5 reasons why brands mess up Influencer Marketing

By Sarah Kessler

YouTube and Instagram are gaining in popularity. That’s no secret. People spend hours on these social media sites and blogs every day. That’s no groundbreaking info. Tell me something new. When UK’s biggest YouTuber Zoella mentioned the Christmas competition of a British warehouse on her channel, their site broke down[1]. Within minutes, more than fifty percent of the people who watched her video tried to enter the competition. Woohoo – that’s interesting, right? So there’s definitely some power going on there? I mean, we’ve heard the term ‚influencer’ before. About Instagram. Maybe. About fancy actresses showing their duck faces with the newest Chanel lip colour on into the camera. Many people liked that. Lipstick colours boosted. So influencers are people who make their followers want stuff? Yay, you got that right! Was it that hard?

However, many brands underestimate the immense power of influencers on their community[2]. Germany for example only had its first ever conference about influencer marketing last year[3]. Last year? No, they haven’t they been living under a rock for the last decade. However, they’ve realised an important thing: Approaching an influencer and keeping up a good relationship isn’t easy. One can mess up a lot. [4]

You want to know how to thrive your brand’s influencer marketing? Here comes a five-step plan about mistakes to avoid when dealing with influencers. It’s based on Academic research and real life. You’ve desperately been looking for this? Let’s go and absorb the input!

3 options to learn how to find and deal with influencers:

1)    Scrum through the eternity of online magazines and blogs to find the best strategy. Everyone claims different aspects important. Should you choose that option? Naaah, maybe if you have a lot, like really a lot of time. But who grants what self-proclaimed experts suggest is right?

2)    Take the Academic Research Approach. Quite a few articles have been published about the phenomena of Influencer Marketing, so you might be on a good trail. However, none of them addresses the existing gap of how to avoid the most common mistakes. This article will fill that gap and make suggestions for further research.

3)    Just close your eyes ... and go?! Try fast, fail fast. Taking a lean approach obviously could teach you something. But do you dare to scare off the first dozen influencers just for the sake of your own learning experience? I doubt so. Who prevents you from going skinny-dipping in a boghole and the world mocking about the stupidity of your brand? This article will.

It’s no doubt that influencers are important. But how do you NOT screw up with them as a brand (as so many before did[5])? Avoid the most common mistakes:

1| Going for range instead of brand fit

You want to make a big impact and burst out to the world that your brand exists. You’re so proud of your product. You want only the biggest YouTuber to present it to his multimillion audience. There are two reasons, why this might actually not be the best idea:

First of all, the bigger the influencer, the more cash you have to put on the table. Secondly, not all influencers have the same target audience. If you’re selling a beauty product and you’re using PewDiePie[6] to promote it - I mean, that could be fun. But will people after that really buy the mascara because it looks so handsome on him? Probably...not!

Taking a look at theory, Gensler noted that identifying the right influencer is part of good customer relation activities[7]. That means, in order to succeed, you can’t just take any influencer for your marketing, but you have to find the one which fits you best. Studies[8] have shown that having a big follower network can help you boost the message. But to make people not only hear about your brand but to perform action (buy the product), a strong connection, a strong influencer-audience tie is needed[9]. When do you have a strong connection with someone? If the things they’re talking about are relevant for you. Always strive teaming up with influencers with a relevant audience for you. This will both save you money and simultaneously enforce the influencer’s credibility (Zoella presenting a mascara is a lot more credible marketing than PewDiePie presenting it). That will eventually lead you to sell more products. So you always need to check that the brand promise is both understood and relevant[10].

First check point passed? No, wait – there’s one more thing to add. Barwise[11] touches on that point briefly when addressing brand values. He indirectly states that influencers are some sort of brand speakers. If you do the mistake to choose influencers only because of reach, lacking brand fit could do a lot of damage in not delivering the right customer promise. Don’t only jump on the influencer with the highest follower number. Their halo might outshine many small influencers which could fit better. On their way to becoming world-conquering-big, brands shouldn’t only go after the halo. What Fournier[12] explains in respect to social media events can be applied just as well to many influencer marketing selection cases. Instead of going with the halo, go with the heart (the core) – that’s what counts!

2| Don’t tailor their approach to individual Influencer

„The Web, after all, was made for people and their conversations; it was not a new media channel for communications about marketers.“[13]. If you’re approaching influencers, you’re still approaching people. People want to be appreciated and respected. If you approach an influencer, you’re writing an email to a real person, not a computer machine saying either yes or no to your offer, depending on how much money is on stake.

