If James Myrick had been born as part of Gen Z, he might have been a creator himself.
Growing before smartphones and social media, James and his two brothers made home movies with camcorders of a variety of exploits. One of the most memorable was inspired by an episode of the TV show NOVA about catapults. The trio constructed their own catapult. And it was no mere toy, but rather built to the scale of its medieval model. Once it was ready for use, James and his brothers started a video series filming themselves launching anything they could think of in a series they called ‘Will it Fly?’—a riff on a popular marketing campaign at the time called ‘Will it Blend?’. The answer was, most often, yes.
“This thing was massive. It could launch Christmas trees, lawnmowers, vacuums hundreds of yards,” he recalls. “That was the type of people that we were—just go and do it.”
Today, James puts his affinity for creative content to good use at BEN, where he helps make meaningful connections between brands and creators. We caught up with him to hear his thoughts on the industry, its top trends, and what he calls the secret sauce of influencer marketing.
Did you ever think, making videos as a kid, that you’d end up working in something like influencer marketing?
At first, I wanted to be an engineer. I’m very good with math and data and building things. But I wanted to work more with people, so I studied advertising and sociology, and then started an advertising agency. We made TV commercials and digital videos. From there, I jumped into social listening, social analytics, and got steeped into that world.
When I came across Plaid Social Labs (which is now BEN) it was a mix of both video and social media in a way that I’d never seen before. The influencer video world was just an absolutely powerful mix of two things that I knew early on were going to be big and important.
You’ve been in this space now for almost a decade and seen its many evolutions. But things are still changing daily—new platforms, new rules and features on these platforms. What’s your take on what works and what doesn’t? Do you feel like you can tell whether a new platform will succeed or fail?
The digital space still is not perfect at mirroring face-to-face interaction. People still have the fundamental need to connect, and the space is continually evolving to better meet that need. Any platform that increases human connectivity is going to take off.
Some formats arise that we still don’t quite know how to fit into the human connection model. Livestream is one of those. I think Twitch is doing an amazing job, but I think that there’s a lot more that we can do with livestream, especially shopping. Live audio is another. We saw Clubhouse take off last year. It hasn’t found its stride, in my humble opinion. But it has the functionality to fill a need, which is human conversation. How exactly is that going to look? I don’t know. But those are some things to watch.
What’s an example of a platform that does a great job of creating that human connection and why?
It would have to be TikTok. It’s currently what I would argue is the perfect mix of long form and short form—you can get detailed information, but also get it quickly. And here’s the other thing that I love about TikTok: It has the ability where you can duet with people. People leverage that to debate or to fact check or to counter. You can have entire threads going back and forth, again, enhancing human discussion in video form, a feature that builds human connection. TikTok’s got that better than anybody else.
Tell us more about BEN’s approach to this ever-changing industry: How are you able to deliver the best value to brands if things are in constant flux?
One of the beautiful things about my journey here at BEN is I’ve held every position there is on the influencer side of the company. I started by working with influencers and I worked with brands and then I worked sales. I’ve done it all.
On the performance side, our business strategy as a whole is: we are going to be anywhere where brands can create a sustainable revenue stream, month over month and year over year. And so if you see a new platform pop up, great! But let it be for a little bit before you jump on it. That’s not because it’s not good to be a first mover. But what matters is, will you be able to spend and see the return consistently everyday?
What’s an example of a partnership you’ve helped facilitate at BEN where the final product was a huge success?
It was simple but so powerful. We work with a company called Swagbucks. It’s a way to earn cash through market research. They offer a $5 sign up bonus. We connected them with an influencer named Tana Mongeau. She grew up poor—which, one of the beautiful things about influencers is that they can arise from anywhere. Her video outlined how she had struggled for money growing up and how she used Swagbucks as a kid to earn cash.
And she said in the video, essentially: ‘Now that I’ve gotten millions of followers and a million people might watch this video, I’m giving my followers $5 million. It’s amazing that I am now in a place where I can do that.’
It was this moment where you could see how a good sponsorship with a brand, done in the right way, can truly make impactful content, not only for the creator, but for the audience—and it killed as far as brand signups. One of the reasons why I’m in this sphere is I get to support people who have that sense of doing good in the world. We can better promote good things as opposed to toxic and negative things.
In your mind, what is the key to creating content that drives that kind of shared value—for the brand, the creator and their audience?
The secret sauce in influencer marketing is that you have to find that brand truth and find out where it overlaps with the creator. So going back to the Tana example, the brand truth is people have a need to earn money, not just because people want to be rich; sometimes you need to buy lunch that day and you don’t have money for it. That brand truth matched with hers and created a beautiful story. If you can do that, do that consistently, that’s the hand of Midas, that’s what makes the brand money.
How do you find that connection? How should brands think about approaching an influencer marketing campaign when they’re working with BEN?
There’s a couple of different approaches. You can either take a creative process: I’m the brand. I know what my core brand truth is, and BEN can find influencers that overlap. The other route is we follow the data, test different things and find what works. Not every brand has one pillar, there are usually a handful. We look to see which pillars really resonate with audiences. We call it our testing matrix and we say, “Here’s our assumptions on what was going to work. We’re going to test a series of them and see what’s going to be the best.”
What makes you excited about staying in this industry for the next decade?
Everybody underestimates the level of impact and the size of this space. There are single influencers that have more subscribers than Comcast. Do you know why everybody knows about Oprah? It’s not because they all watch her TV show. It’s because the networks advertise their own celebrities. Oprah got ~17M views during her special with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. That’s a lot. But there’s hundreds, if not thousands, of influencers who get the same amount of views on every video they make. So you’re talking Oprah-level celebrities, and they’re all over the place.
If you stick to just what’s worked in the past, you’ll hit a certain point where you have to innovate to stay relevant. Brands are having to adjust their strategies, and we’re just starting to see that mass market type of play.