According to Kantar, 2021 is the year when influencer marketing will graduate from a tactical activity to a strategic marketing lever for brands.
I intend to show in this eNsight, that influencer marketing can become a strategy only if brands follow 4 guidelines that I outline in the relevant section here below.
Table of Contents
About the inspiration
Kantar’s 2021 Media Trends and Predictions publication inspired what will be a 3-part series on influencer marketing.
I have been meaning to write about this topic for some time now.
Thanks to Kantar, I am now committed to developing the series.
Here’s to the first eNsight.
Thanks for sharing! Only time will tell... 🧐— Kantar Africa & Middle East (@Kantar_AME) December 24, 2020
Brief history of influencer marketing
Influencer marketing has been around for a long time.
One of the first recorded cases, with the appearance of the face of Ms Nancy Green on the label of a brand called Aunt Jemima (US), dates back to 1890.
I am aware of the racial stereotype issues surrounding Aunt Jemima’s use of Ms Green’s face on its label, about which you can read more here.
Despite more than a century since its introduction, influencer marketing is not one of the widely used forms of marketing across the industry to date.
Pre-social media, influencer marketing was referred to as endorsement or sponsorship marketing.
There are few discernible examples of brands that have become reputed for using this form of marketing as one of the primary strategic options; led by Nike, Rolex and Red Bull.
Well-known brands that have been dipping a toe include Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Influencer marketing in the age of social media
With the boom in number of “non-celebrities” who command influence on social media; linked to the fact that netizens listen to friends, families and even strangers ahead of brands on these platforms; influencer marketing gained recognition in the last decade, and gathered steam in the last 5 years.
Even with the upsurge in popularity and a wider spread of social media influencers, brands continue to treat this form of marketing as a tactic meant to achieve short-term goals.
To some extent, I am not surprised.
Brands' approach to influencer marketing has been characterised by hits and misses
I call the many relationships between brands and influencers on social media one-night-stands.
What do I mean?
Tell me if there is a natural fit between each of the influencers in this tweet by Basetsana Khumalo, and Tastic Rice:
What a special night, seeing people I love after such a long time.— Basetsana Kumalo (@basetsanakumalo) September 4, 2020
Thank you to @tasticricesa for gracing me by being your Brand Partner, with luminaries who include @RoleneStrauss, Thembika Teboho - Marketing Director for Tastic @MaXhosaAfrica @somizi and @StheMfayela... pic.twitter.com/yyFrdbMWqg
Of the famous (and successful) faces in the photo above, Somizi can rightfully add value to Tastic Rice – he has a successful cooking tv show behind his name, he recently published a cookbook, and he has been collaborating with this brand for some time now.
Somizi’s book subtitle fits snuggly with Tastic’s positioning as an attainable luxury, based on my experience with the brand while growing up, where we had this product with “seven colours” only on Sundays at home.
And the relationship between the other influencers and Tastic in Basie’s photo above?
The question is not unimportant, because authenticity is one of the key characteristics of influencer marketing, and social media marketing at large.
If a brand does not tick the authenticity box in the pick of influencers it associates with, it runs the risk that #BlackTwitter may call it out.
What will it take for influencer marketing to mature?
Yes, to mature.
Here below are the four guidelines that I recommend, based on my 12 years in the digital marketing trenches.
Brands need to approach influencer marketing as a much broader subject.
The purist’s definition of an influencer is “someone who causes those that follow him/her to say or act in line with what he/she [the influencer] says or does”.
- the word “influencer” is not necessarily restricted to “celebrities”, or those with mega followers;
- there are netizens who are influential only on specific social networks and not across the board; and
- influence may not occur across all the topics, and/or at all times.
Brands can get more out of their influencer marketing initiatives if they get involved in the profiling and selection of the appropriate influencers, and when they [the brands] collaborate with them [the influencers] in the development of associated campaigns.
The hands-off approach, where it is left up to agencies to find and exclusively own the relationships with the influencers, is not the best option.
Selection of and relationships with influencers need to be based on relevance, authenticity, and longevity where possible.
Relevance relates to alignment with brand’s messaging. Just because someone is influential does not make them relevant.
Authenticity relates to a relationship between influencer and brand that is more than transactional. An extreme example is using a social netizen who is known to hate a product to talk about it, all because they are being paid. Many of the influencers wear their hearts on their sleeves, and social media has notoriously long memory.
Longevity is perfectly demonstrated by the long-standing relationship between Somizi and Tastic. Understandably though, this may not be the case with all campaigns, or all influencers.
Brands do not always have to be in contract arrangements with targeted influencers in order to strike mutually beneficial relationships, long or short.
It has been my experience that influencers do interact with brands if they like them, or like what they say about them [the influencers].
After all, we are on social media because we seek validation; and we tend to give love back to those who stroke our egos.
Nando’s shows the way when it comes to ongoing interactions with influencers that are not based on contracts.
Ay shame who ever is behind the Nandos twitter account is the future, Day made!!🤣 pic.twitter.com/dyd9JvH0lO— Nokcy Masuku (@mnokcy) July 24, 2019
Key requirements for GUIDELINE 4?
- Being tuned in. Opportunities to interact on relevant trending topics present themselves unannounced. Brands need to be constantly on the lookout.
- Creativity. Brand content needs to be on point to capture attention.
- Active engagement. Long periods of silence and hits-and-runs are not allowed.
Would South Africa’s Finance Minister Tito Mboweni make an ideal candidate for Tastic Rice’s influencer marketing drive, given the Minister’s love for cooking that he openly and constantly talks about on Twitter?
When I returned to Johannesburg, I found this gift at home! Honestly now!! pic.twitter.com/O8xOvMwjnq— Tito Mboweni (@tito_mboweni) December 22, 2020
Garlic socks! Really now?! pic.twitter.com/l6sJMw6Z7u— Tito Mboweni (@tito_mboweni) December 14, 2020
Click here for a blog by Influencer Marketing Hub on the do’s and dont’s of influencer marketing.
Here are my two key insights from this eNsight:
- Influencer marketing is not a “get out of jail free” card, where brands indiscriminately find and hope to ride on the backs of influencers on social media to achieve their [brands’] goals.
- Brands generally view influencer marketing in a narrow way, and this leads to the limitation of its long-term potential.
About Part 2 of this 3-Part Series:
In the next eNsight, I shall explore the challenge that comes with criteria used to identify influencers, and the behaviour this encourages on social media.