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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Freedom through syndication

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

Freedom through syndication

July 8, 2020

We know the value of syndicated thinking and working between agencies, between influencer marketing, creative agencies, PR firms and paid media. But there is another aspect to syndication that is especially relevant to influencer marketing:
The syndication between influencer marketing agency, the brand and the influencer.

At R-Squared, we put this collaboration to the front of everything we do. It is what guides our strategic thinking, and it is what sets us apart – because it all comes from a belief in freedom.

There are many agencies who keep a ‘book’ of influencers, people they work with on a regular basis, people they know they can call and direct to add their campaign to the influencer’s feed.

Our thinking is a far more innovative and, together with other true influencer marketing experts, is fast becoming the way forward for this industry: find the influencer that fits the brand and message, not fit the brand to the influencer.

We do not keep a ‘book’ of influencers. Our clients have faith in us and give us the freedom to search out the influencer that will best suit the campaign. Which means we can find that person or persons who actually have an interest in our campaign, who have knowledge of our subject and who believe in what they are telling their audience. It tends to lead to a far more honest and resonant campaign.

Because added to finding the perfect fit is the giving of freedom. Our influencers have the freedom to be themselves, to speak as themselves. By finding the influencers in their own environments, in their own countries, we engage with the audience in their own language, their own style and their own culture. Influence is all about resonance, about believability and authenticity which you only achieve if your influencer is being open and honest – and having the freedom to add your message to their existing voice.

Giving someone a script makes them an actor. Giving someone the freedom to be themselves makes them an influencer.

This is not to say we let them loose like a kid in a candy store. Our expertise comes in the careful management of the campaign. We create a framework that combines the brief, the strategy and the influencer. They know the goals. They know the product. They know the audience. And they know the environment, including all local and international regulations and nuances. Everything is set up with an almost scientific attention to detail.

And then we give them their freedom.

This approach is only possible through syndication, through collaboration and trust between every person involved from the influencer to the agencies to the brand. By having the freedom to work with the best of the best we are able to offer you, the brand, the best. The best influencer, backed by the best influencer marketers, supporting the best creative, social media, PR and paid media agencies.

To bring you the best, most resonant marketing campaigns for local and global audiences.

We call it authenticity. And it will make a huge difference to your campaign.

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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