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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A Measure of Success

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

A Measure of Success

August 19, 2020

Influencer marketing continues to change how brands can have one-on-one conversations with their audience through an authentic influencer that they trust. All too often, however, the question is asked: “How do you measure your work?”.

For most other channels, measurement is simple. You can see how many people visit a website. You can count your CRT. You can see likes and comments. Or, in the most commercial sense, you can tell by an increase in your sales.

Influencer marketing works on an entirely different level. Rather than a Call To Action, influencer marketing gives an audience validation. It is validation in their choices or habits or lifestyle or fashion or financial decisions. The audience chooses to follow an influencer because they see something in that person that they trust. It could be a celebrity. It could be an investment banker. It could be a doctor. For whatever reason, that choice comes with an inherent degree of trust in what the influencer has to say or how that influencer is acting.

So rather than having a measurable metric, influencer marketing offers something far more valuable: brand awareness, brand love and brand loyalty. It’s a lot like a marriage. Most people try to put a metric on marriage. How long have you been married for? Is this your tin wedding anniversary or your diamond wedding anniversary? How many people try to measure how much love is in the marriage rather than how much time?

Influencer marketing brings the love and trust, things that can’t be measured. For now.

While experts in influencer marketing like R-Squared use traditional metrics to monitor and give a sense of measurement during a campaign, we know that these metrics are not the right ones to capture the efficacy of influencer marketing. We know that, while there are a vast number of different ways that digital can be measured, there are also a vast number of different ways that those numbers can be ‘massaged’ or bent to reflect a desired outcome.

And that is NOT what we foresee for an industry that has so much potential to make meaningful change in the world.

As the Chair of Influencer Marketing for the IAB SA, our CEO, Stéphane Rogovsky, is working with experts from around the world to find ways of measuring the true impact of influencer marketing on brands and on consumers. It’s a new discipline and requires a new way of showing the world just how effective it is.

For now, influencer marketing works very much like the old school big brand adverts worked – the ones you used to see at the cinema, or on prime-time TV, or at the Superbowl. It creates brand awareness for a new audience. It provides validation for your active audience. And it builds love for a brand by showing your audience that they matter, that you acknowledge them, that you are as invested in their time and interests as they are in you.

Like the love that powers a marriage through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, it’s not something that is easily measured but you can see and feel it across a room.

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Creating connections in a time of isolation

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

Creating connections in a time of isolation

June 3, 2020

If the recent global lockdowns, social distancing and isolation have proven anything it’s that – even in this digital age – we are a social animal and we crave personal connections.

And that this is the time for influencer marketing – true influencer marketing – to really take the lead for the future of brands and information. It is the time for influencer marketing to become part and parcel of your marketing communications. Not just an afterthought by a marketing assistant who has a friend with an Instagram account, but a well thought out, budgeted and strategically aligned pillar of your communications.

I was struck recently by the impact many celebrities have been making on social media – through words of support, through actions, even with how they are engaging with their fans about their everyday lives and the normalcy of their times with their families.

And then we have the celebrities who have struck an incredibly tone-deaf chord with their social offerings.

Keep in mind, these celebs are not doing what they are doing to make people mock them (well not all of them anyway), they genuinely believe that their posts, instas, and tweets are making a difference, are imparting wisdom and happy feelings.

They genuinely believe that they are creating a connection.

So, where did they go wrong?

This is where a proper influencer marketing model comes in.

Your audience needs to make a connection. A billionaire telling me how delicious a packet of two-minute noodles is will make me switch off – probably snort in derision first and then switch off. But a billionaire telling me a story about how those same noodles were what got him or her through college while they were still dreaming about changing the world? That is a different story.

Why?

Because I can relate to it. I can see myself sitting in a dorm room, fork buried in a microwaved bowl of noodles as I doodle my ideas onto a pad of paper.

Why?

Because it is genuine. It is a real moment, in a real person’s life. It is an authentic connection.

And connections are what make influencer marketing one of the most powerful tools in modern marketing.

Followers are not connections.

The word ‘influencer’ has taken on a negative connotation. The hordes of entitled demanding free drinks or meals or holidays because they will give you ‘exposure’ to their hundreds of followers are NOT influencers.

Ryan Reynolds inviting you into his home to share his experiences and family situation during lockdown – HE is an influencer.

A mom showing you how to create delicious meals on a minimal budget that are healthy and nutritious for your kids – SHE is an influencer.

Each of these people, in their own way, is defining a trend or setting an aspirational goal or demonstrating expertise. One might have millions of followers while the other only has a few hundred, but they share one thing in common: authenticity. And each has a very defined role to play in the influencer market – trendsetter, innovator, expert, reliable source, trusted caregiver, the characters in this play of life are endless.

All you need to do is find the one who resonates with you, your brand, your message, your dream. The one who really believes in your vision. The one who connects with you.The one who is real.

Influencers are real.

Real people with real lives and real stories and real experiences. In a world that is absolutely jam-packed with messages, it is the real voice that stands out. Finding that voice is not always easy.

For companies like R-Squared, it is our life’s work. We make connections. Not between brands and products and consumers and ROI and target audiences. Between people.

We find the real people, with the real stories. And then we let them tell their stories to the world. We do not tailor-make, we tailor source. We take your product, and we search out the people that actually connect with it. And that connect with others like them.

When a campaign is designed, executed and managed by experts, you go from a product endorsement to a life affiliation.

Budgeting for billions.

This is why influencer marketing is growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Pre-COVID estimates were that the influencer market would be worth over $10 billion in 2020. With the pandemic upon us, it was expected to slow down, but the opposite seems to be happening.

This time of isolation and increasing tension is showing us the real need for human-to-human connections. The bombardment of brand messages and unbelievable endorsements is coming to an end. Real people and real experiences are rising. Whether it’s a mom with a few hundred followers or a movie star with a million fans, people want genuine in a world filled with false promises and false hopes.

A personal connection.

Personally, I find this a very exciting time. A time of change and innovation for sure, but more a time of building humanity and building human connections – real human connections.

I have been at the helm of R-Squared for six years and have watched, and involved myself in, the growth of this incredibly exciting industry. I have seen it falter (see the entitled ones comment above) and I have seen it truly put the best of human empathy and emotion on display (see the switched-on celebs comment above).

As an agency shortlisted for Best Global Boutique Influencer Marketing Agency (holding thumbs for the awards in September), R-Squared is at the forefront of making influencer marketing an essential resource for brands and an authentic experience for people around the world.

Our mission is simple: keep it real.

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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