One of the splashiest brand-influencer partnerships coming out of this past year was Taco Bell bringing Lil Nas X on as chief impact officer. In the role, Lil Nas X provides ongoing support for the Taco Bell brand, bolsters key activations (like its rollout of breakfast food options at stores across the country) and even supports the Taco Bell Foundation.
Taco Bell’s decision to go all-in with Lil Nas X is part of a growing trend of brands seeking more robust partnerships with creators—whether bringing them on full-time for internal roles like editors, advisors and social media strategists, or maintaining a steady stream of influencer partnerships. The benefits of these long-term partnerships are multifaceted for both parties. Brands, by establishing a relationship with a creator, often see increased consumer trust and find opportunities for more authentic content. Creators benefit from a steady line of work and more autonomy in the partnership.
In addition to finding creators to amplify important moments like a product launch or announcement, brands should also consider sourcing creators who are an authentic match to develop content year-round. These ongoing partnerships with influencers can be much more impactful than a one-time investment in a single campaign. But finding the right match is key
Partnerships Built on Authenticity Drive Value
In a world where authenticity is king, long-term partnerships with a creator have significant advantages. When they’re executed well, they exude genuineness and feel less transactional. Unlike a one-time gig to drive a product launch, collaborating with influencers on multiple projects cumulatively builds more audience trust over time.
Take Proximo Spirits for example: the alcohol importer and distributor wanted to drive awareness for its 1800 Cristalino tequila around the Cinco de Mayo holiday. BEN’s AI helped Proximo identify creators with the right fun, high-energy, luxury feel—and of the 16 in the mix was a creator named Benny Soliven. The YouTube star had been successful for Proximo in a past campaign, and the value of working with him again quickly became evident. Not only did Benny and Proximo have a strong relationship built on trust, but Benny’s content also ended up being the best-performing in the campaign, exceeding predicted views on his Instagram Stories by 13x.
When a partnership makes sense for the creator’s vision and audience, you get close access to their established community and feedback loop. And as time goes on, the creator gets to know your brand even better, which creates a deeper, more genuine connection that resonates.
Developing stronger relationships with creators through quality partnerships means that the creators benefit as well. In longer partnerships, influencers typically have more control over what they say and do. In fact, when deciding whether to re-engage with Benny, Proximo was initially hesitant since his style was a bit different from their vision for the 1800 Cristalino collaboration. But by giving him creative license, the campaign paid off for both parties.
What Makes Long-Term Partnerships Work
Do your research. Because these agreements require more of an investment than one-off projects, it pays to spend the time to find the perfect fit. You need a creator that authentically aligns with campaign goals. The Lil Nas X partnership made an impact for Taco Bell because it was authentic, in large part thanks to Lil Nas X having a job at a Taco Bell chain in high school. As you search for your perfect collaborator, consider working with a partner like BEN that sits at the intersection between creators and brands. Our AI sources a list of great creators that our team of influencer experts then vets for the most relevant—helping brands cultivate the most meaningful relationships.
Avoid stunts and carelessness. Creators’ content should align with your brand long-term, not just for the moment. Think of Kendall Jenner in the infamous Pepsi ad that made light of the Black Lives Matter protests. The campaign itself wasn’t authentic to Kendall, or her partnership with Pepsi; instead, it aimed to use a big-name influencer to tap into a cultural moment.
In addition, the influencer must have enough time available to devote to the job and not just phone it in. If they’re not invested or spread too thin, that will erode the creator’s credibility with their audience. Embarrassing copy-paste errors in Instagram captions can happen to even the biggest stars, like Naomi Campbell with Adidas.
Give creators more control. Treat the influencer similar to an agency. You can try different approaches, and they have the freedom to experiment. Take advantage of organic, spur-of-the-moment opportunities for innovative content, like Ocean Spray’s work with TikTok star Nathan Apodaca. This is an area where an agency’s coordination between brand and creator can be especially helpful. We make sure both are happy—brands get the messaging they want, while creators maintain creative autonomy.
Consider more than one long-term partnership. If you don’t bring someone on full-time, you can leverage a stable of multiple creators long-term to target different demographics and reach a larger audience overall. But continue to be thoughtful about who you team up with, as too much could dilute the impact.
Spending on influencer marketing will exceed $3 billion this year, and will surpass $4 billion next year, eMarketer predicts. Successful players in this massive industry won’t thrive on standalone projects. Brands will need to recognize the value of establishing ongoing collaborations with creators, developing partnerships, and building on successes from campaign to campaign.