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Suki Thompson, Founder at Let’s Reset and Chair of Oystercatchers, delves into some of the major issues at play in influencer marketing with Lou Bennett, Marketing Director of Benefit Cosmetics and Edward East, Founder of Billion Dollar Boy.
With influencer marketing emerging in 2014 as an industry worth $200 million globally, it is now estimated to be worth around $14 billion.
Because of this huge jump, major brands no longer have the choice to engage with influencers and a common thread throughout the discussion was the seismic shift towards a creator economy. This was something that Ed East, Founder & CEO of Billion Dollar Boy, recognised as the newly emerging “backbone of content production”.
Speaking about the democratisation of content, he notes how influencers have completely thrown the traditional model into question, shifting away from elite creative production houses producing all brands’ content. Instead, we now have a market where influencers are the real currency and engage with customers in a completely novel way.
Similarly, Lou Bennett of Benefit Cosmetics, talks about the inevitability of the influencer market. She says, “People are going to create content about your brand whether you like it or not, and having an authentic relationship with the people who do that and can influence their audiences is a really big opportunity”.
Indeed, especially with consumer goods, brands have realised that consumers are actively discussing products online and that narrative can be used to their advantage. It is also a way that brands can build a stronger sense of community by providing a platform for these discussions.
Choosing influencers and platforms
In terms of selecting influencers, Bennett was keen to emphasise that “size doesn’t matter” and whilst this was always the traditional metric, there is now a more holistic focus on the way they select influencers as opposed to just focusing on those with the largest following.
East compares choosing an influencer to an “editorial process”, where you choose an audience for the customer and select a personality that can bring it to life. He also cites a software called Companion, which can help agencies find the right influencer for the brand.
For the Billion Dollar Boy team, the strategy of selection is a process driven pursuit. Starting with research and general consumer trends, they will conduct competitor research and develop a strategy alongside the creative team to select influencers and ultimately help guide content and output. However, it should be noted that there needs to be a different strategy for different platforms and no one campaign is the same.
Whilst East and Bennett agree that TikTok is the most influential platform for 2021, praising its creativity and usability for everyone, they both admit to seeking inspiration from what their friends and colleagues are using and engaging with.
In fact, Bennett reveals how Benefit Cosmetics are actually looking at building their influencer marketing in the gaming space: something that she says is “niche”, but could lead to great results. Meanwhile, East recognises the power of live shopper events and how brands are noting the boom in social commerce.
Citing the Clarks’ virtual shopping campaign, East comments how because “we are likely to live in a hybrid world of virtual and IRL (in-real-life)”, our user experience needs to represent this. This is a trend that is apparent in Chinese markets and also has a more direct ROI.
Influencer management and ROI
Both speakers agreed that managing influencers comes down to the groundwork you lay.
Discussing Benefit, Bennett focuses on the power of due diligence in selecting influencers and knowing that success comes down to an organic relationship and a genuine love for the brand. In fact, Benefit actually uses an in-house team to manage their influencers to ensure immediacy to the brand and nurture that community-led relationship.
From an agency side, they must also balance influencer management with ROI. The latter point is something that Suki Thompson actually recognises as a key issue for brands to grapple with when discussing the commercial value of influencers.
Posing this question to Billion Dollar Boy, East was confident that brands can definitely measure ROI on influencer marketing and fall into two categories. The first sell through third party retailers, for example PepsiCO, who measure ROI internally. They will use econometrics to support strategic decisions.
The second group are clients that sell directly to the consumer and can track their full funnel experience from beginning to end with influencer marketing. East uses European ecommerce retailer, Zalando, as a prime example of this, as well as the Clarks virtual shopping experience. In these instances, brands can see a direct correlation between the money invested into influencers and the return on sales: a QVC-esque experience.
For Benefit Cosmetics, they tend to approach ROI with a more fluid “R”. This means rather than just looking at revenue, “it is our job as the marketing function to educate about what the R is”, Bennett explains. As such, they will look at the influencer’s wider reach, the sentiment created and community brand building. “It is not about influencers sitting in silos”, she explains, but rather they should be at the core of the business.
Aside from measuring ROI, Thompson’s discussion also touched on remuneration of influencers: are they paid a fixed price for their influence or do they operate on a performance basis?
On this point, East was keen to point out that whilst both are feasible options, having worked on a performance basis with previous clients, Billion Dollar Boy tends to focus on fixed price methods of payment.
The dangers of influencers
Despite their popularity, both Bennett and East admit they have made mistakes over the years with influencer campaigns and it is still an art that many are trying to get right.
For Bennett, “it comes down to ethics and how honest you are as a brand”. Using Fyre Festival as a key example of doing it wrong, Benefit’s method to success is making sure you really know the influencer and their wider ambitions. A more recent brand scandal saw Cristiano
Ronaldo removed a Coca-Cola bottle from a Euros 2020 press conference, which is clearly not only damaging to the brand, but shows the dangers when goals are not aligned (no pun intended).
In terms of avoiding this, East urges agencies and brands to make sure they have the right checks in place to review influencer relationships and ensure provisions are in place in contracts to manage the relationships.
On top of this, communication is crucial, which again goes back to Bennett’s wider point of authenticity. This is something that also applies when talking about sustainability and diversity, which are both issues that the speakers agreed were on consumer, and therefore brands’ radars. This is especially important for a brand like Benefit, who Bennett claims, “talk about more non beauty products than we do about beauty”.
Looking forward, all agreed that influencers were here to stay. Whilst Bennett was excited by nurturing micro and nano influencers, East was keen to suggest that this shift away from traditional modes of creative production are perhaps also permanent: “the biggest wins are influencers in general”, he says.
The past year has accelerated the power of digital and ultimately meant that more and more brands are using influencers, and agencies therefore need to up their game to make sure these relationships run as smoothly as possible.