Inside Canon’s influencer marketing program

For 23 years, Canon has managed a program of professional photographers called Explorers of Light. These 42 professionals represents the company at events. But now, with the Instagram era, Canon is working with 40 amateur photographer influencers as well.

“We want to bridge the gap between the professional and the everyday person, and reach out to younger generations,” said Doris Tsai, senior director of marketing for Canon. “People want to feel that photos are attainable for them.”

These amateur photographer influencers might form a permanent new tier of Canon’s Explorers of Light program, said Tsai. Canon has chosen both influencers that cater to audiences in segments that produce high-quality imagery, such as travel, food, health and lifestyle. Canon has created a dedicated webpage called aRchive, where a collection of influencer photography created with Canon products lives. Desmondisamazing, for instance, is an influencer with nearly a 100,000 followers on Insatgram, where the self-proclaimed “Drag Boy” shares photos that he says are taken with a Canon camera. Another, Kate Wood, is a food blogger who promotes Canon on her blog “Wood and Spoon.”

In its latest campaign, Canon enlisted 20 of these influencers to promote the company’s new mirrorless Canon EOS R photography equipment across platforms like YouTube and Instagram Canon filmed a video with YouTuber Devin Graham, whose YouTube channel devinsupertramp has more than 5 million subscribers and has generated over 1 billion views. In the video, which has received more than 300,000 views, the YouTuber slips and slides out of an airplane.

Canon outsources to an influencer agency, but for product-driven, smaller ad-hoc promotions, the company is working directly with around 10 influencers through a five-person internal team, but the team fluctuates based on the campaign. Canon is still figuring out whether it wants to in-house everything or use an influencer agency.

“Working with [an] agency doesn’t mean we can’t get the data. They can still provide it,” said Tsai. “It’s just, from the measurement level, if someone posts something, we can track it on our end, and it’s much easier. If it’s on their channel, we have to rely on the agency to get that information. We’re still contemplating what’s the best way.”

According to Tsai, in-housing influencer campaigns takes a lot of time, something that Canon cannot accomplish now with such a small team. “You have to negotiate contracts one by one and we need a bigger team to manage that,” she said. There’s also the expertise and connections that an agency brings, especially in the type of influencers an agency partners with Canon, said Tsai.

“The amount of man-hours to take on the research required is intense to say the least,” said Michelle Bradley, founder and managing director of consultancy MBc. “Many factors need to be considered, from contract and legal issues, to reputation, to ensuring an amazing brand identity.”

For Canon, influencers aren’t just a means to connect with larger audiences; they are their target audience. The rise of smartphones has brought about the rise of amateur photography, giving everyone the means to take photos whenever they want. That might be a boon to the general public, but for Canon, the company needs to know whether this group is sticking to their phones or bringing in their own products.

Canon is bringing in its own intel by surveying influencers themselves. In October, the company partnered with Harris Poll to survey 1,000 influencers on whether they use cameras, and not just their smartphones, in creating their content. The study found that 73 percent of influencers own a DSLR camera, and 86 percent said that a camera is the most important tool they use to create content.

“It’s a misconception among creators that influencers only use their smartphones,” said the company. “By collaborating with influencers, we create an opportunity to educate the next generation of creatives about how the advanced features and benefits of cameras can elevate the quality of their content.”

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