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  • Writer's pictureThe Outloud Group


Question: is it good for brands when a podcast company is acquired by Spotify?

You would think so, right? After all, Spotify is huge and can get a podcast in front of a much larger audience, which translates into more exposure for brands who advertise on that podcast.

Well, maybe.

For their first five years of operation, podcast production company Gimlet Media was known not only for their quality podcasts, but also for the ad spots.

They were creative, funny, and infused with the personalities of the podcasts hosts. For example, in an ad spot for a popular website builder, “Reply All” host Alex Goldman talked about a website he created called “Gopher Gripes”.

The idea was that anyone could go to the site and submit their pettiest gripes. In subsequent episodes, Alex would talk about his own gripes and read funny ones that had been submitted by listeners. It was highly entertaining while also effective promotion of that website builder.

In 2019, Gimlet was acquired by Spotify, and almost overnight their ad spots changed. They were bland, uninspiring, and it was obvious that they were being read directly from a script. When someone asked Alex Goldman on Twitter about the change, he said that they no longer produced the ads, Spotify did.

This shift is just one example of a larger problem within influencer marketing.

When it comes to influencer marketing, many brands get in their own way and reduce their chances of success by taking a brand voice approach to influencer rather than brand advocacy approach.

Brand Advocacy vs. Brand Voice

What do we mean by brand advocacy and brand voice?

Brand advocacy is when an influencer provides a real, genuine review of a product or service. They talk about how the product has transformed their life for the better, and they do it in a way that is natural and authentic. The tone and content is similar to the rest of the content they produce, and doesn’t feel jarring to the audience.

Brand voice, on the other hand, is the distinct personality a brand uses in their communications. When it comes to influencer marketing, brands often want the influencers to maintain the brand voice in their promotions. So they give them a script of sorts, and the influencer has to stick closely to the script.

The end result, of course, is a promotion that is underwhelming and uninspiring. When the influencer’s audience sees the ad, it creates a pattern interrupt, which is often a good thing in marketing, but not in this case. The stilted brand voice the influencer is using sounds nothing like how they normally talk, and the audience immediately recognizes this. It’s immediately obvious that this is a paid promotion, and they tune out.

The bottom line is that a genuine review by an influencer will always be more effective and compelling than one where they must maintain a very specific brand voice. Or, put another way, brand advocacy beats brand voice every time.

The Risk Of Creativity

At this point you may be thinking, Well, of course. I mean, why wouldn’t someone want brand advocacy?

The reality is that for many brands, advocacy feels more risky. They’re putting part of their reputation in the hands of a creator/influencer. What if the influencer talks about the product in a way that doesn’t line up with how the brand traditionally speaks about it? Using brand voice gives companies more control over the whole process, which feels safer.

And while control may be appealing for brands, it’s ultimately detrimental to their influencer marketing efforts. It diminishes the authenticity of the influencer, and few things are more important than authenticity. It increases the trust of the influencer’s audience which can lead to significantly more engagement. Trying to maintain the brand voice can directly and negatively affect the engagement/performance of a campaign.

Think of it in terms of a freedom < -------- > control spectrum. You might have more peace of mind with total control but you’ll see poorer overall performance.

It may be helpful to think of it more in terms of customer reviews. You want to work with an influencer who resembles your ideal customer and wants the same life transformation from your product that your customers do. Then you want to provide the influencer a great “customer” experience so that they’re then motivated to give a glowing, honest, authentic review.

Safety Measures

Of course, this raises the question of what steps you can take to mitigate the risks of giving an influencer freedom without worrying about damage being done to the brand.

The most effective step is simply being more selective on the front end with your influencers. There are many influencers who are brand/family safe. You don’t need to work with the YouTuber who has a large audience but is also known for saying things that get him in trouble. Choosing to work with low risk influencers allows you to give them more freedom without worrying that they’re going to go off the rails.

A good example of this would be the difference between two of the world’s biggest YouTubers, Pewdiepie and Mr. Beast. Pewdiepie has a long, well-documented history of saying offensive, racist things in his videos. Mr. Beast, on the other hand, is generally family friendly, and regularly gives away huge amounts of money to people in need. When Honey, the online shopping tool, partnered with Mr. Beast, they didn’t have to worry about him doing something to hurt their brand.

When you’re more choosy about who you work with, you can give them more freedom without worrying it will come back to bite you.

Marketing To Humans

In his book This Is Marketing, Seth Godin says, “Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread.”

This gets to the heart of the value of choosing brand advocacy over brand voice. When you make the mental shift from brand voice (“this is what we sound like as a brand”) to brand advocacy (“this is what our biggest power user would say authentically about our brand”) you’re moving to a more human form of marketing. You’re creating honest stories about your brand that resonate with your ideal customers and will spread.

Humans don’t want to connect with brands, they want to connect with humans. Thirty years ago, maybe people really did believe that the best part of waking up was Folgers in their cup. But today, consumers, especially younger ones, always have some level of mistrust for marketing. But when it’s coming from someone they know and at least somewhat trust, they’re much more likely to listen.

Which do you think your customers want to hear?

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