The Evolution of Influence: How DTC Brands Can Win in the Age of Trust Commerce

The key to building a successful DTC brand all comes down to one word: Authenticity. Now more than ever, consumers expect brands to be transparent, consistent in their messaging and committed to shared values. We are now fully in the era of trust commerce, a new paradigm where consumers make purchasing decisions based on the perceived integrity of a brand. This requires brand marketers to adopt new messaging strategies based on an understanding that consumer trust is something that is earned rather than bought.

For years, DTC brands have relied on influencers to help them connect with a new generation of consumers that are burned out on celebrity endorsements and out-of-touch mass advertising. Influencers are uniquely positioned to cultivate brand authenticity and consumer trust because of a strong connection with their audiences that was built over the course of years, and this relationship is not something they take lightly. The most effective brands in the era of trust commerce understand that their relationship with their influencer marketing partners is the key not just to growth, but to survival.

The influencer ecosystem is constantly evolving and it’s vitally important for brands to dynamically adapt their marketing efforts to keep up with changing expectations. Having worked with notable brands over the last 10 years, here’s what I believe are table stakes for any successful influencer marketing campaign:

Give influencers more creative control.
One of the most potent ways for a brand to demonstrate its trust in an influencer is by giving them substantial creative freedom over a marketing campaign. Although it may go against the nature of a marketer, it is critical that influencers have creative flexibility when it comes to the content they create for your brand. Provide guardrails, not guidelines. Why does this matter? Simple: influencers know what content will resonate with their audience, and if they post something that doesn’t feel organic, their audience will spot it from a mile away,


Work with influencers as long-term partners.
The best influencer marketing happens when the influencer has a genuine love for the brand. This is the essence of authenticity and the key to building trust with consumers. The best way to cultivate this kind of relationship with influencers is by treating them as a true brand partner rather than a one-time engagement.

Working with an influencer as a brand partner means more than working together to come up with creative ways to sell your product. It means nurturing the influencer’s career and helping them grow. It means checking in regularly with the influencer for both formal performance reviews and casual engagements. Data shows that while the majority of marketers work with the same influencers across different campaigns, fewer than a third of those brands have an “always on” relationship. A DTC brand that commits to a long-term relationship with influencers will attract the best talent, get the best content, and establish the messaging consistency that consumers demand.

Embrace trust through transparency.
It is absolutely essential that brands emphasize transparency in their relationships with influencers, which can have a few different dimensions. First, brands should keep influencers in the loop about what is happening at their company, just as they would for one of their own employees. Second, brands must treat influencer marketing as seriously as any other marketing initiative and show this to their influencer partners. Influencers will sense if the brand isn’t committed to their influence campaign, which will sow distrust and result in inferior marketing efforts.

One of the most powerful ways of demonstrating commitment to an influencer is by giving them the resources they need to run their campaign well. Aside from compensation and free products, this also means “soft support” such as providing content guides or other tools that set an influencer up for success by creating clarity around expectations. This commitment to transparency will more than pay for itself. Data shows that for every $1 spent on influencers it returns $5.20, versus $2.63 for traditional advertising.

Commit to authenticity marketing by working with nano-influencers.
Nano-influencers, or those with fewer than 10,000 followers on a platform, are well known for their ability to convert their audience into paying customers. But in the era of trust commerce, brands should seek out nano-influencers for their ability to create authentic content that builds brand affinity in hyper-targeted and loyal audiences. Consumers tend to trust product recommendations from nano-influencers more than their peers with larger platforms because they are more engaged with their audiences, and getting product suggestions from them is comparable to getting advice from a personal friend.

Rather than only courting influencers with the largest reach, brands should focus on nano-influencers who align with their values and partner with them to create compelling content that speaks directly to their audience. While nano-influencers may not reach as many people, the consumers they do connect with are far more likely to fit the brand’s customer profile.

The bottom line for all DTC brands is that the rules of influencer marketing have changed and ushered in a new era of trust commerce. Only the brands that play this game will be able to succeed, but this requires fundamentally reshaping their relationship with influencers.

Magda Houalla is the Director of Marketing Strategy at Aspire, a leading influencer marketing platform empowering businesses to generate branded creative at scale.  She plays a pivotal role in ensuring all existing and new brands using the AspireIQ Platform are set up for success by aligning their needs with best practices and world-class strategy.  Her guidance has helped brands such as Zevia, Freshly, Bed Bath & Beyond, L.L.Bean and Walmart both expand their influencer programs and increase campaign ROI.

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