Why the best brand partnerships see big brands give organic content a microphone

While TikTok users continue to embrace influencers with big-box brand deals, they are increasingly enthusiastic about making purchases they can feel good abouikTok users continue to embrace influencers with big-box brand deals, they are increasingly enthusiastic about making purchases they can feel good about – and that often involves small businesses with underdog-like compelling stories. 

Naturally this means well for the small brands with 78% saying they’ve realized a positive ROI, according to software marketplace Capterra’s 2022 TikTok marketing survey. 

What’s more is that even some of YouTube’s highest-paid creators, let alone brands, are being pushed by smaller creators to put out more heartwarming, compelling stories. For example, Mr Beast (one of YouTube highest paid creators) asked creator Keith Lee to review his new chocolate bar company with Lee asking that the brand specifically save a “struggling, family-owned business. …Not just for that day. Like, we really gotta help them” as part of the content. 

Lee has also highlighted the shame of certain huge budget companies thus turning his fans against their ethics. For example, in December, Lee claimed Cinnabon has only ever offered him free products in exchange for content and ghosted him when he asked the brand about compensation. In response, many of his outraged fans said they would be boycotting the cinnamon roll brand.

The influencer’s experience with Cinnabon (which did not respond to Adweek’s request for comment) and his fan base’s shared frustration encapsulates what TikTok users expect from the billion-dollar players that are trying to find their footing on a platform that champions underdogs. In a space saturated by sponsored content, an unprompted endorsement from a popular creator is a marketing jackpot.

As usual, organic interest is brought to the top of the priority list when it comes to building successful partnerships. “Brands should be establishing connections and building relationships with the creators behind the content that organically mentions them,” said Christopher Douglas, senior manager of strategy at influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, adding that commenting on a creator’s post and later suggesting a partnership is an effective strategy for brands. “They need to take a proactive versus a reactive approach so they don’t end up like Cinnabon.”

“He has a rapport with restaurants for making content that is consistently successful, so it’s a huge loss for Cinnabon,” Pierson said, adding that Cinnabon should have been open to Lee’s ideas and developed a more concrete collaboration.

An example of a brand who is successfully building organic relationships with influencers is WeightWatchers (WW), according to Christen Nino De Guzman, the founder of Clara, a platform that champions transparency by offering users brand reviews from other creators.

When a video of a woman organically endorsing a chicken salad from her local deli went viral on TikTok, WW recruited the creator to promote its menu item instead of simply using the sound from the original post—an overdone marketing tactic that has an air of desperation. After WW announced the partnership, Nino De Guzman witnessed users across TikTok praising the brand. 

“A lot of brands were just trying to purchase the sound and take her out of the equation,” she said. “These influencer marketing teams need a fundamental education on how to create something positive for the creators and the brand.” 

This is a great example of a brand maximizing the microphones that influencers magnify for themselves and thus elevate organic content so that a storyline makes sense. 

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