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It’s time to get serious about influencers

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red and a passionate advocate of the good that marketing can do, working on social purpose and behaviour change projects for the past 10 years.

Tide sponsored the Slow Mo Guys for an ad

2017 has started at quite a pace with a flurry of pitches from both brands and Government clients. There’s been a real new year energy in terms of reviewing and building capability – with much of that energy pointed at Influencer Marketing.

L’Oréal has announced greater investment in digital generally and social influencer more specifically. A commitment underscored by their selection of Scandinavian social influencer business, Talify, as one of their first start-up investments.

L’Oréal is not the only brand taking influencers seriously, a recent study of Marketing Directors claims that in 2017 75% of UK Brands will be using influencers to get their message heard. Increasingly agencies are building partnerships and alliances with the spectrum of start-ups that can offer specialisms in this area, from influencer identification to content development and analytics.

This is not new. In one way or another, people with influence have leveraged it for their own gain by working with brands for years. In fact, my Grandma was one of the 1960s regular housewives extolling the virtues of Stork cooking fat. But the proliferation, the application and certainly the cost escalated at pace last year. To talk about social influencers now as one group is to ignore the nuanced role they have in a marketing strategy.

It’s an area in which we as marketers and agencies are learning on our feet what works best. Traackr, one of the leading influencer marketing platforms (and there are many), has even launched a course designed to help practitioners build a coherent strategy which delivers results. It’s a welcome sign that those leading the charge intend to focus on building strategic rigour into the discipline.

The debate on the use of influencer marketing will continue to be prevalent in the industry this year, particularly in the following three areas:

How do brands get really clever about who they work with?

This is a multi-dimensional decision. Back in 2014 when influencer exploded, the focus was wholly on scale. Brands raced to work with social celebrities that had amassed huge followings and the model was really a media buy. The influencer was the media and the brand message was attached to them with zero subtlety.

The landscape, and our navigation of it, is much more sophisticated today. Better analytics and tools are helping brands match to influencers which share their values, tone of voice, that and have meaningful rather than mass connections that are ever more authentic. Micro-influencers are more important than the mega-famous. Smart brands are using them to connect in a genuinely personal way.

At the same time, the superstars of the internet are indistinguishable from superstars of whatever fame. It’s a merger of sponsorship, brand ambassador and celebrity endorsement. The new world offers the opportunity to be creative and efficient, creating strategies that matches influencer type to task, message and moment – whether that is on or offline.

How do we create authentic, compelling content?

Brands caught up with the potential for great content in the influencer space last year. The results meant content started being less like display and more like native. Go-Pro is at the leading edge of this with influencers at the heart of their product platform and their acquisition strategy.

National Citizen Service too has just launched brilliant work with influencers which flips the ‘change your life’ campaign provocation over to the makers themselves, working with influencers like Storror that are properly anchored in the communities NCS are keen to reach. This contemporary, seamless adoption of a brand’s DNA feels a long way from the work that the Slow-Mo Guys did with Tide just 18 months ago. Whilst this was very good at the time it’s now a stark example of how that separation between brand and influencer can jar as well as show how fast this discipline is changing.

How do we measure what matters?

Whilst a flexible ‘test and learn’ approach means being alive to new opportunities, we need to get better at predicting, measuring and analysing impact. Despite great award case-studies featuring significant influencer strategies, few showed the rigour of measurement we need to build confidence in this approach long-term.

One of the issues is that there is a lot that can be measured which has no proven bearing on either short term sales or longer term brand building. There are businesses such as Onalytica which are genuinely exploring this. But we are some way off being able to build reliable sightlines between activity and results, a factor which sits oddly with the overall driving up of costs to deliver influencer campaigns. We desperately need neutral analysis.

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red