As part of the WARC x “Aligning marketers and influencers” report, Michael Flatt (Director of Global integrated Marketing, Xbox), describes how to identify the best fit influencer partners for long-standing and effective collaborations.

Michael Flatt

Michael Flatt, Director of Global integrated Marketing, XBox

How have you used influencer marketing before and what role does it play for you?

We use influencer candidates regularly. We've seen an exponential curve in terms of how regularly we use candidates. They tend to play a part in some shape or form, whether they are extending campaigns, or whether they are the focal point of the marketing programme. But I would say that we have got to a point now where all of our marketing programmes involve influencers in some shape or form. That wasn't the case three to five years ago. They are a crucial component of any marketing programme that we run.

Why would you say that shift has happened?

We are a very data driven company, we constantly test and learn within our marketing programmes. Just like any other company, if we see something that works, and there's real impact in terms of reach and engagement, then it is something that we are absolutely going to go back to. In terms of testing and learning, we are very considered and nuanced with the kind of candidates that we partner with. I'm sure that if we were to look back, some of our early efforts were quite clumsy. And that we have made some mistakes, but we’ve learned from those mistakes, and we refine and feed these learnings into the next programme. We’ve become more intelligent in the way in which we select candidates that we work with. I think we've also been quite flexible and quite open minded with regards to who we work with as well and quite realistic.

So how do you think marketers can best benefit from the full funnel effects of working with influencer marketing?

From our experience, I believe that we work with influencers, less to sell a product, but more to actually build affinity with an audience. This is what I meant when I talked about some of our clumsy efforts. I think for us, there is a far greater impact to be had for our brand in terms of extending reach to new audiences, creating conversations with new groups that we ordinarily do not get the opportunity to speak to. I think that's really a key driver in all of this for us. We really are not blessed with huge advertising budgets, and so influencer marketing can play a crucial role to unlock new audiences, audiences that we can’t get to through our owned and operated channels. Influencers can help us, they just produce tonnes and tonnes of content that our audiences absolutely adore. Reaching new audiences has always been something that can be challenging for us. I think a careful selection of relevant influencer candidates is a really, really important tool for us to open up conversations with new audiences.

How do you balance the growing pressure to drive sales with the meaningful connection that you're building with your audience?

I'm sure that pressure is there, to prove some kind of measurable commercial impact. I don't know if that's necessarily the right reason for engaging with influencers. I think it's really tough. I think it's clumsy just reaching out to people and paying them money to say positive things about you know. We don't tend to pay our Influencers. There are other ways of engaging with these folks for them to feel positive about us. We do not write blank cheques to get people in front of the camera to repeat messaging priorities for our products. That's just not what it should be about for me.

How would you articulate your approach?

It's working with people who are credible, who are authentic, who make the right type of content that we're really excited by. And have the right following. I think it's really, really important, they have the correct value system for us. I think then, when you have checked out all of those things, you've got a really healthy partner who is going to speak naturally, about what we're like as a brand and about the products and the services that we offer. And I think that's just so much more powerful.

Younger audiences have a growing acceptance of living their lives online. What opportunities exist there for influencer marketing?

I've always felt that influences are a step ahead in terms of having those virtual relationships. And if anything, they've probably come into their own, more so over the past 24 months,  given everything that's happened in this world. I'm not sure if there are new opportunities as such it’s probably just strengthened. I've always felt them to be one step ahead in the scope and the reach they generate.

Influencer marketing has continually evolved. Do you think the newer forms are better placed to influence because the audience believe they are genuine customers?

I think when these folks are at their best, the most credible and the most authentic of spokespeople for us, we will often look at their values, but also the content that they produce. We're delighted to get involved and work with them as long as the output is credible and authentic. They are successful in their own right as a result of the body of work that they've produced so far be it from us to interfere with that. It's all based upon trust and respect. People receive information well from people who they like and trust and the work that these folks produce is a crucial determining factor.

What are the points of friction in the influencer process and how can we resolve them?

We have trusted, long standing agency partners that we work with. We have these guys rigorously check the backgrounds of all of the candidates that we're on the verge of working with. So there absolutely has to be checks in place. There have been times in the past where we've had to make a call not to work with candidates. We really do need a rigorous system in place to check the calibre of the people that are out there, what they stood for in the past. It's crucial, the kind of content these guys produce – huge amounts of content. We need to ensure that when we're working with these people, partnering with them, we believe in them. We want to make sure that we're working with the right people for us. So that would be the practical point I would make. We have an agency that does all these checks.

What's your priority when working with influencers? Is it leveraging content creation expertise or is it reaching those audiences?

I think the great looking content, highly polished is all well and good, some candidates have that capacity. But for us I think the key factor is their credibility with the audience and their following and the trust that they have. This is about reaching people in a really natural way, in the hope that they sit up and take notice of you and think about you, maybe perhaps differently on the back of that interaction they have.

There has been a recent campaign that used really striking work. It picked up the yellow pencil or was very close to it. It used photographers, real life war photographers to actually take photography inside of Call of Duty. It really struck a chord with me. Some of these war photographers probably didn't have the kind of vociferous following within the gaming category that you would expect. But the power of what they came to the table with was pretty extraordinary. I think what it gave Call of Duty was the avenue to audiences that would probably not even consider Call of Duty. I just thought it was a really bold and brave tactic to use photographers who are a million miles away from the gaming subject matter.