Many perspectives have been shared on influencer marketing, but very few from the brands themselves. What are its business imperatives and ROI?
In the heart of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, is Brittany Preece, a social media manager at Investec Bank.
As part of the Private Banking marketing team, Preece and her team have managed to successfully implement disruptive digital strategies to meet the growth objectives of the bank.
Traditionally, the role of marketing has been to support business objectives. Yet when companies experience financial difficulty, more often than not, marketing is seen to be the first in line on the chopping block. As a way of adapting to this reality, most marketing managers have had to look at cost-effective, yet creative, ways of achieving business impact.
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Social and digital media have given room for new ways businesses can engage and sell to their customers.
Increasingly gaining traction in South Africa is influencer marketing, an entirely new branch of the sales and marketing funnel which has seen brands leverage popular personalities on social media to promote their products and services online. Globally, the influencer marketing industry is forecast to be worth $5 billion to $10 billion by 2020, according to a study by Mediakix.
For Investec, attracting and diversifying into new markets has informed their decision to leverage influencers as part of their marketing strategy.
“Since 2015, we as Investec, have predominantly used influencer marketing to reach the young professional audience,” Preece says.
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“We (Investec Private Bank) have recently evolved our qualifying criteria. We’re no longer just the preferred banking partner for accountants, engineers, lawyers, doctors and actuaries. We’re positioned to be the bank of choice for those who are under the age of 30, consistently earning more than R600,000 ($42,582)a year, with a university degree and working in their area of expertise.”
Seated in front of a glass wall which looks out to a view of a bustling and upbeat office environment, she elaborates that to effectively reach the young professionals’ target market, it is important to identify individuals that can speak to that audience.
“What influencer marketing gives you, that a lot of the other marketing channels can’t, is great reach and engagement with your target audience. Using [influencers] brings a lot of authenticity to the brand, where Investec Private Banking was seen as unattainable to a lot of young professionals,” Preece says.
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In the digital universe, content is king. Authenticity is paramount. A study conducted by the Mobile Marketing Association reported that most consumers have banner blindness and suffer from advertising fatigue. They cannot recall the last digital banner ad that they saw.
Ad-blocking continues to be a growing phenomenon, further demonstrating the shift in consumer behavior. Consumers simply don’t want to be marketed to. To this effect, influencers assist brands to reach their customers through content that is more relevant to those consumers.
According to Business Insider’s 2018 Influencer Marketing Report: Research, Strategy & Platforms for Leveraging Social Media Influencers, the average social media engagement rate from influencer marketing averages 5.7% per post.
This is a feat compared to content generated by brands which fluctuates around 2% – 3% per post.
With this in mind, it’s even more essential for brands to involve influencers upfront to co-create an envisioned campaign.
“You want your influencer to buy into what you stand for as a brand. It shouldn’t be a hard sell – consumers see through that. If not done properly, it can look very fake and [we] never want to make it feel like an ad,” Preece says.
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Brands and agencies measure awareness and engagement by analyzing a few parameters, including, inter alia, number of likes, comments, shares and followers. Proponents of this theory believe an increase in these parameters lead to brand success.
Detractors of the theory believe awareness and engagement alone are not sufficient indicators of brand success. “Likes and follows are unimpressive without an increase in the bottom line,” says Sinesipho Maninjwa, a financial analyst and commentator.
But technology has its limitations. Dianne Joseph, the Commercial Director of Digital at Nielsen, a leading global information, data and measurement company, elaborates that there are real challenges in measuring sales attribution as a result of influencer marketing.
“The influencer models are difficult to measure because most influencers use their own personal pages to post, and these organic posts don’t offer us the opportunity to implement a tag (for tracking purposes) and, therefore, we aren’t able to track the outcomes,” Joseph says.
The ability to measure what is happening on and off digital platforms, or across social media platforms, is a challenge that most digital marketers face. Different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have their own unique methods of tracking and storing data. The link between these platforms is, therefore, a lot more tenuous.
But in support of influencer marketing, a number of global studies have come out and shown that influencer marketing does yield a positive return on investment (ROI).
Pierre Cassuto, of social media influencer platform Humanz, who recently set up shop in South Africa from Tel Aviv in Israel, believes that the use of influencers can lead to increased sales. “In the US market, there is about a four times ROI on money spent in the influencer marketing space for retailers, cosmetics and FMCG brands,” he adds.
Cassuto agrees that engagement on its own doesn’t yield conversion. For influencer marketing to yield conversion, the message being broadcast by influencers has to be well thought out and carefully constructed to achieve that objective.
There has to be a reason for someone to do something now as opposed to anytime. That can be around creating urgency around something specific, it can be around creating a limited time availability offer.
Essentially, brands can become creative and purposeful in how they design their entire campaign to track conversion from the ground up. “The way we suggest measuring conversion is by making sure that the influencers have a way that [brands] can track the relationship between the influencers post and the actual conversion,” Cassuto says.
The first looks at providing the influencer a coupon code that they can distribute and share. In doing so, the specific brands will know that the people who redeemed the coupon code came from the influencers. The second options measures sell over time related to increase in traffic due to influencer marketing towards a landing page that the brand is driving to. With this, Cassuto states that brands can do A/B testing to see the impact on days influencers are posting and days when they’re not.
With all the advantages of influencer marketing, should brands solely invest in this sales channel?
Preece firmly holds the view that influencer marketing on its own isn’t the be all and end all. “I do believe that it should be a mix. I believe that an integrated marketing plan that uses out-of-home, billboards, TV and digital is where you see the most results.”
“Things can go wrong with influencer marketing. You are putting faith and trust into a human being who is imperfect. We have a saying: A tweet can tank an economy,” Preece says.
With consumers becoming increasingly selective about what they consume, influencer marketing continues to grow as an attractive sales channel. It is imperative that brands place the necessary care and due diligence before partnering with any influencer.
The perfect fit between an influencer and the brand will determine the overall ROI. After all, effective influencer marketing is the online equivalent of the highly valuable word-of-mouth advertising that marketers have always coveted.