Influencer marketing is on track to be a $15 billion industry by 2022, and yet popular perception of it remains largely undefined; a blend of art, science, and luck. There are, of course, the usual success stories that create buzz, and a recent tightening of regulation with regards to what constitutes “spon” has bolstered transparency. But as a recent panel at the Mumbrella Asia Finance Marketing Summit highlighted, a lack of deeper understanding and clearly defined industry best practice means that some marketers are still going for the quick wins, rather than building relationships and communities over time.
In some instances, this can lead to a backlash which endangers trust in both the brand and the influencer, as was the case when Singapore’s Ministry of Finance approached more than 50 influencers, including Chelsea Teng, to collaborate on a campaign aimed at raising awareness of the budget.
“There was no specific language or hashtag, we were able to craft our own captions and decide on the image,” says Teng. Consumers quickly began to question why Teng, a content creator in the travel and lifestyle space, was suddenly speaking about finance. And as can happen online, this confusion swiftly turned to backlash against Teng, her fellow influencers, and the Ministry of Finance: “A few media outlets reached out to ask questions, and then the next day it was all over the news.”
There was a certain underlying logic to the campaign; the Ministry identified a group of young consumers who might benefit from knowing more about the budget. But the content that emerged was inauthentic, rote, and ultimately, irrelevant to the target audience, making the entire endeavour more of a cautionary tale, a lesson in what not to do.
Unlike, say, Kim Kardashian, who has a huge following because she is already famous, influencers amass their audience because they become known for having passion and expertise in specific areas. There is a consistent narrative to their content, whether that be beauty, lifestyle, food, etc. If that consistency is interrupted with a sponsored post for something the audience isn’t interested in, it creates dissonance.
“From a consumer perspective, it’s not what I expect from the creator, and it’s not what I expect from the Ministry of Finance either,” says Andrew Thomas, managing director of Ogilvy PR in Singapore. “If you’re trying to change someone’s opinion by having broad reach with a contrarian message, your audience will just filter it out.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t an incredible opportunity for governments and brands to tell their story through that channel and reach those audiences, but the most important thing is authenticity. Marketing, after all, is simply communicating to an audience how your product or service will make their life better.
“There is a world of difference between what influencers are doing and what publishers do,” says Thomas. An influencer’s audience isn’t engaging with their content in the same way that they would a static publisher with interruptive advertising; brands can’t insert a magazine-style ad into a creator’s feed and expect the same results. “You can’t assume that because you have a lot of people looking at something, that my opinion is going to be swayed or changed,” he adds.
So how do brands work with influencers and engage this audience while avoiding these embarrassing missteps? “You need to match-make very carefully with storytellers,” says Paul Sutton, CEO of influencer marketing agency Whalar. “There’s no substitute for a creative strategy, that still needs to take place. But you have to remember that influencers are human beings; it’s a fluid, dynamic media kind of media channel… If you match-make specifically, and then weave a story over time, it can be super impactful.”
“After this campaign, because of the whole response, we’re going to be more wary of the campaigns we pick up in the future,” says Teng of herself and her fellow influencers. “Sometimes it’s safer to stick to your strengths and areas of interest.”
The first, simple step that brands and agencies can take together is stop thinking in broad demographics like “millennial”: this group comprises roughly 75 per cent of the workforce. He advises the finance industry to forget about millennials and focus on what it knows best: life stages. There will be influencers out there who are getting their first job, buying a home, or having a baby, they will be speaking about these experiences in real time to their audience, and the finance industry has products, services and expertise that will provide genuine value.
“When you bring all of this together, that’s when influencers can work amazingly for the finance industry,” says Sutton.
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