Reputation is the currency with which Web 2.0 brands deal regularly. Equally do influencers.[14] Ask yourself: If a brand is approaching you in a really sloppy mass mailing, do you feel appreciated as a person? If the brand doesn’t even respect you to that extent that they approach you on a personal level, why should you trust them later? To succeed, tailor your approach!

3| It’s NOT only about the money

Of course, in influencer marketing you can offer money in return for holding your product into the camera or mentioning how great it is. Fact is: Everyone is doing that.[15] That’s boring! Why not take a different approach? Brands who really succeed with influencer cooperations are the ones offering great experience.[16] Neckermann (a German travel agency) send Germany’s biggest YouTuber to the Maldives. She made a video about that trip. If you ever search for ‚Malediven’ on the German YouTube, her video is the one popping up first[17]. That cooperation was truely beneficial for the brand. Ask yourself: Would you try something out because someone tells you how great it is or because they show it to you? Actions speak louder than words. Money is king, but experience is queen. To let your brand’s kingdom flourish, these two need to go hand in hand.

4| Restricting creativity by giving too many constraints/obligations



An influencer’s main asset is authenticity. People follow influencers because they trust them. To keep the trust of their followers, influencers don’t want to present everything in the way the brand wants them to. They want to keep their personality honest and human, even when promoting a product in the name of the brand. Brands are often perceived as unnatural or inhuman. Yannopoulou (2013) already mentioned, that ‘testimonials’ (influencers) are a critical feature of a company’s marketing, helping to construct the brand as warm and human[18]. Just as your brand, is a YouTuber also a brand. Authenticity is a valuable asset for brands[19]. Additionally, humanising brands generates more favorable consumer attitudes and thus improves brand performance. Don’t dictate the influencers your brand’s content. Leave them enough freedom to convey an authentic image.


Influencers are not as stupid as you might think. They know pretty well how to present products in a light to make their audience crave for. By restricting them too much, you could lose them. Popular Youtubers have many brand cooperation offers to chose from. Why should they chose someone who restricts them entirely in what they’re doing? Don’t be that fool. As a marketing manager you should of course make sure that through this cooperation, the brand image isn’t entirely diluted[20]. Give influencers roots to let them know what to base their argumentation on. Nevertheless, you need to find a certain balance. Let the influencers spread their wings by themselves. Don’t be a dictator but a partner on eyesight-level!

When push becomes shove, that’s the point where many companies fail to build a positive relationship with their influencer[21]. If engaging in the social dialogue online, follow and respect the social rules if you want to successfully contribute to the dialogue[22]. It might be scary to give away control, but face it: Giving away control is a necessity in today’s life of a marketing manager.


In the online world, many factors lie outside your brand’s immediate control. Offline, you might have been the brand’s boss. Now you are more like a facilitator managing what others say about you[23]. How to cope with the fear that a powerful influencer will post something really bad about your brand ruining it? Trust is the answer:

5| Fail to nurture a long-term relationship

You’ve decided which influencer to approach, tailored your approach to that single person wisely and the first presentation of your product through their channel has been successful. Great! But what’s next? It is exactly this step, where companies start stumbling across their own legs.[24]

You had success once – now let’s exploit that connection as much as possible. Let’s just transfer the influencer some money to do the entire thing all over again. Or just proceed to the next influencer – ouch! Not treating an influencer with the required respect could backfire quickly.[25] Dropping the influencer just as a hot stone when the first job is done – that’s a lost opportunity!

Treat them as a friend instead. Liking you, they could introduce you to other influencers they know. And what’s stronger than a recommendation of a friend? Use that chance: Trust and friendship are key!


The influencer marketing phenomena right now seems pretty new and fancy. It’s unconquered territory full of mystery about how it really works. We’ve never seen anything like this ever before. Really? Haven’t we? Eventually, influencers are people. Just as you and I are. They might have more power in their WoM. Anyway, they’re still human beings who don’t want to be put under a dictatorship of limiting creative borders. They want to be treated with respect[26] and they want to feel that you’ve chosen them because your brand has a good fit with them, not only because of their high follower number. They want to experience your product and how great it is instead of being told in what angle to hold it into the camera. In the future, we should therefore question ourselves if rolling the influencer phenomena up as an entire new thing is really appropriate.

