The journey from influencers to digital-first influencer marketing

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See what is happening in our world – who is influencing whom and why.

The journey from influencers to digital-first influencer marketing

September 22, 2020

Using a famous face to promote a product goes back decades. From Honus Wagner for Louisville Slugger baseball bats to Oprah Winfrey and Weight Watchers to Michael Jordan for Nike to Charlize Theron for Dior – star power was and still is used to influence a consumer’s perception of a brand.

But the digital age is beginning to change just how that perception is manifested.

Previously, these celebrity endorsements were engineered by ad agencies and PR companies to give a brand exposure across billboards, TV and print in a market. These markets could be broad, George Clooney and Nespresso for example, or they could be quite specific, which led to some really interesting celebrity endorsements especially in the Asian markets. Like Matt leBlanc for Ichiban Lipstick for Men. In fact, if you want to see some really fun and different ads, search for Japanese ads featuring American celebrities. Schwarzenegger, Pitt, Clooney, Cage, Day-Lewis – you name the celebrity and they’ve probably done a very unusual Japanese ad.

These big-budget (celebrities ain’t cheap) campaigns were attention-catching and gave brands a face that audiences recognised and aspired to emulate.

Then social media exploded, and a new generation of celebrities and influencers was born.

New wave of influencers

These influencers were not always famous people. They were not recognised as celebrities, but they began to attract followers who saw value in what they were saying or doing. The most obvious examples would be the travel and fashion influencers with their beautiful destinations and fashion and cosmetics. But there were others who began to change how influencers were seen: moms looking after households and kids, financial gurus speaking directly to investors, video gamers and their gameplay commentaries.

The rise of Twitter, Twitch, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok brought a new wave of influencers, and a lot of them were normal everyday folk.

This also led to an unexpected consequence. Accountability. Today’s digital-savvy consumers have access to a plethora of information, from what influencers are doing to what they believe to the shenanigans they get up to behind the scenes. They know when an endorsement is not genuine, or when a celebrity is caught in a scandal, and it impacts on both their perception of the brand and their perception of the celebrity. One of the weirdest endorsements I have ever seen was Cristiano Ronaldo and Facial Fitness Pao – one of the world’s most recognisable and ruggedly handsome faces promoting a mouth-based ‘fitness’ gadget for youthful smiles? Cheque banked, back to football.

But the digital age has pushed it beyond a lack of belief in an endorsement, it can lead to a very serious loss of credibility in a society where the real is actively searched out, where celebrities and politicians and news outlets are increasingly being held accountable for their words and actions.

Always under scrutiny

The actions of influencers, whether in their personal lives or when representing a brand, are always under scrutiny. We see the results of foolish behaviours from the likes of PewDiePie and Logan Paul, and the results of behaviour done for the right reasons but in the wrong way in the ridicule that was aimed at the celebrities doing the ‘Imagine’ song for Covid.

In the digital age, there is no hiding. If it’s online, it’s forever.

Which is leading to a very interesting new direction for influencers themselves. This realisation of the scrutiny they are under, the permanence of their actions and the impact of their opinions are making them self-regulate to a far greater degree. And it’s leading to a better, more real engagement with followers.

Followers don’t judge an influencer for being paid to promote a product or brand, they just want the influencer to be transparent and not try to pretend or hide the fact. This, in turn, means that the influencer must know the brand and product, must have researched what they stand for and offer, and must be able to weave that into their own personal style to appeal to their audience and effectively monetise their channels. All with the understanding that they are responsible for the endorsement, that they need to demonstrate to their followers and that their endorsement is real.

Creating unique and real stories

For influencer marketing agencies, it is leading to a realisation from brands that they need to have experts that are managing these influencers, that are able to choose the right people for the brand, to sift through their background and make sure there are no hidden skeletons in the closet that could hurt the brand. To source the influencer with a real link to the brand who can create a real, empathic connection between themselves, their audience and the brand.

That, for me, is the biggest change from the origins of influencers, the ability to create unique and real stories from real people for real followers.

The digital age is what allows us to send the message out. The influencer is who the audience will identify with. But the result is why we do what we do – human connections.

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The Perils of Isolation for Brands

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See what is happening in our world – who is influencing whom and why.

The Perils of Isolation for Brands

June 24, 2020

The traditional marketing model has undergone a dramatic shake-up that began before this world of isolation and quarantine. Old-school ad agencies have found themselves stretched thin through a fast-growing and technology-led hunger for new content and new ways of serving that content.

This was the birth of specialist digital agencies and media houses, of production studios set up to develop content for a new generation that lived with technology in their pockets and with instant access to the world and to the world’s views and opinions.

It also led to a growing sense of compartmentalised thinking and agencies working in silos. This sense of isolation often worked against the brand’s interests. Where you had a great idea for a campaign, the execution often seemed to lack that spark that elevated it into something extraordinary. It’s a natural progression when it comes to tech-led innovation. The innovators bring it to market. The early adopters test it out and work through issues. It becomes more accessible, recognised and accepted. And then gains traction with a wider audience.

This where you need proper syndication. As experts in influencer marketing, R-Squared are well aware of how the industry is changing to incorporate collaboration to a much greater extent.

Our dealings with the big creative agencies and the teams of smaller experts have given us a unique insight into how things have been operating and how they need to change. We are finding, more and more, that our value goes beyond the influencer marketer role and has become an integral part of expert syndication leaders. With the creative agencies creating content, the production houses producing content and the paid media agencies seeding content, we saw the social media and influencer marketers being led by that content in a top-down approach. Our model, that we and other industry experts are showing should be the industry standard, is to use the content to create unique pieces that come from unique influencers to bolster and emphasise that content.

It’s an approach that has also led to us becoming experts in the coordination and collaboration between agencies to truly amplify a brand and message.

By syndicating our thinking and output, by collaborating with best of breed from an agency creative to a PR firm to a digital studio to a paid media agency to our own specialisation of influencer marketing – and then coordinating every aspect to work seamlessly together and build on a campaign rather than plug into a campaign – we are able to create something truly remarkable, impactful and memorable.

Syndication is how the modern world will move forward. In marketing, in business, in politics and human interaction. Isolationism and silo-thinking are shown to be ineffective at best and detrimental at worst. And it will take the experts to prove to the world that this unifying of talents and specialisations will lead to a whole, and to outcomes, that are far greater than the sum of their parts.


Stephane Rogovsky

Stephane is a 41-year-old Belgian citizen. He grew up in Brussels, lived in Switzerland, before moving to South Africa. Authentic conversations with real people inspire Stephane, an entrepreneur with more than 15 years’ leadership experience, utilising strategic foresight, analytical abilities, and trend spotting in diverse areas. He founded R-Squared Digital, a leading Influencer Marketing Agency that partners with some of the largest brands, media, and advertising agencies in South Africa and internationally.

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