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Event: The future of influencer marketing

28.02.2018

By Martin Bewick, James Delves and Ally Lee-Boone

Influencer marketing has become one of the most popular and fast-growing channels for marketers, with 83% of consumers reporting that they are more likely to trust the recommendation of a friend over and above traditional advertising. Nearly three-quarters of brands now turn to private individuals to promote products and services – but how can marketers harness the potential of influencer marketing and ensure it delivers return on investment?

In memory of CIM Regional Director, Mike Warne, CIM ran an event with Bournemouth University, which called on experts from across the industry to discuss the future of influencer marketing. To highlight how influencer marketing has evolved, please see below a recent interview we undertook with Mats Stigzelius, founder of Takumi, an Instagram marketing platform that connects brands and influencers, as featured in CIM’s member-only magazine, Catalyst.

Stigzelius advises brands to think strategically about influencer campaigns if they are to maximise their potential. For marketers, photo-sharing app Instagram is currently the fastest-rising star of social media channels. There’s a good reason why. “In a short period, it has gone from having something like 200 million users to 800 million users,” says Stigzelius. “Over the same time, Twitter hasn’t grown at all and YouTube has lost some of its star quality.”

Instagram also offers an alternative to the ‘dark social’ apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, which are still relatively closed spaces for brands.

“Instagram is image-led and a very dynamic space for influencer marketing,” says Stigzelius. “It’s a positive and friendly platform in comparison with some of the negative stories we’ve seen with Twitter – which makes for a brand-safe environment that’s really capturing consumer attention.”

Influencer marketing campaigns, in which branded content is created in partnership with consumers, work on a well-worn principle – that if a ‘real person’ tells you something about a product, you’re more likely to listen and believe it than if it was direct brand messaging. It’s word-of-mouth advocacy and it’s effective, says Stigzelius.

“Ads on social media are disruptive,” he says. “They break the flow of the feed. An influencer post, on the other hand, is part of their content stream. People react to it better. Also, millennials and younger consumers are essentially immune to display advertising. It doesn’t engage them and they don’t like to be directly sold to. They get their inspiration through their friends and like to receive recommendations from people they’ve chosen to follow, who they trust. It’s a softer nudge towards a product.”

 

Platform evolution

Stigzelius, who founded Takumi in 2015, says that the continuing evolution of social media marketing can be seen even in the past two years. “Brands are starting to realise just how effective that type of content is,” he says. “When we started the company, brands were still focused on celebrities and YouTube stars to drive advocacy – the biggest influencers were seen as the ones with the most followers. No-one was working with the long tail of smaller influencers – the micro-influencers.

 

“The aim of Takumi was to create a platform that would help connect brands with these smaller influencers. We’ve now worked with around 550 brands, ranging from Nike to L’Oréal, and with challenger brands that many people might not have heard of, and we work with around 1,000 influencers a month
on active campaigns.

“We’ve also innovated. Many platforms use bidding mechanisms in which influencers suggest how much they want to be paid to create a post, or series of posts. The brands then say how much they’re prepared to pay, and there’s an element of haggling to get to an agreement.

“This is a real pain point – if you’re working with a lot of influencers it’s time-consuming. We introduced a fixed pricing mechanism that will, essentially, pay twice the fee if someone has twice as many followers. It makes the process much smoother.” 

 

Advertising regulations

The success of platforms such as Takumi in establishing influencers – and their self-created content – as a legitimate vehicle for marketing has also caught the eye of the regulators. The reason is straightforward – influencer marketing might be advertising created by amateurs, but it is still advertising. Today, most are coming to terms with this fact.

“Influencers must notify their audience when content is paid for by a brand,” says Stigzelius. “We enforce the hashtag ‘#ad’ on all our posts, to show what it is, and good influencers are super up-front about this kind of thing. After all, audiences aren’t stupid, and even if you didn’t use a hashtag, they would know. It’s best to be authentic, to have credibility, and a good influencer turns the relationship into a positive, explaining to their followers that they’re working with the brand, testing its products, and that this is what they think of it.

“The worry, of course, is that adding a hashtag would turn followers off. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any negative reaction from audiences. Indeed, the engagement on paid posts is often higher than on an influencer’s normal, organic posts – perhaps because they put extra effort into creating the content.”

 

Quality control

Stigzelius says that, when considering building an influencer campaign, vetting should be a priority.

“As the sector has become more popular, it has attracted every man and his dog,” he says. “Lots of people say they’re influencers when, in fact, they’re not. Then there are issues with fake followers and the quality of followers, and also the quality of the influencer’s creative talent. There needs to be quality control – is the influencer a good photographer, a good storyteller?

“Another key element is the brief. The influencer’s talent is vital, but if you don’t have a good brief it’s never going to work, no matter how good your targeting of audiences.

The brief needs to allow for the intended outcome from the brand’s perspective, but also for the creativity and personality of the influencer to shine through. The brand needs to draw the boundaries
of what the influencer should focus on, but also make the box big enough that they can really individualise and explore how they’ll engage their followers. If the brief doesn’t do this, you’ve missed the point.

 

Broader strategy

Marketers must know in advance what they are attempting to deliver, in order to create a sound brief. This requires developing a strategy for influencer marketing.

“People often jump into the tactics before they understand why they’re doing it,” Stigzelius says. “There are two key reasons to work with influencers on campaigns. The first is to generate organic advocacy that will tell a brand’s story. The second is that if you put time and effort into the creative content, then it can also be applied to a brand’s other marketing channels – turning it into content for a website, enlivening an email campaign, powering your paid social media and even your display advertising.

“A well-thought-out strategy should always involve re-using the content created by influencers to amplify the impact of other channels. For us, setting the cost of a campaign includes having the licence to reuse the images globally on any digital format. The agreement is set out from the start in the terms and conditions.

“What it doesn’t often cover is the use of that digital content in physical settings, such as posters or billboards. There’s a primarily practical reason for this – the resolution of the original image probably won’t be high enough. However, if a brand did want to use an image in a newspaper, I don’t think I’ve ever known an influencer to object, because it’s creating a wider audience for their own personal brand, too – they want the publicity, and to build their own popularity. That’s the game.”

 

Financial returns

The strategy, however, should also be clear about its limits. For example, there are restrictions on Instagram about adding links in posts. A recent update has allowed some verified businesses to direct followers to further content (‘swipe up’ and ‘tap here’ functionality can now send viewers to a brand’s landing page, without leaving the Instagram app itself), but isn’t yet available to all influencers. Does that not make Instagram a dead-end for brands?

“A lot of influencer marketing is set up to support brand marketing, rather than direct response marketing,” says Stigzelius. “Instagram works less well if you require a ‘buy now’ message – it’s best to think of it as a further-up-the-tunnel activity. The metrics you look at will also be the typical brand marketing ones you might use for TV, radio or outdoors.”

Stigzelius agrees that while marketers seeking evidence of an Instagram influencer campaign’s direct impact on sales might be left disappointed, those seeking a spike in engagement are more likely to be satisfied.

“The cost of an influencer campaign can be paid back multiple times if a brand also uses the content elsewhere in its marketing mix, and the uplift that it might bring in brand advertising can be significant. Use the content wisely and, in the end, it means you get all the Instagram audience engagement for free. On a cost-per-engagement basis, social influence compares favourably with any other channel.”

We hope that all delegates enjoyed The Mike Warne Event 2018. To find out more about becoming a member of the world’s leading professional marketing body, visit CIM’s membership page. Keep up to date with CIM’s latest content and thought leadership on Exchange.

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