For the most part, there is a perception about influencers. On one hand, they can be considered a valuable marketing channel—essentially word of mouth on digital platforms. On the other, there is all manner of potential pitfalls in the still-emerging space ranging from bots and fake followers to flat-out fraud, not to mention the ridicule from time to time.
All told, though, the influencer space, with all of its perceived chaos, shows no signs of slowing. In 2018, the World Federation of Advertisers found that 65 percent of multinational brands surveyed were planning on increasing influencer marketing spend, while eMarketer noted a similar bump in spending—62 percent—by marketers.
In the early days, popular internet stars with huge followings like a Kardashian were about the only way to grab a substantial audience. However, there is a continuing trend leaning toward the use of micro-influencers, those with audiences that some have pegged as low as 2,000 and as high as 500,000 followers.
But, according to Greg Andersen, CEO of Bailey Lauerman in Omaha, Neb., there is still a perceptual issue to overcome related to influencers: their geography. For the most part, the prevailing wisdom is that the more powerful and effective influencer set is based on the coasts—like Los Angeles and New York—or other top-10 markets. In Andersen’s mind, there was an ample opportunity to develop a network of micro-influencers based in unexpected places, like smaller cities and towns. To that end, the agency has launched the Everything In-Between (EIB) Network.
Part of the core ethos of this 100-person network—all of whom have anywhere from 3,000 to 300,000 followers—is the potential fatigue that consumers may feel from the onslaught of content from the influencer world. While there is indeed a level of aspiration, it can be hard for people in the middle of the country or other smaller cities and towns to sympathize with glitzy influencer lifestyles.
“There is a breakdown in how people from this part of the country view celebrity,” said Andersen, a Nebraska native who spent more than 25 years working at large agencies including Rapp, BBH, Euro RSCG, Merkley + Partners and Lowe. “We’re no longer willing to blindly follow these people who are putting up a life that everyone else should ascribe to. We thought that there was an opportunity to tap into the pride of place that we’re seeing in America outside of the big cities and also celebrate parts of the country that are more surprising.”
The network taps into a more realistic piece of America and includes people from 33 different states and spans across interest areas including automotive, fashion, wellness, food, beverage and interior design. It also is a case study in how influencers may not have to uproot from their hometowns to create careers in unknown places, lending an air of authenticity to the content produced.
“My husband and I live in rural Indiana because we want to, not because we have to,” Kelsey Johnston, a design blogger and influencer in the network, said when Bailey Lauerman announced the EIB. “We could choose to live in any place in the world, but we have chosen to live here because it is clean, friendly, beautiful, affordable and ultimately because it feels like home.”
“Kentucky is, and will always be my one true love. I try to make that clear in each post,” added food, travel and lifestyle blogger JC Phelps, who works with Maker’s Mark, Naked Juices and Lamarca wines through a partnership with Kroeger. “I am authentic, truthful, and I work with brands that I fully believe in. I am plus-size, male, and I represent a demographic that is often underserved or under-represented in mainstream media.”
While it’s easy to think that these influencers may come from only middle or southern America, Andersen pointed out that there is plenty of room for influencers who come from the entirety of the country, which explains EIB’s moniker.
“People in the valley in Northern California, for example, may be more like people from Nebraska, even though they are geographically closer to San Francisco,” he said.
Another compelling aspect of the network’s approach is how aspiration is defined in the first place. While much of the world may perceive it as one’s ability to find the best shoes in the world and tell the tale, Andersen believes that it is more rooted in simplicity and not the complex, highly-manicured, globe-trotting chaos of the unattainable.
“Aspiration is about having a good life, defined by stability and the ability to provide for a family and be connected to the community,” he noted. “I think there’s only a small percentage of people who aspire to the penthouse in Manhattan. I’ve followed influencers on platforms and the longer I’m there, the more foreign they look to me.”
To ensure quality and integrity, the network has a rigorous screening process, with an extensive Q&A and interview session. But, the influencer world being what it is, Andersen’s team keeps an eye out and monitors each influencer’s follower count and overall presence.
“We want to make sure they haven’t [become like] the Kardashians,” he said. “What’s important to us is the purity of the network, not the size.”
So far, EIB has worked with Cuties and Phillips 66’s Kendall lubricant brand and have several more in progress. While the results from those campaigns are yet to be tabulated, a big plus so far has been engagement. The organic rate of the network’s influencers sits at close to 5 percent compared to those with 1 million-plus follower count at between 1.54 and 1.62 percent. Additionally, the agency is opening the network up for non-client brands to take advantage of the network’s unique proposition.
“I think we have a platform that will have some demand,” said Andersen. “We’re not out to replace macro-influencers or turn this into a mega media buy. We’re offering another point of connection to everything in-between for marketers.”