This is a translated and (slightly) edited version of an interview that appeared on Marketingfacts.nl
Influencer Marketing is a term you’ll find hard to ignore in 2018, but according to Philip Brown, head of influencer marketing & brand advocacy strategy at Come Round people often misuse and abuse the term influencer marketing, with the focus still too much on short term, smash & grab activities.
He’s been working on strategies that drive brands and product into people’s hands, homes as well as online feeds.
Tell us a little more about your work as head of influencer marketing & band advocacy strategy
The title alone says lot. Brand advocacy is a term we have been using in correlation with influence since day one. We aim to utilise and harness the power of influence across the entire spectrum. This means that we advise brands to part with the idea of controlling the entire narrative (this can be quite scary sometimes!) and provide influential people with a chance to tell their story as authentically as possible. Most of what I do revolves around developing and implementing long-term influencer marketing programmes.
Here at Come Round, we’ve worked with household brands across the UK since 2009. I've been here since 2013 and it’s been an interesting journey to say the least. From having to explain to everyone what influencer marketing is, what bloggers are - to the point where now even my parents understand what I do.
Back in the summer of 2016, we teamed up with Mazda and engaged influencers around their sponsorship activation of Tomorrowland, the immensely popular electronic dance music festival in Belgium. We utilised engaged-audience identification tools to make sure that each influencer had a relevant audience – and that their brand affinities and interests were aligned with the Mazda brand. We sent 15 influencers across Europe to Belgium and made sure they got the VIP (or VII) treatment.
A lot of my time is also spent on less glamorous tasks, such as research, data analysis and campaign reporting. However these aspects are becoming increasingly important within a market that is under increased scrutiny.
Influencers have picked up in popularity in the last two years – do you have an explanation as to why this is?
Allow me to to provide you with a little backstory and explain to you what I consider to be influencer advertising: utilising content creators with a lot of reach on social media to broadcast a (branded/sponsored) message. To most - this is the very essence of influencer marketing.
Influencer advertising has been going through the roof over the past few years. I personally believe this is due to a shift in media consumption – we are experiencing a significant shift from traditional TV & Radio to digital / social.
Social media are different from more traditional forms of media, where nowadays, we opt to tune in to people and the content they produce, whereas fifteen years ago, we didn’t really have any other option than to watch Big Brother on a Friday night. This is where influencer advertising has filled a void. A YouTuber with a reach of a million people being paid to create #sponsored content around a new make-up brush is rapidly turning into the modern day equivalent of an old-school TV ad. Both come with big budgets and the potential for a lot of eyeballs, and often do well well in terms of brand awareness.
So what’s the benefit of using influencers to advertise your product when you can just purchase social media ads on Facebook & Instagram?
Social media ads absolutely have their advantages over traditional TV-ads. I was visiting family in the Netherlands over the Christmas period and I noticed ads for a specific supermarket chain being shown daily on TV – however the nearest store is over 50 miles away from where my parents live. This means that the ad was highly irrelevant to the 20,000 people that live in their town. Social media ads offer obvious advantages, specifically in the form of geo-targeting.
But however specific your ad is, it doesn’t automatically mean it meets attention and relevancy criteria – and when done right, that is the big difference between social and influencer advertising.
People actively tune in to watch content created by internet celebrity X or Y – if your favourite celebrity uploads a new video, you’re much more likely to watch it, even when it's #sponsored.
An additional advantage of influencer advertising is the myriad of options that are available to brands. Back in the day, there were only a few TV-shows that would serve up enough eyeballs and offer relevancy to your brand. Influencers have much more to offer. If you’re trying to sell ski gear, you used to be limited to the handful of popular travel shows, nowadays you can identify and engage hundreds of popular snowboarders that create awesome content and have a direct relationship with their audience.
So what’s the difference between influencer advertising and influencer marketing?
I tend to differentiate between the two to emphasise the fact influencer adveritising is only a part of the influencer marketing package. Yes it plays a part – but it’s not the only way to utilise the power of influence. Influencer advertising is often a smash-and-grab approach, where agencies nor brands think about engaging content creators for longer than a one/two/three piece content period, nor think about taking the relationship further than just content creation. In order for influencer marketing to develop and reach the next level of maturity, the industry needs more long-term strategic and integrated approaches to show that there's more to it than just pay-to-play content creation.
Real influencer marketing goes beyond a one-off payment where the goal is generating eyeballs. For me, it’s all about harnessing multiple layers of influence. Starting with that friend you have that loves to cook who always talks highly about the local butcher because he thinks the meat there is much better than what you always buy at the local supermarket. Influence can be found in that colleague that keeps telling you to switch mobile phone provider because of the excellent customer service she's experienced.
