How to Turn Your Next Influencer Brief Into a Powerful Weapon for Persuasion

Opinion: Start thinking more like a PR practitioner and less like a marketer

Writing an influencer brief is a creative, data-intensive endeavor Warchi/iStock

Most influencer marketing briefs go a little something like this: “Dear blogger XYZ: We’re excited to partner with you on our product launch! Here are some benefits to highlight and ideas on how to style your product shots. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!”

There’s a gaping hole in this strategy.

If your influencers don’t know what prevents your dream customer from trying or buying your product—like price or a perceived social stigma—how can you expect them to create content that will effectively persuade their audience?

The key to developing a better influencer brief is to start thinking more like a public relations practitioner and less like a marketer. Every great PR pro knows how to tell a great story: Great stories are rooted in time and place. Great stories have the power to persuade you to think, act or behave differently. Great stories are told by someone with authority on the subject matter.

As a digital marketer embedded in a PR agency, I’ve learned that the best influencer campaigns are ones that allow great storytelling to happen organically. They address the right barriers, are introduced at the right moments and are told by the right voices.

Before you draft your next influencer brief, ask yourself these three questions:

Do I really know my product’s biggest barriers?

Five years ago, it was taboo to admit that you met your partner on a dating site. And then came Tinder. How did Whitney Wolfe, Tinder’s then-marketing chief, get people on board? With an airtight influencer marketing campaign rooted in the application’s No. 1 obstacle: the social stigma of meeting someone online.

Wolfe’s creative brief to her influencer army of sorority leaders was simple: Help us make it socially acceptable to find a date through an app. Her army obliged, and the stigma was eradicated. Today, Tinder is now the highest-grossing app on Apple’s iTunes App Store.

While influencer marketing is still a relatively nascent discipline, it boggles my mind that so many brands opt for the “hard sell” when bringing influencers on board. “Take a close-up of your eyes with the eyeshadow.” Or: “Our cookie dough is made with organic sugar, so make sure you mention this.” Or: “Our laundry detergent comes in three new scents, so tell your audience which one is your favorite!”

Maybe some makeup enthusiasts don’t trust that the eyeshadow will last until happy hour without creasing. Maybe suburban moms could care less about organic sugar and more about whether the cookie dough will taste as good as homemade. Maybe college students are skeptical about whether the detergent works better than what they’re currently using.

The point is this: If you know exactly what beliefs, obstacles or psychological barriers you need to overcome, you can more effectively counsel your influencers to address them head-on in their posts.

Do I know the right moments where my product will be most welcome?

Back to school. Halloween. Holiday shopping season. They’re all generic moments in a marketer’s campaign calendar.

We can do better than this. What about the oh-so-relatable micro-moments that make up your audience’s daily life? Mining social data for moment-related patterns can help you think beyond the obvious.

For example: What do families think about when planning a cross-country road trip? Pay close attention to their social feeds and you may find a perfect micro-moment for your brand—“Doing laundry on the road seems like a headache.” Or, “There’s no way I can eat healthy on road trips.”

The key is that it has to be natural. Scott Disick may have crazy reach, but is this post really any better than a disruptive pop-up ad? Think about how you’re persuaded. You’re more inclined to listen when you don’t know you’re being sold to, and the product enters your world at the perfect moment.

In my experience, the most effective moment for a product to appear is in Act III of an influencer’s story. For example: A southern food blogger posts a step-by-step Instagram story about making BBQ ribs. That’s Act I. In Act II, we watch her enjoy the ribs with her kids. They have fun and make a mess. In Act III, we watch her throw her kids’ BBQ-stained clothes in the washer with a new detergent she’s trying out. She expresses skepticism at first, but when the clothes come out sparkling clean, she’s a believer. Now that’s powerful storytelling.

Better yet, you can now target this highly-relevant content to the right audience (e.g., people who are interested in BBQ) at the right moment (e.g., when they’re looking at other BBQ-related content).

Do I know which voices are most influential to my audience at a particular moment?

Influencers of all types can be powerful, from macro to micro, but the advent of follower bots and other shady social practices means that you are never really sure how valuable their follower count is.

So, let’s take it a layer deeper. Can you find the influencers who are voices of authority on the moment you’re after? Can you use data to determine what impact the influencer has on a specific conversation? While someone may only have 100 followers, those 100 followers could very well have the power to create a butterfly effect. In the words of Tim Ferriss: It’s best to cultivate the intense few versus the lukewarm many.”

One way to think about this: Know that influencers (and their followers) aren’t one-dimensional creatures. They’ve got interests and authority on all kinds of “moments” outside their defined blogging category.

Actor Busy Philipps, for instance, can be quite influential on any conversation having to do with do-it-yourself crafts or LEKfit classes. Southern food blogger The Kitchenista is known for her homestyle cooking, but as a mom of two, her loyal fans could also trust any advice she has about keeping her kids’ clothes clean.

It’s time for the industry to rethink the role of influencers. Right now, most brands treat them as little more than billboards. They’re not. As eye-rolling as it sounds, they really are multi-dimensional storytellers, so treat them as such.

Writing an influencer brief is a creative, data-intensive endeavor. But if you put the time in to truly understand what will persuade your influencer’s audience, you can help them create something that actually inspires their followers to turn into believers.

David Richeson is the chief of digital innovation and Influence at Marina Maher Communications, a creatively led, digitally driven public relations agency that represents some of the world’s largest brands, including Tide, Covergirl, Johnson & Johnson and Merck.