Confessions Of An Influencer Marketer: The Industry Is Broken


Influencer marketing is broken

There, I said it.

Influencer marketing is broken and nobody will even acknowledge it.

I bet if you asked a hundred “influencer marketers” if the industry is broken they’d probably tell you no it’s thriving.

Yes, numbers are up and influencers are making more money now than they ever have before.

But something is still broken.

And if we don’t acknowledge it, we might witness the slow and painful death of influencer marketing as we know it.

Allow me to explain:

3 reasons why the influencer marketing industry is broken

Shallow Relationships

Over the last 5 years, influencer marketing exploded, putting creators in high demand. Influencers are the top priority for brands looking to grow their audience and maximize reach, but these brands have forgotten one critical component to building out successful influencer ecosystems: relationships.

Relationships are the driving force behind compelling influencer marketing campaigns and yet, brands seem to miss the mark with influencers. Instead of fostering long-term, mutually beneficial relationships, they opt for shallow exchanges driven by demanding proposals that pigeonhole a creator’s work into a branded box. 

I’ve experienced it firsthand—brands see influencers as a commodity, not an asset, trying to squeeze them for every ounce of creative juice until they’re completely dry.

This approach sends a clear message to creators saying, “We value the content, not the creativity” which in turn puts creators and brands at odds with one another. These shallow relationships show a lack of commitment from brands and force influencers to be critical when it comes to collaboration because all they see is a steady stream of requests for content and an absence of trust-building conversations.

Where brands find success with influencer marketing is when they turn the tables and start seeing influencers as a powerful arm of their marketing team. Bringing influencers into the strategic fold and empowering them to create establishes an entirely new relationship that is cemented on understanding, trust, and true collaboration. 

Lack Of Standardization

The second reason the influencer marketing industry is broken is the lack of standardization. 

When it comes to influencer rates, nobody charges the same. Some influencers charge based on following, others charge based on views, and some have their own system set in place for pricing. 

For example, let’s say you’re a brand working with one influencer who charges $500 for each piece of content. Their content performs well and garners views as well as engagement, so you decided to hire another influencer of a similar size and audience. This influencer charges $1,000 per video and earns the same amount of views and engagement.

Both of these influencers have the same size, audience, and impact, but one charges an additional $500 more for their content.

The question then becomes, how much do you invest to get the same ROI on content? 

There are a lot of factors that go into this decision, but brands should ask themselves, “Where do I see the relationship with this creator going? Is it short-term or long-term?”

If the answer is long-term, it is more than likely worth the bigger investment.

In regards to standardization, it’s hard to establish one because there are millions of creators on TikTok and Instagram. But what we can observe is how the absence of standardization came about. 

Here’s what I noticed over the last 5 years.

As the creator economy grew, a massive surge of supply (more creators) flooded the market and influencers started coming out of the woodwork. These folks were no longer pushing the typical ostentatious lifestyle, but instead, exploring diverse niches of culture and giving audiences a deeper look into their personal passions.

The result of this was thousands of new creators flocking to the feed, eager to collaborate with brands. This created lower-cost opportunities for brands to partner with influencers who could reach more specific target audiences at a lower investment. With influencers receiving more collaboration inquiries, demand skyrocketed, incentivizing them to raise their rates.

In response to rising rates, brands then asked for more creative control over influencer content, citing that if they’re forking over fat stacks of cash for content, they should have a say in what that content is.

This leads to the third reason the influencer marketing industry is broken. 

The Fight For Creative Control

Simply put, both influencers and brands are fatigued. 

Brands are fatigued by creators stretching their budgets for each piece of content because prices are higher. Creators are fatigued by brands being heavy-handed in the creative process. As a result, they raise their prices to ensure that brands pay for their time, energy, and creative output.

As a performance marketer, I get it, brands want to get the most out of every dollar spent. The more you spend, the more entitled you feel to have control over the content. 

But at what expense are brands willing to let go of that control?

Brands hire influencers to make content on their behalf with the goal of reaching new, untouched audiences that they would otherwise never encounter. By collaborating with influencers, brands are saying, “We want you (the influencer) to make the content you’re known for and include our brand in the content.” 

Then those same brands are turning around and trying to manipulate the content in a way that they think will perform best.

In my experience, I’ve yet to see a brand run a successful campaign that is scripted. 10 out of 10 times, the content misses the mark. In many cases, brands are bastardizing content to work in their favor, resulting in poor resonation with audiences.

The impact of such behavior is that the content comes across as inauthentic and fake. Influencer audiences know fake content when they see it and never hesitate to call it out. These audiences don’t want to be sold to, they want to be entertained, inspired, and educated. 

When brands put influencers in a box and contort the content, there’s no doubt that content will be diluted and underperform.

This fight for control in the creator economy is due to a lack of understanding. These two distinct groups speak very different languages.

Brands don’t entirely understand the creative process of influencers and are stumped by the cost associated with creating content that yields true results. 

Influencers, for the most part, don’t come from corporate marketing backgrounds, and may not understand that the people they are working with have bosses who’ve tasked a team with getting the most out of every dollar spent.

