The rapid growth of social media has brought with it a new breed of communication that has the ability to connect with consumers in a more natural way – all the more important as people become increasingly turned off by pushy forms of advertising.
But influencer marketing, as it has become known, is evolving as brands continue to hone their strategy and develop new ways of working with bloggers and vloggers that generates the cut-through they need, while supporting the values of the influencer.
Although many brands are looking to tap into the power of influencers on public social networks, for example, savvy marketers are beginning to explore the opportunity of reaching consumers through private social channels such as messaging apps, sometimes referred to as ‘dark social’.
“I’m excited about dark social and what’s happening on private social networks like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and WhatsApp,” says Leila Fataar, head of culture and entertainment at Diageo Europe, who will be speaking on a panel hosted by Marketing Week as part of Lions Entertainment at Cannes next Thursday on how using influencers can engage the marketing cynics.
“Consumer advocacy is a huge part of influence so I want to explore how we can use dark social authentically and the beauty of that form of communication is that it’s so dynamic.”
Diageo is in the process of exploring these emerging platforms, in particular working with Snapchat to ensure the business is not speaking to underage drinkers via social messaging.
Fataar aims to build bespoke, multilayered campaigns that tap into different ‘tiers of influence’, from gif-makers and content creators to cultural icons and celebrities. The aim is always to find the relevant expert and then collaborate on an authentic story.
“Influencers come in all shapes and sizes, from emerging artists and bloggers, to [people using] Facebook and Google [or media outlets like] BuzzFeed,” says Fataar. “My job is about unpicking the different influencers that we can work with for our different brands. The content always has to feel original and authentic, and we want them to bring something new to the brand to create ‘thumb-stopping’ content.”
Small is beautiful
For Cassandra Stavrou, creative director at popcorn company Propercorn, finding small influencers with a highly engaged following loyal to the brand is more important than working with large-scale influencers boasting hundreds of thousands of followers.
Propercorn collaborates with influencers who have already shown an interest in the brand and whose work it respects. For example, the company teamed up with set designer Rachel Thomas, whose art was already admired by the team. The resulting outdoor campaign spanned buildings, pavements, phone boxes, buses and interactive art spaces for customers to sample the popcorn.
“Anything we produce with influencers has to offer value and be beautiful to look at. The trick is having a bespoke approach”
Cassandra Stavrou, Propercorn
Finding an influencer who already has a connection with the brand, as Propercorn has done, will lead to a much more genuine, mutually beneficial relationship.
Speaking at an event held by Marketing Week sister title Fashion & Beauty Monitor last month, prominent UK beauty vlogger Fleur de Force, said: “The best thing you can do is connect with people who are already talking about your products authentically, as their audience will naturally connect with you. [It’s just that the brand] gets to control the messaging a bit more.”
She believes the best brand collaborations always start with a conversation. She advises companies to “approach influencers and say ‘this is our idea, how does it fit into your content?’ Nobody knows their audience better than the influencer themselves”.
Brands should not be concerned about drawing people’s attention to the fact they have formed a commercial partnership with an influencer, or fear that it will turn consumers off. Fleur de Force, who works with brands including L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, believes flagging content as sponsored has no consequence on engagement. She argues the key to success is for the brand and influencer to create something different that will drive engagement.
There is no hard and fast rule as to whether an agreement should be commercially-led. However, if money is exchanged, content must be clearly marked as paid-for.
Propercorn’s campaign with Thomas was conducted on a commercial basis, but the brand also sends popcorn to social media fans in the hope they will try it and share their reactions.
Stavrou believes the content strategy cannot be too prescriptive and encourages influencers to do their own thing as followers will instantly sense if the content is not natural.
“Anything we produce with influencers has to offer value and be beautiful to look at. It’s not just about sticking logos on a post, especially as customers are becoming increasingly discerning. The trick is having a bespoke approach, even down to the time of day, the platform you use and the message itself,” she says.
Propercorn measures engagement by looking at the number of followers and likes gained from a post, as well as the level of peer-to-peer recognition from other aspirational brands.
The company’s next influencer activity, which launches this month, will see a tie-up with flavour experience installation experts Bompas & Parr, inviting fans and influencers to create their own popcorn flavour, with the winning recipe being put into production.
