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Whether it’s a quick 30-minute dinner with the family or a decadent dessert to impress guests, people are always looking for new recipes. While aspiring chefs and bakers once turned on the TV to see what tips Martha Stewart had, today they’re heading online for inspiration.

That type of interest creates huge opportunities for brands in the food space, but it also means there’s a lot of noise. So how do you stand out? That was the question Hershey’s had ahead of the launch of its limited-edition Hot Cocoa Kisses. The answer it came up with: align its product with influencers who have already built up credibility and a loyal following.

To do that, it partnered with YouTube BrandConnect, Google’s in-house branded content platform that provides a one-stop shop for collaborations with YouTube creators. The resulting creator-driven branded content — which featured top YouTube bakers like Rosanna Pansino, The Icing Artist, and Honeysuckle — generated a 22% lift in purchase intent. Together with a paid ad strategy, the campaign was key to driving more than $9 million in retail sales.

“We saw a tremendous increase in sales from this new approach to our holiday campaign. It was hard to keep the Kisses on the shelves,” said Jill Baskin, chief marketing officer at Hershey’s.

Here’s how Hershey’s pulled off such a successful campaign, with three lessons for brands looking to try a similar influencer-focused approach.

Get to know the YouTube creator community

Influencer marketing has come under harsh scrutiny recently. At Cannes last year, Unilever CMO Keith Weed called for “urgent action” to tackle the problem of influencer marketing fraud — where so-called influencers do things like buy more followers.

Probably the best way to avoid this pitfall is to take the time to get to know the creator community and any influencers you’re looking to work with. Are they well-respected among your target audience? Are they aligned with your brand values? Is there a natural fit between your product and their area of influence?

Being able to answer these questions allowed the Hershey’s team to ensure they were collaborating with the right people. “YouTube BrandConnect helped us connect with the right influencers to create really authentic messages that would resonate with our consumers,” said Baskin.

Be flexible and open to new ideas

YouTube creators are experts at creating content that resonates with their fans. They have spent months, even years, engaging with viewers and cultivating their brand, and they have a sixth sense for what will work. That’s why, when partnering with creators, brands have to do something uncomfortable: Let go of control and trust the creator to position the product in a way that feels natural instead of forced.

When partnering with creators, brands have to do something uncomfortable: Let go of control.

For example, for the Hot Cocoa Kisses campaign, Laurie Shannon, the woman behind The Icing Artist channel, approached the video as a challenge to make a delicious cake incorporating the kisses. Rosanna Pansino, on the other hand, created a taste challenge of holiday-themed Kisses.

“We found that giving creative authority to the YouTube creators resulted in content viewers loved,” said Baskin. “They understand what’s best for their audience.”

Leverage both organic and paid reach to maximize impact

The YouTube creators that Hershey’s partnered with command a massive organic reach, but the brand went one step further. As well as placing its product in the branded content that lived on each respective creator’s channel, Hershey’s also featured the creators in its paid media campaign — a set of six-second bumpers and 15-second ads — which drove a 12% lift in purchase intent and a 551% increase in searches.

This paid part of the campaign allowed Hershey’s to reach even more people. “We saw higher retention, higher recall, and two times the purchase intent lift from traditional campaigns,” said Baskin. “The campaign drove incredible results, exceeding all benchmarks in the food and beverage category.”