SwayBrand is building a diverse network to benefit brands and influencers : TheGrio



SwayBrand is pictured in a promotional photo. (Credit: Instagram/@swaybrand)

Influencer marketing is experiencing a rapid growth as brands continue to funnel dollars into individuals and content creation that service niche audiences. With the pandemic resulting in more individuals staying home, we are seeing a rise in digital content as a form of information, inspiration, and entertainment.

According to the 2020 Benchmark Report by Influencer Marketing Hub, influencer marketing is a sector that has grown 33% in the past year (from $6.6B to $9.7B) and is expected to grow 50% year over year moving forward. Everyday content creators are wheeling 5, 6 and even 7-figure deals; however, according to Horace Flournoy, co-founder of SwayBrand, a multicultural influencing marketing app, BIPOC are being left out of the equation.

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Flournoy explains the early days of building the company: “We had many of these meetings with big corporate enterprise teams. We realized that there was this asynchronous opportunity here and it was a huge gap between what we knew as African Americans and the things that we knew as far as how we influence culture, how we influence buying decisions throughout America, through our celebrity. Across entertainment, sports and other areas there are very talented individuals that have moved the needle for brands in a major way as far as their sales. We were coming out of pitch after pitch realizing we were the only African Americans in the room. That was our light bulb moment. Y’all are trying to access us without hiring us.”

It was a perfect storm for SwayBrand with stay at home orders mixed with brands attempting to correct the racist wrongdoings of America. The desire to work toward a more inclusive future led SwayBrand to soar. Flournoy shares that brands were looking at “how to maintain a mindshare in products and services in communities that didn’t look like them.”

Nevertheless, this isn’t a new concept. A study by ISS shows that “non-white ethnic minorities hold only 10 percent of directorships among Russell 300 companies.” Diversity at the table is problematic; particularly the higher up the ranks you go. Coupling this with The Washington Post report that white Americans have 91 times as many white friends as Black friends, it’s clear to whom opportunities are being presented.

Flournoy details, “When COVID-19 hit, we realized that being an all-digital tech platform that helps brands connect authentically to diverse authentikas at scale is exactly what the climate needed.”

Authentikas are what Flournoy and his three co-founders dubbed what we know as “influencers.” However, it’s not just a word marketing play. Flournoy shares, “It speaks to the community and the culture we are establishing within our company. An elevated individual that does brand sponsorships in a really authentic way and has fun doing it and celebrates our own culture.” Consider it thoughtful influencing with a purpose.

The founding team is made up of Flournoy and Israel Idonije, each bringing their unique experience to move the brand forward. Flournoy expressed that when he pitched SwayBrand to Idonije, a football player with 11 years experience in the NFL and brand opportunities, he agreed with the mission to help authentikas capture economic value. Co-founder Hall believed in the mission so much, she left her full-time job as a news anchor to focus on SwayBrand.  

It’s good that all hands were on deck and able to work on the business full-time, because in June when brands were looking to increase their diversity efforts, SwayBrand became the answer. Flournay reveals, “yes, we got an extreme uptick in opportunities. Opportunities to speak with enterprise companies and massive CPG brands and we’re still talking to them and moving forward with deals with these big corporations.”

The deals are flowing in for the growing company. SwayBrand recently announced a partnership with the NFL Player’s Association (NFPLA), an organization they won a pitch competition with in January of this year. They will be turning retired players who are influencers into “authentikas” and providing brands with opportunities for talent.

SwayBrand has about 100 influencers and this new partnership under their belt. According to Flournay, they are also “working with partnerships with music groups and sports agencies.” Even if you aren’t a sports influencer, you can be an authentika. They are open to African-American, Latinx, and Asian ambassadors with the shared mission of connecting with brands to create authentic cultural content and insights.

What separates SwayBrand is not only that their push for diversity, but also the platform itself. It’s the place you don’t come to not only for talent, but also content and insight. Within the platform brands, authentikas can interact and message with one another and conduct reviews of content before it goes live.  

What’s next for SwayBrand? Well, they are currently raising funds to expand their brand even more. They also have eyes on a partnership with the WNBA to which Flournay explains, “Women over social media have extremely high engagement rates. I don’t understand why our competitors aren’t stopping everything they’re doing to target WNBA players.”

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They also have created SWAY Match, which Flournay describes as “a dating app for brands and authentikas.” He elaborates, “We developed a two-way matching system to help both sides validate authenticity with one another. Before there’s a consummation between a brand and brand ambassador deal, there should be some validation in comparison to how it functions today.”

During a time where many people are worried about the future and their businesses, SwayBrand is thriving and promoting the culture. Flournay says there’s a quote from former President Barack Obama that inspires: “What is truly American is Black culture to a large degree. It’s had a profound influence on this entire nation and it has to be affirmed.”

If you are a brand or organization looking to be more inclusive, head to SwayBrand for content and for insight. If you are a multicultural influencer that wants to take it to the next level, apply to become an authentika. Flournay concludes, “We’re really excited about providing a platform with our people—the trends, the memes, the things that go viral.”

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