This puts the two groups at odds, making it a challenge to collaborate and create content that moves the needle.

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The question every brand should be asking themselves

I like to refer back to a classic marketing model that I think every brand looking to work with influencers can learn from.

Quality vs. Speed vs. Cost

With these three factors at play, brands should be asking themselves, which two of the three are the most important?

  • Do you want quality content made quickly? Then the cost is going to go up. 
  • Do you want quality content for a lower price? Then the time it takes to make it will be longer. 
  • Do you want content quickly at a lower cost? Then the quality of that content is going to be lower.

One thing I can tell you from my experience in the influencer marketing industry is that one of those factors yields significantly better results than the other two. 

Can you guess which one it is?

It’s quality. 

If brands want quality over everything, they need to pay to build relationships with creators who let them in on the process. This will come at a cost, but the creative involvement increases because it’s being paid for. 

Many of the successful brands using influencer marketing today have put quality at the top of the list which in turn builds better relationships resulting in impactful content that truly performs. 

If it’s broken, build something new

I have spent the last 4 years getting my hands dirty in the influencer marketing industry. In that time, I’ve experienced all of these issues firsthand and had conversations with creators, marketing leaders, and industry experts who’ve also been plagued by the problems listed above.

With that said, I knew there was a way to overcome these obstacles and create something that served influencers and brands alike. 

That’s how Ubiquitous was born.

Before founding UBQ, I was leading a performance marketing team and experienced the pitfalls that many brands run into with influencer marketing. I tried running campaigns myself, on platforms, and with agencies, but couldn’t crack the code.

What I needed back then was a tech-enabled, end-to-end marketing partner that treated my budget like it was my own. A partner that would take the load off my internal team, no-hand holding, and provide economy-of-scale opportunities. I wanted to work with industry experts pulling the levers as well as the backend tech to offset the premium cost that comes with agencies. 

So that is what we built.

Ubiquitous is more than an agency or platform, it’s the best elements of each solution wrapped into one hybrid model that serves influencers and brands.

No jumping through hoops to find the right creators, no back-and-forth in the inbox, and no sunken cost.

Here’s how we solved these three problems…

Building Deep & Meaningful Relationships 

Most agencies and platforms available to brands boast millions of influencers in their rolodex. While this can be enticing, that also means these services lack the trust and transparency needed to build strong relationships with creators. 

Instead of working with every influencer on the internet, we’ve built a roster of trusted influencers who we know on a personal level. We’ve taken the time to learn about them—their passions, their interests, and most of all, what inspires them to be a creator.

We’ve then worked tirelessly to identify opportunities for these influencers that align with their passions and interests so that when collaboration lands in their lap, they know the brand has their best interest in mind. 

As a result, we’ve created relationships between brands and creators that go beyond a single campaign and develop into long-term partnerships that drive growth for both groups. Some of our influencers even have annual contracts with brands that have proved to be wildly successful. 

Establishing A New Standard For Influencer Marketing

While it’s tough to standardize an industry that is growing at such a rapid pace, we’ve taken on the challenge of creating a new standard that brands and influencers can abide by. 

This starts with developing a clear process brands can follow when it comes to finding influencers, conducting outreach, scripting proposals, managing deliverables, handling payment, and tracking ROI. This process helps brands enter the influencer marketing ecosystem with ease and empowers influencers to find the right collaborative partners who truly value their creative input and are willing to pay for it.

Whether you’re new to influencer marketing or a seasoned veteran, our system takes your goals, aspirations, and budget and uses them as the foundation to build comprehensive campaigns that scale with your brand. This new standard has propelled brands forward and helped them reach new audiences, grow their followings, and most of all, convert faithful fans into lifetime customers. 

Giving Creative Control Back To Creators

Friction between influencers and brands has proven to be the ultimate hurdle in influencer marketing. 

Brands want content that drives results. Influencers want to create content that is meaningful to their audience. Mending the gap between these two is no easy task, but we’ve found a way to make it seamless.

It starts by giving freedom with guardrails. 

When I say this I’m talking about giving influencers the creative liberty to make what they want, within the parameters of a brand’s needs and standards. We want influencers to be excited when a brand hits their inbox, not concerned about creative manipulation. That’s why we pride ourselves on being creator-first in everything we do.

This comes in the form of clear and concise creative briefs that outline a brand’s requests and open the floor for discussion with influencers. Pair these creative briefs with our internal team of marketing mavens who oversee these collaborations and you’ve got the recipe for influencer marketing success.

Where do we go from here?

Influencer marketing is not dying. It’s simply experiencing some change.

Change is a good thing.

Sure, it will hurt a little bit but at the end of the day, change is the only guarantee that we have in a world that never stands still. And to that, I say bring it on.

Here's where you get the stuff we don't  put  on the blog. Learn how to craft an entire TikTok marketing strategy from scratch, plus get access to our proprietary data on the top 100 creators and brands on TikTok by industry— and a lot more.

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