“Rather than sitting on a high paid bit of media space, it’s about inviting the community to be part of the conversation,” adds Stavrou.
Return on influence
Having a strong community is crucial for beauty subscription business Glossybox, where 80% of acquisition comes via word-of-mouth on social media, explains UK and Ireland managing director, Rachel Kavanagh.
“One Glossybox subscriber speaks to five other people about what they got in their box, which is the new ROI – return on influence. We know user-generated content will drive our business so we would be absolute fools if our next investment is not looking into how we present this content, whether that’s on our website or online magazine.”
Kavanagh started refreshing the brand’s content strategy in 2014, overhauling Glossybox’s business-to-business communications, newsletters, emails and website. By 2015, the team started to see engagement rising on social media and every month the biggest brand advocate on social is gifted a necklace.
Although its Twitter audience is the most engaged, Instagram is Glossybox’s fastest growing social platform but Facebook engagement has recently taken a dive. Despite joining Snapchat only six months ago Glossybox routinely receives 1,500 views per video.
The business has shunned celebrities in favour of beauty bloggers and editors from the likes of Red Magazine, who it believes have credibility in the sector.
Kavanagh suggests the next stage of influencer marketing will be about combining user generated content with loyalty, following the Amazon model where customers gain points depending on how often they share reviews and influence other shoppers.
“The Amazon loyalty programme is not based on purchase, but on whether what you write is helpful to the rest of the community. This encourages customers to create their own influence, which will be the next big step in ecommerce,” adds Kavanagh.
Shift away from celebrities
Like Glossybox, supermarket chain Iceland, once synonymous with reality stars Kerry Katona and Peter Andre, is also shunning celebrities in favour of working with real families through an exclusive partnership with parenting social network Channel Mum. Iceland paid Channel Mum for three months exclusive access to the vlogging community.
“Pre-TV advertising, word-of-mouth was the most powerful form of marketing and [the rise of influencers] shows the strength of social networking and the fact that customers are more comfortable with taking views from their peer group,” says Nick Canning, joint managing director at Iceland Foods.
In order to get real reactions from mothers, Channel Mum users have been asked to try Iceland products before producing a video on the topic of family food. Iceland has no control over the content, which appears on Channel Mum’s website and YouTube.
Canning acknowledges that to keep the message meaningful it is essential that businesses stay in the background when working with influencers. He believes influencers are here to stay, but they can quickly lose their worth if the message starts to lack authenticity.
Running in parallel to the Channel Mum activity, the latest iteration of Iceland’s ‘Power
of Frozen’ campaign, which launched last year, saw the frozen food giant send products to three unsuspecting families. Similar in concept to the highly successful Lidl Surprises campaign of 2014, the unscripted content was used to create several TV ads, which aired in May.
“Celebrities do have a role to play – look at what Tesco is doing with actors Ruth Jones and Ben Miller – but it’s much more about getting an honest opinion. To do that I’m prepared to risk a few negative comments,” adds Canning.
Diverse content strategy
Hotel chain Marriott has a well-established influencer strategy, working with a variety of individuals with a strong social following in everything from travel and food to business
To explain to guests that Netflix is now available in hotel rooms, for example, Marriott partnered with the cast of Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, who tweeted about the new functionality. These tweets were retweeted by rapper Snoop Dog, a fan of the show, pushing the engagement even further.
Meanwhile, when launching its millennial-focused hotel chain Moxy in 2014, the hotel group worked with vlogger, comedian and singer Taryn Southern on YouTube comedy series Do Not Disturb, which saw Southern interviewing other social influencers in bed at a Moxy hotel.
Whatever the medium or tone, the focus is on content excellence, explains Karin Timpone, global marketing officer at Marriott International. “Whether we are looking to drive audience numbers, engagement or views on the website, we want the story to be great and the whole reason we work with influencers is to accelerate the sharing of this story.
“Sometimes an influencer is best as they work closely with us on making content and have built a great following based on their specific content type.”
The next stage of influence needs to be shareable and digestible on all platforms, says Timpone, who advocates devising a bespoke strategy based on selecting the right form of content and choosing influencers with a global view.
“I can’t underscore enough that a movement is happening in marketing and every industry needs to think about working with influencers in their own way. Every brand needs to hone its story, as it’s a shareable idea that gets marketing passed along and gains more value.”