Deciphering Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing

While both Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing strategies generate rich, compelling storytelling, copy, images and video, their approaches and results couldn’t be more different.

In today’s rapidly morphing marketing landscape, brands often find paid-for content confusing particularly when it comes to differentiating between content marketing and influencer marketing. With brands and their agency partners increasingly confusing the two, they risk diluting the powerful attributes that come with each.

With content marketing, brands pay to have very specific content developed. Recently, we’ve seen a dramatic rise of content-for-hire platforms offering up a plethora of freelance creators. By engaging the services of top journalists, video producers, photographers and other talented creators, brands can generate content that closely aligns with their brand messaging. Sometimes this content gets used anonymously, and sometimes it comes with attribution based on the creator’s expertise.

But for all these content creators, they come devoid of audiences of their own. Content marketing allows marketers to deeply control the scope of messaging and product storytelling, as well as retain full ownership of all content so it can be used as the brand sees fit, such as across advertising, branded channels and in paid social.

In contrast, influencer marketing engages influencers, who by their very definition, have built up their own sizeable audiences, based on their unique voice, perspective, storytelling, image-creation and video production style. Keeping true to the authenticity of their voices ensures that influencers continue to hold readership and viewership and that these audiences trust them enough to act on their recommendations. While influencers create powerful, high-quality content just like content creators do, they need to do the storytelling in their own voice and style to maintain this connection and credibility with their audience.

At the same time, influencers also seek compensation for their work on brand campaigns. As brands have accepted that influencers need product, experiences, and/or payments, they have sought to treat influencer work with the same exacting control as content marketing. Brands believe that because they’ve issued payment to influencers as a way of engaging them to speak to their audience, they feel they should also receive some of the elements of control that come with contentmMarketing. Increasingly, brands want to edit influencer content — from vetoing photos to changing up copy, descriptions, perspectives and the choice of storytelling.

As a result, legal contracts have gotten more complicated as brands seek increasing control over influencer content and want to expand their ability to edit words, images, and videos. This totally makes sense for ensuring factual accuracy and regulatory compliance. But the whole point of influencer marketing is for influencers to engage their audiences, and the more brands insist on inclusion of “branded language,” the more they eviscerate the power of influencers in driving consumer action such as purchasing decisions and changing consumer perceptions of a brand. The very nature of exercising this control undermines what influencers do best — serve as passionate brand advocates, telling a brand’s story in their own voice and on their own terms in ways that will most resonate with their audience. 

Yet from the brand perspective, it starts to seem a lot like playing the game of “Telephone” — the brand tells influencers at the start of a campaign, “Here’s the brief; here’s my message.” But when it comes out the other end, the brand says, “Wait, that wasn’t my original message. It’s been morphed; it’s been changed. Change it back!”

In that process, the influencers have taken the brand’s message and simply filtered it – overlaying their own perspective and personal storytelling, which is the overarching strategy behind Influencer Marketing. Brands engage influencers not just for them to become quality content producers — they engage them to produce content that’s going to resonate, and be read and acted upon by the audience they’ve accumulated.

Brands and their agency partners need to realize that for influencer marketing to be at its absolute best and most persuasive — with first-person recommendations that deeply resonate with audiences — then influencers must be allowed to act as free agents and have the flexibility to offer up their own overlay to brand messaging. We’ve included here several tips for brands:

  • Don’t marginalize the freedom of influencers to write in their own voice. When this happens, the individual patina of those voices gets lost because if everyone conforms to brand messaging, then influencers serve more as weak megaphones instead of interpreters or curators of the brand to select consumers.


  • Understand what you’re paying for. When embarking on an Influencer Marketing campaign, brands think they’re paying for influencers to create content — and influencers do produce high-quality copy, images and video. But the real value — and what brands actually pay for — proves to be the resonance with influencer audiences. The more brands push influencers away from authenticity, the less effective the brand’s outreach will be.


  • It’s OK if influencer content isn’t “professional” quality. Many times influencers generate photos or videos that while compelling, don’t quite measure up to what the brand would create with its own team of professionals. Brands need to realize this represents the dissonance of Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing. Influencers need to make their own interpretations regarding how they showcase content, and it won’t always conform exactly to what a brand would do.


  • Leverage the power of brand advocacy. The real value of influencer-generated content centers on the fact that it was created by brand advocates, and not the brand itself. Influencers have the ability to create content that truly, deeply resonates with their audience, and when they share this unique interpretation of a product or service, it has the power to make a difference in the lives of consumers.



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