Marketing under the influence(r): the challenges and landscape in Asia

Should marketing be done under the influence(r)?

Social media influencer marketing seems like the next best thing since programmatic, with influencers crafting out authentically touched-up posts communicating brand values and engagements.

Yet, like all marketing approaches, there are a dark side to it, from YouTuber PewDiePie dropped by Disney’s Maker Studios for anti-Semitic remarks, to a Singapore social media marketing platform, Faves Asia being slammed for its video glorifying influencers as materialistic and vapid.

Yet, brands seems to be undeterred by these events, with plenty of interest daily according to Gillian Tan, founder, Click Network.

Interest from brands is “pretty high, especially since last year,” said Tan.

“We get enquiries pretty often, sometimes every day but if not a few times a week. They range from small startups to big brands,” she added.

Brands of all shapes and sizes have been approaching the Singaporean YouTube network according to Tan, as “we’ve received enquiries from all kinds of brands, even some very traditional ones.”

However, not every brand will fly for Click Network, as Tan states that they do turn brands away.

“Yes we turn away the ones that have a specific claim and after testing them out they don't live up to their claims. Also, brands that we or our hosts feel uncomfortable about promoting. E.g. Weight loss pills, vaginal cream for looseness/dryness/urinary incontinence, etc,” said Tan.

The agencies’ breathalyser test

Brands’ enthusiasm for influencer marketing has also been picked up by agencies and platforms, as Aaron Brooks, co-founder, Visual Amplifers (VAMP), raved about the growth of this segment.

“Absolutely, the channel is exploding. What was initially quite an experimental advertising channel for some is now one of the fastest growing forms of digital advertising. Influencer marketing is now worth a billion dollars (according to a study by Mediakix) and 84% of brands plan on executing at least one Influencer marketing campaign in 2017 (study by Forbes),” said Brooks.

“It’s not only that an increasing number of brands are using the channel, it’s that we are also seeing brands you might never traditionally consider investing in influencer marketing using it. Take our clients MasterCard and American Express – we are building out influencer marketing strategies that align their service to a more experiential lead message,” he added.

This is a view shared by Kosuke Sogo, chief executive officer and co-founder, AdAsia, which launched a service to bridge influencers and programmatic last year.

“This willingness to add influencer marketing to their arsenal can be seen particularly in emerging markets like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, along with countries like Singapore, Japan, China and Taiwan where influencer marketing still remains strong,” said Sogo.

Yet Benjamin Lee, social media creative director, DDB Worldwide points to the contrary for big brands.

“The bigger brands we work with are actually turning away from influencer marketing. Many are moving towards a more efficient model to increase their performance in marketing,” said Lee.

“Independent platforms are getting better, and faster, with their content production, alongside reporting. I’d say the decline from last year to this has been quite marked,” he added.

As for advising brands to utilise influencer marketing, only AdAsia’s Sogo seems to be encouraging clients to move in that direction.

“We’re in fact encouraging our clients to use influencer marketing as a means to amplify or extend their activities and reach their audiences through more avenues. These influencers can also be used for future campaigns, opening up possibilities of a more lasting storyline,” said Sogo.

“The only time I would advise against it would be when a client takes a silo-ed approach to influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is great for a more ‘native’ reach and interaction with audiences, but ending the conversation at this point would lower its effectiveness,” he added.

VAMP’s Brooks took a more netural tone, with the ideal of protecting their influencers from brands that were “not the right fit for our community of influencers.”

“As we operate a pro-influencer model, we are very protective about working with great brands and aligning them with great influencers. Our influencers only opt in to work with the brands they love. Doing otherwise can damage their relationship with their carefully curated following,” said Brooks.

“Just as we encourage our Influencers to say no to more briefs than they say yes to, we only seek out partnerships with brands we can deliver high quality results on. It’s the best way all round. We are the first line of defense to ensure we uphold that level of service to our influencer community,” he added.

DDB’s Lee on the other hand, points out that when finding out the brand’s problem and what they want to achieve, “for the most part, influencer marketing doesn’t fit the bill.”

“It also depends on what kind of influencer marketing you’re talking about. If it’s someone very prominent you’re talking about - like a television, stage or film personality, you’re likely to benefit from the real clout of the person involved, rather than someone who’s set out to ‘become an influencer,’” he added.

Blowing the limit

As for advantages of influencer marketing for brands, Click Network’s Tan points to being able to reach out to an audience that is no longer watching traditional media.

“If your target audience is not on traditional media anymore then it makes sense. In the past, celebrities and opinion leaders were on traditional media because of people's consumption habits. But most young people are now online, so their idea of who celebrities or opinion leaders are will also be online personalities,” she said.

Being authentic however, seems to the key theme pushed by VAMP’s Brooks as a key advantage of influencer marketing.

“Authentic point of view, engaged audience and high quality native content are the top three advantages. The fact that brands can repurpose this diverse content into additional marketing channels is an unexpected plus,” said Brooks.

DDB’s Lee however thinks that getting authenticity from influencers might backfire, believing instead that advocacy should still come from everyday consumers.

