How brands are leveraging influencer marketing to 'up their game'
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How brands are leveraging influencer marketing to ‘up their game’

How brands are leveraging influencer marketing to ‘up their game’

Several brands are deploying influencer marketing to put their products on the map. Is the strategy working?


People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic,” author and entrepreneur Seth Godin famously said.

Stardom and brands have been companions for a while now. Athletes have endorsed sports giants, movie stars have backed skincare and F&B products, while other celebrities have helped drive a plethora of customers to banks and other brands. The marriage was a happy one.

But as digital connectivity and content curation exploded, advertising mediums grew and social media donned a new face of engagement and connectivity, the concept of modern endorsement shifted.

Marketing arenas, once restricted to celebrities and famous people, beckoned individuals who deployed social media platforms to exert a certain ‘influence’. This shift came as ‘influencers’ started to become a trusted presence within their communities while engaging customers in a more personalised fashion.

Drawing on the connect and its benefits, brands began to leverage the concept to market their products and services via digital creators. But is an influencer’s value restricted to just their following?

“In 2021, I’d go as far as to say that the size of an influencer’s following is one of their least valuable assets. Brands have realised a big following does not equal big success. It’s much more valuable to focus on audience engagement and drill down into the specifics of where those followers are than blindly hit big numbers. That’s why micro influencers have become so popular, they have much more engaged followings, so recommendations are more trusted,” explains Karl Mapstone, head of Middle East at Vamp, a content and influencer marketing platform.

“People are spending more time online than ever before and there has been an uptick in online shopping. Brands have shifted their focus to social campaigns to meet their customers where they are. But influencers don’t just reach customers, they connect with them on a deeper level. That’s a big draw for brands who, while working hard to empathise with their customers’ pandemic realities, can’t compete with influencers’ storytelling abilities,” he adds.

Due to the strong engagement and unique content it offers, influencer marketing has not only secured a spot within a brand’s marketing/promotional drawing board, but it has also started to attract the spend that some brands rolled back from other mediums. This shift was prompted in part by brands pruning their budgets pre-pandemic, and in part by the lockdowns put into effect by the Covid-19 crisis.

“As their customers retreated into lockdown, brands predictably cut spending on out-of-home advertising and funneled it into digital channels. But with so many doing the same thing, competition increased dramatically. Brands needed to find a way to stand out online – and influencers helped them do this,” explains Mapstone.

“It also impacted spend on traditional content creation. Due to reduced budgets and lockdown restrictions making big advertising shoots difficult, brands shifted spend from creative agencies to social content creators. Influencers are used to being self-sufficient and creating content alone, so were able to continue supplying brands with assets for their social channels and e-commerce sites.”

Shant Oknayan, general manager of global business solutions MENAT at ByteDance – the parent company of TikTok – opines that due to the pandemic, the strength of the story now sits at the heart of every successful campaign, and not the product itself.

“The rise of conscious consumerism along with the pandemic acted as catalysts for the shift to purposeled marketing and authentic storytelling. Brands and influencers are seen now more than ever moving towards brand communication and less toward product communication,” he states.

“Brands now have more sustainable relationships with influencers, rather than transactional. This new movement is definitely in the favour of consumers, who now spend more time online and are hungry for authentic and unique stories and ideas. This shift also accelerated the rise of creative content, as we see brands loosening control over content and giving influencers more room to create and inspire.”

While influencers can fortify a brand’s reach and appeal, resonating to a range of customers, it is equally imperative that they be aligned with the brand’s strategy. But should they be fully aware of the products they are promoting and believe in them too?

“I’m not really sure about all the influencers, but when I promote something, I have to believe in the products and I make sure I try them out before promoting it to my people,” says UAE-based influencer Jumana Khan, who commands a TikTok fan base of nine million followers.

Oknayan adds: “We think it’s extremely important for influencers and creators to be fully aware of the products they are promoting and ensuring it is the right brand fit for them. They have a responsibility to their online community – who look up to and trust them – and by essentially endorsing the product, they have given it their seal of approval. With the rise of conscious consumerism now making ethical promotion more of a necessity rather than a choice, consumers today are less interested in product endorsements that generate clicks and are more inclined to trust authentic advertising.”

New Frontiers
In the face of the changing digital landscape, especially at a time when brands are constantly seeking people’s attention, there is no understating the role of influencers. With people continuing to spend an increasing amount of time on social media, the role of influencer marketing appears to remain relevant in the immediate future.

Professional networking site LinkedIn listed ‘digital marketing specialists’ as one of the most in-demand jobs in the UAE in 2021, while ‘influencer marketing’ was featured as a top skill. The influencer marketing industry is set to be worth $15bn by 2022 and there are some specific emerging trends which will also help to prove its value, suggests Mapstone.

“Following the increased adoption in online shopping, social commerce is the next frontier. Instagram and TikTok are introducing new shoppable options all the time and they will help increase those influencer-led conversions. We’re expecting to see ‘Live’ shopping on Instagram take off with the platform investing in making it shoppable – particularly having seen the power of live social commerce in Asia.

“As brands branch into that market, they’ll be looking for trusted social personalities to front their live streams – and influencers will fit the bill,” he adds.

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