Time to start thinking differently about Influencer Marketing

Expert speak

Influencer marketing might be a popular new way of getting word of your product out, but its roots are in the traditional word-of-mouth (WOM) approach that’s been relied upon to build trusted brands for decades.

The essence of WOM is authenticity and reliability. When someone you know or trust recommends a service or a product, it carries weight. Historically, this medium was a challenging one for brands to influence. While celebrity endorsement adds credibility, it lacks authenticity and trust. Influencer marketing attempts to bridge this gap and, as a young medium, continues to evolve.

Social media marketing went through this evolution too. It was initially seen as a ‘fluffy’ channel where marketers could get free or cheap distribution until organic reach evaporated in 2014. Since then, marketers have been forced to re-evaluate social media and consider it as they would any other paid channel, a legitimate way of reaching a large audience, but one that requires a dedicated budget and a well thought-out strategy.

Until recently, brands have tended to rely on offering freebies to encourage influencers to feature their brand. Nowadays, you are more likely to have to pay for quality, and some influencers with large followings can charge up to AED 75,000 for a post. That’s why the recent UAE legislation was a welcome step whereby the National Media Council (NMC) introduced an e-media license to regulate influencers. This has resulted in a growing number of influencer campaigns with most brands now retaining influencers. Top lifestyle influencers like Huda Kattan and Joelle Mardinian have even started their own brand lines.

The role of influencers is growing with more brands stretching their digital budgets in fear of missing out. The Online Projects (TOP) 2018 Influencer Marketing Report reveals that 67% of brands across the UAE and KSA say their biggest challenge is “finding the right influencer”. Why? Most brands have no set criteria to choose or work with influencers. And this is exactly the point! It’s not about working with Influencers for the sake of it, but it must be planned as part of an overall marketing strategy where it should be approached in the same way as any other medium.

The following points should be observed while planning your influencer strategy:

TOP’s 2018 Report suggests that 28% of marketers base the success of influencer marketing on overall campaign performance and 27% base it on the quality of content. But what about the ‘fit’ of the content delivered and audience relevance?

If the Al Awadhi Brothers (Peeta Planet) talk about which backpacks they use when they travel, that’s content that fits with their persona. It will likely appeal to their audience irrespective of their audience’s direct interests. But if you have an influencer that’s known for cooking or beauty content endorsing an entertainment park, there’s a potential mismatch.

The influencer you choose should talk about things that are relevant to their audience.

When you know that a post has been paid for, it changes your perception. Social media users are a savvy bunch. They will not be swayed by an endorsement that’s not genuine. Instead of paying a reviewer to review your product, why not get them to create some content using or featuring your product?

Bot-generated followers have become a challenge for influencer marketing. It’s difficult for a brand to tell if an influencer’s audience is real or fake. According to CampaignDeus, around 12% of Instagram influencers have purchased bot followers in the first six months of this year. While follower count is important, the quality and relevancy of the followers makes all the difference.

Nowadays, about 78% of UAE influencers are micro-influencers with less than 100k followers. Many brands admit to selecting influencers based on follower numbers, but in doing so are missing an opportunity.

Not every brand is meant for every platform. The same goes for influencers too. Brands should be mindful of these intricacies and understand the core strengths of an influencer before choosing them. Think about the kind of content they excel at and how best can you creatively take advantage of it?

Even after finding the “perfect match” you still need to manage them. Some brands choose to do this in-house while others prefer agencies. Influencers tend to prefer working with agencies because they have a better grasp of the expectations of creative services than brands.

A recent study by the World Federation of Advertisers found that 65% of multinational brands plan to increase their influencer investment in 12 months, with Instagram being the main target. While it’s no doubt many brands are trying to navigate the evolving world of Influencer Marketing, if done right, it can pay off.

The article is written and contributed by Rami Hmadeh, CEO of Serviceplan Group Middle East

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