Instead, we should focus on tracing the connections that exist in existing social patterns. We should reapply these concepts to the influencer theories. Only then will we be able to not only explain the „how it works“, but also the „why something works“. Does this mean all the theories explaining how to approach influencers in the correct way already exist but for different situations? They’re only not applied to the influencer world yet? That’s a theory to be tested in further research.

We’ve acquired a reasonable knowledge about the brand-influencer relationship. For further research, it is recommended additionally, to dive into the follower-influencer area, to understand how the triangle interacts and what its secret to success is. An option to test this would be expert interviews with influencers but also focus groups. However, that’s enough material to talk about in a whole new article.

For now, I’ve released the most important theories. You want your brand to flourish in the online world? Then shut your browser down now, go out, and apply them to the real world. Let’s go!

[1] Wiseman 2014, p.1ff a.o.

[2] Burgard-Arp 2015, p.1ff

[3] Rondinella 2015, p.1ff

[4] Salzig 2015, p.1ff

[5] Salzig 2012, p.2ff

[6] Swedish YouTuber with over 49 million subscribers (https://www.youtube.com/user/PewDiePie)

[7] Gensler, Völckner, Liu-Thompkins, Wiertz 2013, p.248

[8] Fournier & Avery 2011, p.194ff

[9] Gensler et al 2013, p.248ff

[10] Barwise & Meehan 2010, p.2ff; Gensler et al 2013, p.246

[11] Barwise & Meehan 2010, p.4

[12] Fournier & Avery 2011, p.196

[13] Fournier & Avery 2011, p.194

[14] Fournier & Avery 2011, p.203

[15] Salzig 2015, p.1ff

[16] Bell 2012, p.35f

[17] https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=malediven; Last accessed on 26th November 2016

[18] Yannopoulou, Moufahim, Bian 2013, p.88

[19] Yannopoulou et al 2013, p.88

[20] Gensler et al 2013, p.251

[21] Fournier & Avery 2011, p.195

[22] Barwise & Meehan 2010, p.5

[23] Christodoulides 2009, p.143

[24] Salzig 2015, p.1ff

[25] Fournier & Avery 2011, p.193

[26] Schulzke 2012, p.26ff

Resources used

Barwise, P., & Meehan, S. (2010). The One Thing You Must Get Right When Building A Brand. Harvard Business Review , 1-5.

Bell, G. (2012). Create a buzz around your business through influence marketing: interview with Mark W. Schaefer, author of Return on Influence. Strategic Direction, 33-36

Burgard-Arp, N. (14th December 2015). Meedia.de. Last accessed on 23rd November 2016 from Über 30 und mit gutem Einkommen: Das sind die deutschen YouTube-Nutzer: http://meedia.de/2014/09/03/ueber-30-und-mit-gutem-einkommen-das-sind-die-deutschen-youtube- nutzer/

Christodoulides, G. (2009). Branding in the post-internet era. Marketing Theory , 141-144.

Fournier, S., & Avery, J. (2011). The uninvited brand. Business Horizons , 193-207.

Gensler, S., Völckner, F., Liu-Thompkins, Y., & Wiertz, C. (2013). Managing Brands in the Social Media Environment. Journal of Interactive Marketing , 242-256.

Rondinella, G. (8th December 2015). Horizont.net. Last accessed on 23rd November 2016 from Erste Konferenz für Influencer Marketing gestartet / Bibi als Stargast: http://www.horizont.net/marketing/nachrichten/inreach-Erste-Konferenz-fuer-Influencer-Marketing-gestartet-- Bibi-als-Stargast-137809

Salzig, C. (31st March 2015). t3n.de. Last accessed on 23rd November 2016 from Influencer-Marketing: Wie man Meinungsführer findet und sie für sich gewinnt: http://t3n.de/magazin/influencer-marketing-237253/2/

Schulzke, M. (2012). Kant's categorical imperative, the value of respect, and the treatment of women. Journal of Military Ethics , 26-41.

Wiseman, E. (20th July 2014). Theguardian.com. Last accessed on 25th November 2016 from lights, camera, lipstick: beauty vloggers are changing the face of the make-up industry: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2014/jul/20/beauty-bloggers-changing-makeup-industry

Yannopoulu, N., Moufahim, M., & Bian, X. (2013). User-Generated Brands and Social Media: Couchsurfing and AirBnb. Contemporary Management Research , 85-90.


Note concerning the pictures used: They are all royalty-free images taken from either the page pexels.com or unsplash.com. That’s why they are used without any explicit source referencing.