This type of influencer marketing requires a grassroots, integrated strategy that starts at customer service level. But think about it, this is actually something that a brand can actually impact themselves (without paying influencers, or thinking about content). If we put the customer first and start making it a priority to to make people fall in love with your brand, you'll start noticing that you actually don't have to pay people to say good things about your brand. Service with a smile and a free croissant to the guy that comes in for coffee every morning could be the catalyst to the entire office flocking to your coffee place, as well as UGC.
Influencer marketing is about more than just paid-for-content. Your customers have friends, family members & colleagues that talk about brands on a daily basis. Social media provides us with a platform to find and identify these people, to get them to create content and take a positive offline experience online (and vice versa!).
This is why technology plays such an important part within your long-term influencer marketing strategy. Tools such as Coosto are not just designed to identify trends, they also offer you the opportunity to identify existing and potential customers – and what’s even better, you can engage these people and apply community management to increase brand advocacy levels.
When it comes to influencer marketing, some B2B businesses are ahead of the game, some have been actively working with ambassadors, fans and experts since the 90s, running these programmes with the knowledge that social proof works ‘My friend John uses this software, and he loves it – so it must be good.’ Perhaps, those types of companies being ahead of the game has to do with the fact that they’ve always had to look beyond traditional advertising – it’s harder to flog a piece of software during Big Brother.
How do you feel about the explosive growth that influencer marketing has experienced since 2016?
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. From a business perspective, it’s amazing that this is a hot topic. It has definitely created more business opportunities. But at the same time, influencer marketing is still in its infancy phase. There are a lot of bandwagon 'experts' out there - and there is a lot of misinformation out there. The flipside is that it is making brands lose confidence in how important influencer marketing can be for them. Which is why education is becoming increasingly important going into 2018.
In addition, many agencies still use reach as a benchmark of success, a lot of people have a tendency to use advertising and PR measurements and apply it to influencer marketing. Are we reaching the right people, is the audience legitimate? These are questions that most in the industry actively avoid.
The result is that many think that reach equals influence. Which is not per definition true. A book critic with 100,000 highly engaged followers can be much more relevant than a more generic lifestyle YouTuber with 500,000 followers who are less niche when it comes to interests in specific products. To me; reach is not the holy grail of influencer marketing.
So let’s talk about goals and KPI’s
I always try to find a balance between reach and engagement. Our focus is always on engaged audience data. We think it’s more important to analyse engaged data than historical data, but more importantly, it’s vital to dig deep and find out as much as possible about the audience. We want to avoid classic examples of being ''too influencer focused''. The brands that are being advised to work with models to sell bikini’s and make up products, without realising that the majority of their audience is actually male, and therefore irrelevant.
We focus primarily on data, finding out the actual reach (i.e. engagement rate based on reach, not on follower count) and looking at audience data to determine relevancy. We also focus on softer metrics such as sentiment, consumer insight and social media monitoring to provide our clients with data that will allow them to combine influencer marketing with their day-to-day marketing activities.
Using newly available data, we have realised that even some of the content creators we have worked with in the past are too expensive based on their audience and deliverables. The industry has been too happy to throw money at influencers based on hype - and content creators have gotten away with accepting work without showing any real value. There is a real shake up taking place, and content creators who are unable to prove audience relevancy will be in for a real shock. There is no doubt that content creators require payment, but too often brands are paying too much for content that isn’t reaching a relevant audience.
So can brands enjoy influencer marketing on a shoe-string budget?
Absolutely! You don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to set up an effective influencer marketing programme. Even for start-ups, I would suggest looking at all the entire spectrum of influence. Let’s take as an example a new local bakery.
Firstly, you could identify and engage a local celeb take a picture (IGC) inside / in front of your bakery and share it on social media (against payment, of course). In addition, make sure to give those who come in on a daily basis a little something extra, in order to encourage recommendations. And then you need consumers to start creating UGC, give people that have purchased something from your bakery an incentive to share pictures of your bakery online.
This is a mini-version of a more complete, all-round influencer campaign. Imagine you’re prepping for a winter-break full of ski-action; you’re looking at your friends’ social pages to see how they’re prepping. You spot that one of them received a free pair of gloves from a big brand - and then a little while later, you see one of the big snow-boarders that you follow wearing the exact same ones. And to top it off, one of your other friends talks about the brand because they bought gloves from the same brand last year, and when they ripped, the brand was friendly enough to provide him with new ones, no questions asked.
There are few to no brands / agencies currently utilising this level of in-depth influencer marketing strategies. The interest is there (for some) but the knowledge is lacking. As an industry, we are still too focused on big numbers and big talent. If we want influencer marketing to mature, and become more effective, we should be focusing on powerful, long-term programmes that cover the entire spectrum of influence - online and offline.