For episode 55 of HB•R, Coltrane Curtis of Team Epiphany — a consumer marketing agency that specializes in creative and experiential services, social media, brand strategy, influencer engagement, public relations and more – swings by our office on the Thursday before Labor Day to talk all things “influencer” marketing.
When Coltrane launched Team Epiphany nearly 15 years ago, “influencer” was a scarcely-used term, or rather tool, in the marketing world. Influencers and their impact on a brand’s bottom line weren’t yet quantifiable, and in an age of rampant globalization, companies and agencies alike were focused more on celebrity advertising with hopes of appealing to the largest of audiences.
Coltrane however saw the importance of this untapped strategy, way back when SEO and niche edits and guest posts were still in their prime, because he was living it first-hand. From growing up in Brooklyn as an only-child to entrepreneurs, to becoming Editor-at-Large at Complex and an MTV VJ, Coltrane knew purchasing habits were swayed by those around you, and if you happened to be tapped in to the right circles, you were constantly exposed to new things. “Influence was really about network and communities,” says Coltrane, “it wasn’t about a metric, it wasn’t about follower count.”
So what is an influencer exactly? Some look to celebrities like Kylie Jenner, but for the Team Epiphany founder you need to “take a couple steps back to really figure out who the catalysts” are for driving culture. “It’s not about the individual, it’s about the community that they belong to.” Using Kanye West as the premiere case study, Coltrane argues while he influences culture-at-large, it’s the network of creatives he calls close friends that are enlightening him to then turnaround and inspire the masses through his artistic endeavors. If you’re able to tap in and collaborate rather than “pay-to-play” with these communities, the ones who are inspiring the inspirational, then you’re building a trust and authenticity that leads to a lifetime of brand loyalty.
Since then, social media has moved from the perfect amplification tool for marketers, to a diluted space overrun by the aforementioned “pay-to-play” strategy of disingenuous #sponsored content. Consumers don’t know whether or not someone they follow is posting a photo of a brand because they truly enjoy their product, or if the brand’s bankroll was long enough to buy “loyalty,” or in this case advertising space. And it doesn’t stop with money-hungry ”influencers.” As Coltrane alluded to above, there’s outlets like Facebook turning influence into a “metric” by attempting to connect brands with influencers through the data shared on its platform. Or there’s the odd invention of Computer Generated Influencers (CGI), or Artificial Influencers, where artificial intelligent robots attempt to educate consumers based on algorithmic findings.
So are we hitting an influencer bubble? Yes, but that doesn’t mean word-of-mouth marketing is going anywhere. It’s the oldest form of marketing for a reason. As for the agencies and brands driven by follower counts and impressions, they have much to worry about.
Listen in to episode 55, where Coltrane Curtis details all of the above, as well as the lack of diversity in the world of consumer marketing, why finding your soulmate is the best thing you can do for your career, and bringing Boogie Cousins to the Brooklyn Nets.
Enjoy the episode! Also, be sure to like and subscribe to HYPEBEAST Radio and HB•R on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Overcast or wherever else podcasts are found, and please, don’t forget to leave a review.