Coltrane Curtis, founder of consumer marketing agency Team Epiphany, would never hire a professional influencer, but he believes that influencer marketing in service of a community is “the sharpest tool in the toolbox” for marketers.
That’s because the way that marketers and brands are using influencer marketing has become ineffective and disingenuous, Curtis said. Professional influencers can really only provide mass scale — not creating connections to the communities that brands want to reach.
“Overtime, influence has become media that’s only defined by social metrics and followings, said Curtis. “But for us, some of the most influential people aren’t on social.” These people do not care about a follower count, he added, they care about the type of people who are following them and where and how their message is being amplified.
Prioritizing culture and community are the key to ensuring a successful brand campaign, but what’s equally important is looking at the culture and community of your own company, said Curtis. If a project’s success is dependent on being able to resonate with a community that you yourself are not in, then having team members who can understand and facilitate that relationship will only make your campaign stronger, he added.
In the latest episode of Digiday’s weekly show The New Normal, Curtis talks about his company’s unique influencer marketing strategy as well as the importance of having a diverse team to rely on.
As Curtis said, some of the most influential people don’t have the social following that you would expect from an influencer. “We would never hire a professional influencer because what are you influencing? What are you a master of,” Curtis said.
Culture starts hyper locally and within those small communities comes the artists who carry the influencer abilities that marketers should be looking for, he said. They are the trend starters who then get picked up by people with wider audiences and can distribute the trends more broadly.
Curtis said that all celebrities and public figures have a team of these artists who helped shape them into the image that they have.
“Think about the whole network of people. It’s a team that helped to build a celebrity,” said Curtis. “To me, those are the real cultural specialists, brilliant icons and the people that we look to for cultural direction.”
Team Epiphany’s staff is 65% female and 35% male. It’s staff is also 70% minority and 30% white, according to the company, and a balance very unusual when it comes to agencies.
“If you want to be great, you need a lot of unique POVs weighing in on a particular topic. If you have too much overlap in terms of interests and passions and skill sets, the work becomes ineffective. We weren’t trying to be diverse. We’re trying to look like the world that we come from and live in,” said Curtis.
Agencies and brands that are not diverse therefore do not have a winning strategy, he said.
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