“Word of mouth marketing is very effective, and will remain so - but the truth of the matter should always be: the words should come from the mouths of believers and actual consumers of your product or service. Finding an authentic voice is crucial because the last thing you want to do is to end up with an influencer who is like a classified ad recommending everything under the sun,” he said.

AdAsia’s Sogo on the other hand thinks the advantages of influencer marketing is that brands are given a face and voice for a campaign.

“Influencer marketing can bring a face and voice to your marketing campaigns. Put together a group of macro and micro-influencers and clients are able to boost and increase the effectiveness of campaigns,” said Sogo.

“The possibilities, when engaging influencers, are only limited by creativity. As mentioned earlier, different types of creative collateral can be produced based off influencer engagement. Influencer-generated content when shared on the influencers’ owned media can also lead to great organic reach to audiences that matter,” he added.

With the good comes the bad and VAMP’s Brooks notes that brands might face the common pitfall of not doing their due diligence on influencers.

“Common pitfalls for brands is not taking the time to properly vet the influencers, set clear contracting terms and accurately brief the influencers to ensure their execution aligns with campaign strategy,” said Brooks.

“Not to mention the biggest fail in influencer marketing ever – not relinquishing creative control to influencers. Followers can smell it a mile off when a brand has too much control over an influencer’s content. It jars with the authentic context of their feed and can really be very damaging for the influencer, the brand and the channel as a whole,” he added.

AdAsia’s Sogo concurs, claiming that the biggest challenge is in finding the right influencer that aligns with the brand’s value and messaging.

“Reach should not be the determinant when choosing an influencer; instead, emphasis should be on the influencer’s interests and follower demographics,” he said.

In the same token, the importance on number of followers an influencer has depends on the campaign, according to Sogo.

“A campaign aimed at general awareness of a product could be enhanced by influencers with a large following. However, there have been studies done that suggest the optimal range for follower engagement is between 1,000 to 100,000 followers.

“Ultimately, influencer marketing is a great tool for brand storytelling, building up your influencers to become brand advocates to their audiences,” he added.

VAMP’s Brooks concurs, and points out that high quality content comes first and reach a distant third.

“Brands should be looking for engagement and ensuring the influencers are upholding a narrative in the channel when it comes to content. We find the sweet spot for influencers with great engagement and incredible content lies between the 5K - 300K follower mark.

“Brands looking to reach a large number of people are best placed to leverage a group of different authentic influencers who collectively hit a brand’s reach benchmark. Better to hit the reach with a variety of content that has a high engagement than with one expensive piece of content that has a low engagement,” he said.

DDB’s Lee agrees that it comes down to the campaign, but notes that clout is more important than reach alone.

“This all comes down to the brief and designing a targeted campaign. In some cases, an influencer does not have a wide following but he/she influences other influencers.

“In some cases, our job is to reach a mass audience and that is where reach is important. But reach without clout is the same as having a mere platform; it stops at the awareness level and cannot move the needle to change perception,” he added.

Drive safely with these tips

Marketing strategies that include an influencer portion will face challenges as they cruise along the road to achieving the best ROI, and VAMP’s Brooks believes the education will be the biggest challenge brands will face.

“Brands need education - it's as simple as that. They need to understand the mechanics behind why and how,” said Brooks.

“Influencer marketing is still a relatively young channel and brands are keen to find out the best way to leverage influencers. I still believe the biggest challenge in the market is lack of understanding about the best way to get results, which is why some clients have a bad experience initially when working with influencers without a professional partner,” he added.

AdAsia’s Sogo however, believes the biggest challenge is ensuring it runs tandem to other activities.

“The biggest challenge is connecting this to other marketing activities - including how influencer marketing can amplify current activities, and how the influencer can add to your brand’s storyline,” said Sogo.

“The key here is to identify not only the quantifiable metrics, but also the emotions and actions you want your campaign to create - only then will you know how and when to connect influencer marketing to other activities,” he added.

DDB’s Lee however thinks the biggest challenge is to actually get brands to move out of influencer marketing.

“Telling the client to exclude the influencer portion, and use the money to create high-impact, shareable content,” he said.

But are brands gravitating towards influencer marketing in the first place? AdAsia’s Sogo and VAMP’s Brooks think so, while DDB’s Lee remains pessimistic.

“Absolutely away from influencer marketing in its current form,” said Lee.

AdAsia’s Sogo believes that Asia will be moving heavily into influencer marketing as mobile devices continue to proliferate.

“With the proliferation of mobile devices and mobile social usage increasing across Asia, it’s safe to say that we’ll see an upward tick in engaging audiences through social media, including influencer marketing,” he said.

VAMP’s Brooks points out the the industry is moving from strength to strength, with serious money pouring into the business.

“People thought social was just a fad and look how wrong they were. Instagram is booming and this as a really good indication. Now over 600 million Instagrammers strong, the count has accelerated greatly in the past six months, with an additional 100 million more users joining the platform. Within Instagram alone, the projected influencer marketing growth is $2bn by 2019 and $5-$10bn as a whole. Of course the industry is evolving but let's face it it's here to stay,” he said.

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