How Can Brands Effectively Use Influencers? This Marketing Company Explains Its Strategy

Obvious.ly says it’s about the quality, not quantity of followers

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, docked at Pier 27 in San Francisco. @girlandthebay
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Influencers, they’re just like us—or at least that’s the message they’re trying to convey to the average person who lacks thousands or even hundreds of followers.

But influencer marketing remains elusive to brands who still haven’t definitively determined whether working with influencers actually yields tangible results. That’s the problem influencer marketing company Obvious.ly tries to resolve with brands.

Cunard Line, a 180-year-old cruise line, considers itself a niche brand that depends on its audience to endorse its ships and the experience of taking a cruise. To the company, working with influencers makes perfect sense. “It’s a way to reach these audiences with special interests in a way that [you] probably couldn’t do as effectively with broadcast,” said Josh Leibowitz, senior vp, Cunard North America and chief strategy officer at Carnival Corporation.

To Cunard, influencers allow the brand to have a spokesperson without paying for an A-list celebrity star. Their feeds and posts resemble something the average person aspires to, making influencers much more relatable than many celebrities.

“I feel like there’s a little bit of the American dream in these influencers,” Leibowitz said. “They’ve built a business, and they’re out having a point of view, they’re being creative, recommending things, seeing the world. … [They can] do things that they love and get paid for it.”

And it doesn’t hurt that there’s “less risk reliance” for a brand to use an influencer than working with a celebrity or well-known figure whose reputation can easily plummet at any time.

Understanding the benefits of influencers is a point that Mae Karwowski, CEO of Obvious.ly has had to hammer into people’s heads over and over again. Karwowski sees brands ask how many followers influencers have without thinking about their audience, and they don’t always understand the value of working with influencers who have small, but targeted group of followers. Slowly these brands are coming around—particularly as interest grows in travel and hospitality content. It’s important brands do, Karwowski noted, considering how much time their audience spends time on social.

“So to get something in front of those people that’s really cool and authentic is really interesting and really compelling. It’s something that someone will actually watch and engage with,” said Karwowski. “It’s a lot more human and authentic.”

This authenticity is what Mia Aquino, a social marketing director based in New York, thinks brands should look for (as well as to stop thinking about follower counts). “That creator with a small number of followers can have a real influence, and they can be the person that drives someone to take an action or put them on a path to purchase,” said Aquino.

To her, if a brand is seeking only large follower counts, it means that company isn’t thinking more about who the influencer’s audience is, what kind of content the person creates and how the brand fits into the creator’s feed.

“I think the thing is that as a marketer, you just can’t be attracted to that shiny thing,” Aquino said. “And a number, a big number, is very easy to say is going to work for your brand because it’s the biggest number.”

Karwowski thinks brands are starting to get past that as they’re seeing more campaigns pay off with “micro-influencers” that typically garner high engagement rates, “You get high quality content that’s really cutting through the algorithm.

For this Cunard and Obvious.ly campaign, influencers were asked to post about their day aboard the Queen Elizabeth at least twice, with one post within 24 hours of the event. They were then also asked to take at least 15 photos, with image rights belonging to Cunard. It’s the second time the companies have worked together, Obvious.ly previously brought five influencers onto the Queen Victoria to promote the cruise line’s world voyages in April 2017.

From the influencer perspective, the few that were on board the Queen Elizabeth said they are happy working with Obvious.ly (and the brands it connects them with).

“What I like about Obvious.ly is they don’t pressure you into taking jobs you don’t like,” said Elaine Courtney Low. “You know exactly the kinds of companies that you’re going to work for and you’re going to partner with.”

For Cunard, working with influencers is definitely one way to potentially attract more customers.

“The more brands that use these influencers and platforms, the more acceptable it comes as advertising,” Leibowitz said.


@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.
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