and seemingly prove to be more effective due to their posts being curated to suit their follower niche.  

Myers agrees brands will benefit from collecting creators who are becoming influential and credible, in spaces they really care about for two reasons. For micro influencers, “it’s about passion, rather than profession,” and the return on investment (ROI) is more promising when you amplify community posts, rather than working with celebrity influencers who require more time.  

He advises investing in burgeoning creators by providing them with a platform in order to develop reciprocity. “They are going to be not just grateful, they’re going to make content shine and they’re going to make it authentic.” 

Myers references Manifest’s work with Access All Asos in 2014 which gave the brand’s most loyal fans a first look at new collections, opportunities to attend events and be a part of their shows. While this created a sense of inclusivity, it also helped grow the creators’ social presence. “Every time Asos re-grammed someone, they got four thousand followers, and that was included in part of the payment. That value exchange is essential,” says Myers. 

Measuring success

But how do you measure success? In the current cost of living crisis, Harding notes an increasing desire to report on the ROI beyond traditional vanity metrics, with a greater focus on metrics which provide more actionable insights into user intent, moving away from “likes”, “comments” and “shares”. 

Manifest analyses ROI by measuring impact. Myers pays close attention to a creator’s engagement rate within proximity to a subject, but ultimately, it comes down to the creator’s effective advocacy for a brand. “It’s much easier to find a fan and make them famous than it is to find someone famous and make them a fan,” Myers tells CORQ.

By Abby Oldroyd, news and features writer for CORQ.