PETALING JAYA: With two-thirds of the population on the Internet and social media gaining stronger ground in the country, influencer marketing is one of the avenues employed by marketers to deepen their brand presence and to boost bottom lines.
Over the past few years, this marketing channel has been used to mobilise brands and to a certain extent, has helped companies in cost savings.
Influencer marketing is a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placements from influencers, people and organisations who possess a purported expert level of knowledge and social influence in their respective fields
But is this marketing channel effective in brand building?
Various quarters told StarBiz that for it to be effective, the channel needs to incorporate the right brand strategy, take into account the duration of a campaign or marketing plan and have the right influencer that fits a specific brand purpose.
Malaysian Digital Association (MDA) president Serm Teck Choon agrees that Influencer marketing has now become one of the key channels in the marketing mix.
“Agencies are incorporating influencer marketing as part of their offering for their clients if it fits the marketing strategy.
“For product categories such as beauty products, influencer marketing is an effective way to reach the target audience. Endorsement of a specific beauty product by high-profile ambassadors or micro-influencers can boost consumers’ confidence towards a specific brand or product.
“This can be done through how-to videos running on platforms, such as YouTube or Instagram. The influencers not only show how the products look like, but also how they are applied. On top of that, some influencers can also help brands to build a community. This is the reason why Estée Lauder, a beauty giant, is spending 75% of its marketing budget on digital marketing, particularly social media influencers, ” he added.
MDA is a representative body that comprises online publishers, advertising agencies, creative agencies and digital service providers.
Spencer Lee the CEO of BIGLIFE Sdn Bhd, which is the operator of AirAsia BIG Loyalty programme, noted that Influencer marketing is a good medium to reach out to a specific community or special interest group.
“The effectiveness lies in having a clear strategy – how you use it to the best advantage in your strategy. Choose the right influencers that fit your brand and needs. Influencer is just one of the mediums/channels in the marketing mix and every channel serves different purposes.
“Brands should be medium agnostic and focus on the idea and message. Always go back to the business challenges and marketing objectives and use the best channels to deliver the message, ” Lee stressed.
The Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) president, who is also the group managing director Havas Malaysia, Andrew Lee is of the view that such a marketing channel can help brands to transform their communities and business if they look beyond reach and engagement and play different types of influencers to their strengths to achieve brand objectives.
When influencers are selected to match the brand image, he said the influencer campaigns create lasting brand relationships with the people through shared values, experiences and stories.
“Influencer marketing plays an important role in building brand relationship with the people and we need to identify and curate the right influencers based on brand objectives to ensure these objectives are met through memorable campaigns as the savvy audience are immune to boring tactics, ” Andrew added.
Meanwhile, Reprise Digital managing director Stanley Clement holds a different view. While influencer marketing was growing rapidly at some point, he said it has now taken a shift.
Brands still utilise influencers, however, the trust in them is waning, he said. “Consumers are questioning their authenticity, and we now see more trust placed within micro influencers.
“Consumers view them as more authentic, coming with real, honest recommendations. For influencers to stay in the game, they need to recreate their value proposition to retain relevance with brands and their audiences, ” he pointed out.
Micro influencers have a smaller follower base but are more credible as they’re usually niche, part of the community and everyday people.
Clement said tier one influencers are still deemed useful as they can attain massive reach at the start of a campaign, however their trackability is questionable.
“As an agency, we meet that need by looking at analytics and measurement as a key in determining the value of authenticity in the initiatives undertaken by the influencers.
“These are measured across three parameters – love for the brand, influence and reach. Brands are also looking at more creative ways to use influencers to better serve their needs.
“For instance, with our KFC Mat Ayam campaign, we reversed the idea of influencers by using an unknown individual who hijacked the posts of influencers. This created a bigger buzz and demonstrated the power of influencers to create reach, ” Clement said.
Reprise is a digital integrated agency of IPG Mediabrands.
Cost and shortcomings
Is influencer marketing cheaper compared with employing an agency for brand building? Serm said it depends.
If it’s for a one-time promo or small campaign, he said using influencer marketing, particularly via micro-influencers, as a single marketing channel may be cheaper for marketers to push the campaign.
However, he said it shouldn’t be that way if clients have a long-term marketing plan or larger campaign, as that may require more channels to help achieve the marketing objectives.
“Having said that, for long-term marketing plan or larger campaign, clients will still need to employ a specific agency to help, especially if it involves multiple channels, which also require a different level of know-how and skills to execute the campaign.”
Lee said using influencers, to a certain extent, is faster and cheaper for straightforward messages like tactical offers, adding that it depends on the marketing objective.
Andrew said if cost is the sole reason for embarking on influencer marketing, then a company is bound to fail.
Influencer marketing is cost-effective if done right, he said, noting that at Havas, the influencer marketing model categorises influencers into three types – creators, distributors and narrators.
“Creators are influencers who may not have a digital or social following within a brand’s target groups, but their value exchange is creativity. These are individuals engaged to co-create quality, authentic and meaningful content for the brand to leverage across their channels and as part of campaigns.
Distributors are influencers who have built a level of online equity and they hold a social celebrity-like status among their followers. They can easily access and engage an audience that a brand wants to reach, build affinity and engagement.
While narrators are influencers who may have little social media presence, but possess media appeal beyond the digital and social realm. Using their public appeal and category credibility, brands can leverage these personalities to put a face or name to their content and campaigns, ” Andrew added.
Whether it is cheaper to push brands via influencers or agencies, Clement noted that it all boils down to return and how well influencers fit into a given campaign.
This determinant could be how influencers sits within the funnel in order to use them accordingly, he said.
“Similarly, influencers might work better across certain products or industries.
“For instance, audiences in beauty tend to place trust in the influencers by their usage of certain products, however, audiences across fast-moving consumers goods might question the authenticity of some advocates, “ he said.
Are there any shortcoming in adopting influencer marketing for brand penetration and building? Andrew said this marketing channel lacks brand-safety awareness and measurement effectiveness.
“We need brand safety checkers and real-time analytics to clean up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement and dishonest practices such as fake accounts, purchased followers and bots, ” he said.
Clement said there should be a big change in the approach of influencers.
“The agency is increasingly seeing more business owners shun influencers publicly for their lack of value, which is a far cry from the past.
“Influencers need to rethink the authentic value that they can bring to the marketing initiatives they are involved in and start playing a more proactive role to help in their believability with brands, he noted.
In terms of the shortcomings, BIGLIFE’s Lee said he foresees that individual influencers will be losing authenticity and trusts but special interest groups with real connection with communities will grow and gain more value.
“As we’re in the points business, we reward our influencers with points (BIG Points) and not cash.
“This way they can experience our product (BIG Points) and can provide first hand experience sharing with followers.
“BIG Points are universal digital currency that can be used to redeem flights and other lifestyle deals so it’s as good as cash and sometimes even better as it provides access to discounted flights that can only be redeemed with BIG Points during our monthly final call sales, ” he said.