Brands are dedicating more of their marketing dollars to influencers every year - in fact, in a recent survey, 57% of businesses said that they were planning to increase their influencer relations budgets in 2020. And the upward trend is more than bandwagon jumping - influencer campaigns are generating results. Some 80% of the marketers we surveyed said that influencer-generated assets performed the same or better than their own branded content, while 61% of 18- to 34-year-olds have, at some point, been swayed in their decision-making by digital influencers.
But brands still want more. They want to know that they’re reaching the right people, they want to test which pieces of content are generating the most engagment. And, of course, they want to see optimal return on their investment, and have the ability to measure business results consistently.
The problem is that while the amount of brands investing in the influencer marketing is increasing, only 18% of marketers say that they're able to integrate influencer marketing into overall digital marketing ROI calculations.
This is why more marketers should be paying attention to Instagram’s Branded Content ads.
Released last June, the option provides new ways to maximize influencer campaigns, target key segments, and better track performance
The problem is, not many know what it is or how it works. Here's an overview of the how and why of Insta's Branded Content ads.
Social advertising evolution
Back in 2017, you might remember that Instagram introduced the Paid Partnership tag.
As shown here, the tag is a marker which influencers add to the top of their Instagram post or Story, in order to provide more transparency over paid collaborations. With influencer partnerships rising on the platform, Instagram introduced the tags to avoid confusion, and clarify the process around disclosure of such processes.
Then last year, Instagram stepped it up a gear. For brands and influencers that were using the Paid Partnership tag, Instagram added a new option called Branded Content ads.
Branded Content Ads enable brands to turn the content created through influencer partnerships into ads, providing a simple way to amplify these posts and Stories beyond a creator’s organic following. And importantly, the option enables brands to promote these influencer-created posts under the influencer's profile, as opposed to re-sharing from a brand handle. This helps to make the posts feel more native, as opposed to the more clearly signaled brand promotions.
Of course, it still says 'Sponsored' on each post, and there is still a 'Paid Partnership' tag at the bottom, but the simple fact that the post/Story comes from an influencer handle is significant, and can lead to improved results.
The benefits of Branded Content
So what are the key benefits of Branded Content Ads?
First off, let’s look at reach. When a brand invests in branded content, they, logically, want to reach as many people as possible with their post/s. Branded Content ads can scale a creator’s post to reach a creator’s followers - and then some. While influencer marketing relies on organic reach, Branded Content extends beyond that and can get your brand into the feeds of people who don’t follow that particular influencer.
Then there’s targeting. As a brand, you'll have your key target audience in mind - their age, their gender, a geographic region, etc. It’s unlikely that any influencer’s following will match each of your key targeting criteria perfectly, which means that your influencer-originated content might only be reaching part of its intended audience, limiting your ability to achieve your goals. Branded Content ads can be targeted with precision, helping you reach more of the people that matter to you.
With this option, brands are free to choose influencers who create the very best content, without being preoccupied by their reach.
Finally, thanks to Shopping Tags, Branded Content ads also enable a frictionless shopping experience.
The rise of mobile and social commerce is changing the way people shop - these days, if a social app user sees something they like, they want to be able to tap and buy straight away, no redirection, no waiting. Branded Content ads give brands the opportunity to turn a browser into a buyer seamlessly.
The majority of influencers can’t make their regular posts shoppable just yet, but Branded Content ads take that same relatable, aspirational content and make it entirely shoppable through the Instagram Ads process.
Make it work for you
While early adopters of this tool are reaping the benefits, some have also found the process to be more manual than other more established ad options.
But there are things you can do to streamline your system:
1. Set a transparent brief
When briefing influencers, be sure to let them know that you intend to use the Paid Partnership and Branded Content options, so that they realize what’s happening from the get-go. This will ensure that crucial steps in the early days of the campaign go smoothly - for example, if you intend to boost Instagram Stories, they’ll need to be free of GIFs and hashtags.
2. Streamline your Ads Manager
Another helpful preparatory step is to upload your influencer list to your Facebook Ads Manager before they create content. That way, when the influencer adds the Paid Partnership tag, you won’t need to manually approve each influencer.
3. Have a clear goal in mind
Branded Content is perfect for driving conversion, whether that’s boosting sales or app downloads. When setting out the objectives for your campaign, think business metrics over vanity metrics (like engagement), so you can measure its impact and ROAS effectively.
4. Learn from organic performance
If you’re running an influencer campaign first, use the influencer’s organic post performance to learn which pieces of content are highest-performing and worthy of boosting. While this is not a foolproof science, as different influencers will have different engagement rates, a high-performing piece of influencer-generated content could hint at what will resonate best in the Branded Content phase.
Essentially, Instagram's Branded Content Ads enable you to add extra fuel to your influencer campaigns, and reach your target audience, as opposed to relying on their own, established following. That can deliver significantly better results - it takes some extra work, and management to get a clear understanding of best practices and opportunities. But it may well be worth the extra effort.