Game Changer Marketing: Sparkloft Media and SORTEDfood’s Collaboration for Brand USA

By Lisa Farrar Wellman

If you want to understand the power of influence, the easiest way is to see how we’re all influencers in our own daily lives. Many of us have given impassioned arguments for our favorite restaurant, shared where we bought our spectacular new shoes, or even booked a vacation inspired by amazing photos shared by old college friends.

Online influencers are basically the same but with a much larger reach. And their influence on others makes them valuable to marketers. How valuable? According to Invesp, influencer marketing provides 11 times more ROI than traditional digital marketing strategies. Forbes tells us that “with the rise of ad blockers and decline in radio and TV viewership, influencer marketing has proven to be the most effective form of advertising.” By partnering with an influencer, marketing experts can create powerful, rewarding strategies that help everyone involved—influencer, brand and customer.

An example of this perfect combination is that of Sparkloft Media and SORTEDfood. Brand USA approached Sparkloft, challenging them to produce a campaign that would increase awareness of the US in the international travel market—especially in the UK. They wanted to work with a YouTube influencer to create a series of videos about US-specific foods (and where to find them) and target potential travelers and foodies.

SORTEDfood began in England in 2009 when a group of old school friends got together to dish about food. What began eight years ago as a simple Youtube channel has grown into reaching almost 2 million subscribers. Not only that, but the group has developed a true community around their content, branching out to their own website and app.

Sparkloft chose influential SORTEDfood for the Brand USA campaign, which resulted in a romp through Chicago and Kansas City in search of the cities’ most scrumptious foods.

Influencers: when you’ve met one, you’ve met…one

How does a brand choose an influencer? While it may seem like an influencer’s reach is the key metric companies should look to, engagement and community are the real indicators of any creator’s influence. Subscriber and view counts are easy to buy, but an audience that’s willing to learn from and engage is not. On YouTube, one way to decipher this is through the comments. Are there people there who seem familiar with the creators, as though they’re a returning viewer? Is the creator able to grow a following on other platforms - like Instagram or Twitter?

Another important element of influencer marketing is to think about the relationship between the brand and the creator. At the end of the day, someone in your organization has to work with the chosen influencer, and you want that partnership to be as beneficial and pleasant as possible because that will lead to not only better content but also the possibility of a more long term partnership. Along with developing a good working relationship comes setting clear goals. The influencer has to understand the brand’s expectations for the project. If they don’t get it, walk away. And remember: influencers can also easily walk away from you too.

“We get approached by brands (or agencies working on their behalf) nearly every day - and turn down ninety nine percent of them,” says Jamie Spafford of SORTEDfood. “When working with influencers, it's important to remember that with any project, they probably have more to lose if it goes wrong than the brand. If the project is not well received by their audience, they could lose the trust and attention of their audience and therefore the future of their business, whereas the brand is likely to write it off as a failure and move on to the next campaign. So give the influencer business objectives, areas to talk around, a list of no-no's and then take their advice on a creative approach based on their experience and expertise. In other words, help them be the best version of themselves so their audience celebrate your involvement.”

What really helps a brand stand out?

“The things that stand out for us are brands who want to help us and our community achieve bigger and better things - take us somewhere new, help us do something that's never been done before, find a way to celebrate our community,” Spafford says.

Lastly, think about the brand and influencer fit. Again, just having reach isn’t enough. You have to think about who you’re reaching and why you want to reach that audience. For Sparkloft, the choice was clear.

“SORTEDfood stood out for several reasons” says Martin Stoll, Sparkloft CEO. “For one, they have huge reach and very high engagement. When promoting a destination, we like to work with non-travel influencers as they bring a new perspective to telling a destination story. SORTEDfood was perfect because food is a great lens to tell a destination story, they had done travel content before that we could look at and they have a lot of authority when it came to food — one of the possible lenses for the story we wanted to produce.”

For their part, SORTEDfood is careful about what brands they work with, as well. Influencers know that their followers are paying attention, and creating content that their audience will enjoy is the top driver for all creators. Audience members hold influencers responsible for their work, whether they originated it or partnered with others to create it.

“The reason we're able to do this is because we've always been true and authentic in everything we've said and done,” says Spafford. “Because of this, our community trusts us and what we say. The reason a brand partner would want to work with us is because of the relationship we have with our community. Therefore, our responsibility to both parties is to remain true and authentic. This means working with brand partners in the right way, that helps take our content to another level and being able to celebrate their involvement to our audience, rather than shying away from it or just endorsing products or companies for cash.”

Game-Changing Food

The SORTEDfood team made their way through Chicago and Kansas City trying viewer-recommended dishes while also chatting it up with locals and hearing even more restaurant endorsements. They ate five to six meals daily and depended on the “divide and conquer” method to get them through all those menus. They paired off and spread out over the two cities. They sought out the hole-in-the-wall joints (can you say BBQ from a gas station?) as well as more traditional establishments.

The videos are shot by the guys’ longtime friend, so as Spafford put it, “it's just like I'm talking to him. I think that helps keep our casual vibe.” It certainly does and as planned, audiences responded positively and in great numbers.

“SORTEDfood was really great to work with,” says Stoll. “Not only did this project produce more than [the goal of] the one million views, it was also a lot of fun.”

Every marketer knows that emotion is important and a successful campaign is one that elicits desired emotions. SORTEDfood and Sparkloft’s videos make Chicago and Kansas City look like fun, worthwhile places to visit. Online viewers actively participated in the campaign and engaged with SORTEDfood the entire time. Mission accomplished.

The Results

According to Sparkloft, the primary key performance indicator (KPI) was to hit one million video views, which was surpassed with nearly 1.2 million video views across all platforms. YouTube contributed 1,042,013 of these views. The total reach, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, was 2.6 million.

The secondary KPI for this campaign was time spent watching the videos, as it demonstrated how engaged they were with the content featuring these unique destinations — thus confirming relevance of the content. On average, people watched four minutes, 33 seconds of the YouTube videos, which was 64 percent of the way through. This is a fantastic result because for videos seven to eight minutes in length or more, watch time often falls under 60 percent.  In total, there were close to 3.9 million minutes of content watched. That's 65,000 hours, over 2,700 days or nearly seven and a half years!

In looking at the quality of engagement, from comments to on-the-ground interactions, the results were outstanding. The work created a fantastic, passionate stream of conversation across the board: people local to Chicago or Kansas City were discussing and debating their favorite food destinations and some travelers, after seeing the videos, sent photos to SORTEDfood of themselves visiting the featured establishments. Sparkloft even heard from people who altered or made travel plans to specifically include the foodie places, sights or cities that were highlighted throughout the project.

Finally, beyond the vendors and cities visited, the positive and collaborative partnership between Brand USA, Sparkloft and SORTEDfood demonstrated excellence in pulling together a successful sponsored piece of work.

Not every partnership between a brand and influencer ends up this successfully. Four friends got paid to eat fantastic food and tour two beautiful US cities. Over a million others followed along and some of them made travel plans for themselves. That doesn’t happen every day but when a brand finds that perfect match in an influencer, the possibilities are endless and the future very bright indeed.

Game changer.