Influencer Marketing from a Brand’s Perspective with Kristi Francisco of USAA

Financial services aren’t always the easiest thing to talk about or to put into human language. By using influencer marketing, brands like USAA have influencers tell their story and humanize their message.

We recently sat down with Kristi Francisco, Senior Communications Manager for USAA, to find out how they are working with influencers, creating and delivering content, and how both those strategies serve their overall mission.

What brands want influencers to know

When it comes to brands working with influencers, relationships are formed when one party reaches out to the other. When it comes to the influencer reaching out to the brand, Francisco has a few tips:

  • Making contact with a brand doesn’t mean an immediate or guaranteed partnership. Partnerships between influencers and brands take time to develop trust and a solid relationship.
  • It needs to be the right fit. According to Francisco, USAA is looking for, “The right person for the right campaign for the right time.” Just because the partnership doesn’t happen immediately does not mean it will not happen in the future.
  • Brands want to get to know their potential partners, and the relationship is long-term. USAA does not like having a “one-off” campaign–they will want to work with an influencer for as long as it is a good fit for both sides.
  • When contacting a brand, Francisco suggests influencers outline what they can do, show them examples, and give a price range. When finding out a little more about a potential relationship, brands want to know who they are working with. This gives them a little more insight into what campaign would be a good fit for that particular influencer.
  • Don’t be shy about numbers–even if they are small. Francisco says audience size doesn’t always matter. There are still going to be opportunities to partner with a brand like USAA because they may have a campaign that’s a good fit for an audience their size, and they focus on engagement more than purely on numbers.

Advice for influencers with small audiences

Speaking of influencers with smaller audiences, Francisco says there are a couple of things those influencers can be doing now to posture themselves for future partnerships as they continue to grow their audience.

First, it is never too early for influencers to start a relationship with a brand.

If there is a brand that aligns with an influencer’s mission and goals, it’s never too early to have a conversation to develop a relationship. It will serve them well down the road as their audience grows.

Second, an influencer can maintain a good reputation on the internet.

USAA is very protective of their brand and reputation. They will not risk damaging that reputation with a high-risk influencer or partner. They extensively vet each influencer they consider working with by using software to help them analyze not only data like how many curse words appear across that influencer’s social platforms, but also how they respond to current events.

Francisco says it is fine for influencers to be political and to have an opinion. What they look for specifically is how someone is taking a political stance and how they express those opinions. They are looking for situations to be handled with respect and decorum. Otherwise, it could be a liability to USAA.

Brand Messaging

When it comes to the messaging a brand gives its influencers, brands have a fine balance to navigate. On one hand, they have a specific end-goal in mind when it comes to a campaign or partnership, whether it be a product or action they would like taken. On the other hand, they also want the influencer to use their own language and style when communicating that message.

Francisco says it should be their message, but it should be the influencer’s interpretation of that message.

For each campaign, USAA puts together a Campaign Brief document. It details what the campaign is about, key messages they would like to touch on, examples of what they are looking for, and the call to action (often to go to a certain site).

An influencer will then tell their story and add points to a message that is in line with the campaign but also with their personal brand.

Before any content is released, Francisco will review it one more time. Since content is sponsored by USAA and the FTC requires certain disclosures, Francisco does her due diligence. She isn’t looking to change the writing, but rather to check that facts are correct and it is following what USAA outlined in the Campaign Brief.

Content released by USAA

When they are not working with influencer marketing, USAA also releases original content to gain new members and to provide resources to existing members. They provide products like infographics and a community site that will answer questions about USAA and their services. They are also constantly developing services and innovations like apps, new technologies to improve home repair costs, Echo programs for members to check bank balances, and much more.

USAA also puts out content that may be counterintuitive to traditional marketing. For example, USAA recently ran a YouTube series showcasing the connection military members have with tattoos called Service and Ink

This series was different than anything else they had done before; they even had to get permission to talk about the once taboo subject of tattoos. It never mentioned any products or showcased USAA’s services in the videos. They just wanted to tell a series of stories that would have a connection with a targeted audience.

There is a long history behind tattoos in the military, and they knew that message would resonate with especially younger audiences. This was a way for USAA to get in touch with Millennials and Generation Z, specifically, to expose them to USAA. They artfully told powerful, touching stories to the targeted generation. They would then be more likely to look into USAA once that connection was made.

To listen to the full interview with Kristi Francisco from USAA, listen to episode 70 of the Money & Media podcast. Also on this episode, hosts Joe Saul-Sehy and Bethany Bayless break down the conversation with Francisco even further. They cover what it looks like to be a micro-influencer, why reputations online are vital, and how to make relationships with brands at conferences.

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About Our Hosts

Joe Saul-Sehy is the co-host of the Stacking Benjamins personal finance podcast and operates the Stacking Benjamins blog.

Bethany Bayless is a public speaker and emcee who co-hosts the podcast The Money Millhouse.

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