As the founder of an influencer marketing platform, brands tell me almost daily how worried they are about giving influencers creative freedom to post about their products. In the past I have received briefs that are pages long, with lists of dos and don’ts and bullet-point guides of what the client wants to include. ‘But what if they use a caption that does not align with our brand guidelines?’ they ask. ‘What if they take a picture and it does not fit our aesthetic?’
These marketers are used to advertising agencies supplying proofs and photographers following their every direction, but advertising has moved on. The new wave of advertisers do not sit within publishing houses or TV production companies, they work from home often with just an iPhone, camera and a laptop.
We are talking about normal people on Instagram who have over 1,000 followers – the people that we refer to as micro-influencers. We are talking about individuals who joined Instagram not just to post pictures of their pets or boozy nights out, but those who use the platform to express themselves with a clear and defined aesthetic; people who take the time to cultivate and nurture their feed and grow their following with beautiful, useful and interesting content.
These people are not celebrities or big-name bloggers, they are people who have taken the time and effort to manage their feeds like they would manage a blog or a publication. They are people who have influence beyond their circle of family and friends but still retain high levels of engagement, which is an extremely important factor when it comes to influencer marketing.
The traditional PR approach when delivering influencer campaigns has always been to target celebrities with the belief that bigger is always better. However, while these names have followers in spades, they lack high-quality engagement. We have analysed over 500,000 Instagram accounts and the numbers are surprising.
Engagement rates on average are approximately 4.5% on accounts that have between 1,000 and 4,000 followers, dropping to 2.4% on accounts that have between 4,000 and 100,000 followers. This goes down to just 1.7% on accounts with over 100,000 followers.
It seems obvious but this is because when accounts reach a certain size, the influencer engages less and less with their followers. As much as they may want to, they simply become too busy to respond to every comment or question.
However, while micro-influencers have a much higher level of engagement, working with them at scale comes with some challenges.
On the influencer side, they are often too small to be easily discovered and find it difficult to know how much to charge for a campaign. Furthermore, invoicing is a nightmare often resulting in influencers having to chase payments.
Equally from a brand’s perspective, it is time consuming to discover influencers with the right profile and even harder to establish contact and agree campaign details. It takes a lot of resource to manage effectively, which probably explains why many brands – despite the engagement issue – have historically opted to work with fewer numbers of larger influencers to make sure they reach their required campaign size.
We developed the Takumi platform to facilitate micro-influencer marketing campaigns and provide a solution to these issues, acting as a facilitator between the brand and the influencer, thus making the process much more efficient.
But again, not all brands have fully understood the power of influencer marketing. Some do not see the value of social media and even more worryingly, some are staunchly opposed to paying for partnerships. ‘We get coverage without having to pay’ is a frequent response.
What is important to remember is that these are not amateurs. They are professionals and they need to be valued as such. You would pay a celebrity to endorse a product, so it makes sense to apply the same logic to smaller influencers. It is about respect and recognition for the art that goes into creating a successful feed and beautiful photography.
With this in mind, we named our platform Takumi after the Japanese word ‘artisan’ to ensure that the talent of these influencers is at the forefront of people’s minds when working with them.
Many forward-thinking brands are already taking up the mantel and moving forward with this new way of marketing products, brands and campaigns. They are recognising the strong commercial impact it has on the bottom line. Our research has shown that half of all consumers (54%) have actually bought products after seeing them on Instagram, with 18- to 24-year-olds most influenced by the popular photo-sharing platform (68%). Over half of Britons (51%) admit they are more likely to purchase items after seeing them on Instagram. According to McKinsey, consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising.
But in order to see the best results from influencer marketing it is crucial for relationships to be authentic.
Although influencers are helping to sell thousands of products, they are not beholden to the parameters of traditional advertising. Creative freedom is exactly what is great about influencer marketing. It is not supposed to be preachy or prescriptive but honest, raw and personal.
Influencer marketing is not a one-dimensional discipline. It is more than just getting a product into the hands of the right people. It is about how these influencers see the brand and how they interpret a brief in their own style that appeals to their followers. It is about a product fitting seamlessly into an influencer’s feed without disruption and the only way this type of marketing will be authentic and effective is if the influencer is given the liberty to see the product through their own eyes.
It is about tailoring content to fit the influencers’ aesthetic, rather than shoehorning a square peg into a round hole. Brands need to let go and trust the influencers. The more they let go, the more pleasantly surprised they will be with the results.
While sales are the most tangible benefit to this type of marketing, it is also an exercise in finding out who a brand’s influencers are. For one FMCG brand we worked with, they believed their key influencer was in the fashion sector. Then out of the blue, they received a post from a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) influencer and saw engagement levels soar. Yes, it may have been an unfamiliar world for them but their brand was seen in a totally new context and aesthetic, which was ultimately very effective for them.
Furthermore comments on influencer posts are often fantastic feedback for product development. It is a journey of discovery and an invaluable social listening tool, which helps shape brand identity.
This type of marketing is also really helpful from a content creation perspective. Brands that run campaigns with Takumi have the right to use images from all the influencers they work with. Imagine the amount of money required for a lifestyle photoshoot to get 20 or 30 amazing shots for your Instagram feed, to use on your website or social media ads. Or, for example, the number of creative directors you would need to enlist to produce a similar selection of images.
Brands need not worry about influencers going too far off-piste. They are given a rough brief to start with and the influencers are very motivated to ensure that the content they produce is of high value to their follower base. This means the influencers take great care in selecting which brands to work with and how to compose the post.
In addition, the very nature of working with multiple micro-influencers as opposed to one or two celebrities reduces the risks of straying too far from your brand guidelines. You are not putting all your eggs in the one basket like you would with a celebrity.
The benefits of working on a large scale with these highly talented craftspeople are too numerous and extensive to squeeze into a single essay but I hope I have given a taster of what is on offer for brands taking a leap of faith.
Relinquishing control is bold and brave but there is little risk involved as shown by the brands reaping the rewards. These marketers are the ones blazing the trail and will ultimately have the most effective and memorable campaigns.