Founder of This Here, Jemima Garthwaite, led a panel discussion on the rise, value and ongoing challenges within the influencer marketing industry.
Investment in influencer marketing is on the up, with brands across all sectors embracing opportunities for authenticity and teaming up with the growing groups of talent keen to extend their reach. The issues of trust and transparency remain, with sceptics pointing to fraud, fakery and ongoing suspicion around the value of influencers, and how to meaningfully measure it.
On 11th October, in the library at Shoreditch House, we hosted a panel discussion on the topic, led by Jemima Garthwaite – Founder of creative influencer marketing agency This Here. Drawing from her experience partnering with the internet’s “most loved ones” to “tell stories that make people feel something”, Jemima opened up a discussion on the value of influencer marketing, the tools you need to play the game, and top tips for using it for successful campaigns.
We heard from a diverse panel of speakers offering their perspectives and sharing their experiences. Firstly, "influencer" Yumna Al-Arashi, a photographer, filmmaker and writer whose background in both journalism and fashion informs her work, which addresses social issues such as women’s rights and human rights injustices, with an emphasis on fair representation and powerful storytelling. Offering a commercial perspective on the topic was Mats Stigzelius, Co-Founder of Takumi – a leading influencer marketplace focused on driving efficiency and volume of collaborations with self identifying influencers. Since launching in 2015, Takumi has become the most active dedicated Instagram influencer platform. Finally, we heard from Livvy Moore, former Project and New Business Manager at Protein – a marketing agency with its finger on the pulse of global brands and their consumers, ensuring brands make a positive cultural impact through collaborations with the most exciting creators and influencers.
Here’s what we learned.
Jemima opened the session by asking “who should own influencer marketing?” It exists at all levels, whether you work in PR and communications, in paid media, social media, or on the brand content team of your organisation. Each take a different approach, for example, paid media puts an emphasis on targeted reach, using systems and metrics for large scale budgets and campaigns, while branding and content teams tend to collaborate with authentic creators to produce “unexpected, creative expressions of the brand”.
Aim for authenticity
The biggest pull of influencer marketing is its promise of authentic content. In Jemima’s experience, the most successful campaigns are those which engage on a human level with consumers. A cycling brand, for example, which uses a gifting campaign to generate footage of real cycling enthusiasts using their bikes: the brand controls the video production, but the content is improvised and authentic. Another example is the use of “real-life models”, such as music artists, who are photographed wearing a clothes brand at a promotional party “that is effectively a massive photoshoot”. The resulting “instagrammable” (Jemima: “don’t say ‘instagrammable’”) content is more authentic than an actual shoot with professional models.
Never compromise your values
Yumna, who moved away from photojournalistic work in order to focus on the people and issues she found were underrepresented in the male-dominated news world, addressed the issue of compromise. When she collaborates with a brand, she prioritises her “artistic duties”: “I demand that my authenticity is met when I work with brands”. It is, after all, authenticity that attracts the attention of big brands, and it is something to protect in the fickle and fraudulent world of social media.
Look for a win-win
Influencers like Yumna appeal to brands that seek to align themselves with a certain set of values; this is less about product placement, and more about positive influence. For example, Yumna’s work with Unicef and other charities, which has had an obvious positive social impact, has attracted the interest and funding of big brands looking for an authentic way to engage with their consumers. The influencer is free to create content that meets their own standards and values, while the brand can convert the popularity of such content into sales, for example, by associating their product or brand identity with it. This was also true of Livvy’s experience at Protein, where her favourite (and most successful) campaigns were those that championed cutting-edge creativity, where brands put selected influencers at the centre of the campaign, rather than over-curating the content and forcing their own agenda.
Look at the data
At the other end of the marketing spectrum, Mats deals with influencer marketing at a large scale, where big budget campaigns with multiple elements, media formats and tiers of influencers, split across different media and audiences, require meticulous planning. For his clients, reach and engagement – and the metrics to back it up – are as important as the quality of the content. This means vetting influencers by using data insights to discern the authenticity of their followers and weeding out the frauds. Data insights please clients, Mats explains, but “reach is so difficult to quantify these days”: customer engagement is measured in terms of ‘likes’, comments and shares, but as Livvy points out, “you can see the number of comments, but not what they say”.
Millennials are wise to the game
“The content that gets produced by influencers consistently outperforms professional content”, says Mats, and while “millennials are savvy enough to know they’re being targeted”, they “respond better to [influencers] than to content that feels pushed on them by brands”. For some industries in particular, influencer marketing has opened up new advertising avenues: Mats works with several alcohol companies, which traditionally contend with strict advertising regulations, whose branding is complemented by the communal, shared nature of social media.
The pitfalls of influencer marketing
Yumna emphasises the importance of “finding a happy medium” by creating work that “suits the commercial aims” of a client brief and doesn’t compromise her values. From her experience on the other side of this working relationship, Livvy agrees that while “briefs are designed to service the brand”, creative control should be relinquished to the creator. “A brand needs to respect its influencers in order to get a happy balance and satisfy both parties.” It’s essential that brands are clear and honest about what they represent. “The biggest mistake brands make is not understanding what type of marketing they should be doing”, says Livvy. It boils down to authenticity again – we wouldn’t expect to find posts on Yumna’s feed sponsored by oil companies or pharmaceutical giants.
Data is great, but common sense is key
Although Mats and his team have anti-Insta-scammer systems in place, Livvy says she relies on “common sense” and “qualitative research” to source authentic influencers, looking beyond follower numbers and measuring “human perceptions and emotional responses” in a way that metrics can’t accurately gauge. Ideal influencers have built their following organically, based on the merit of their own content, curated to their own aesthetic and in keeping with their personal values. “If they align themselves with a brand, transparently, it’s clear that they share values with that brand.” Yumna indicates sponsored content clearly: “in collaboration with. No ‘swipe up’ or anything like that”.
So who should own influencer marketing?
The panel reflected on Jemima’s opening question. For Yumna, influencers are the domain of a brand team, and Livvy agreed: “the use of people should be about values and collaboration”, unless “outsourcing” content, in which case a “specialist company would be best”. Mats, who deals with all areas, was diplomatic, while Jemima concluded that “influencer marketing should impact all departments but sit with creative teams.” The final message was clear: influencer marketing, in its most authentic form, is about an alignment of values, whether it’s fashion or women’s rights, and authenticity requires brands to take a risk, relinquish creative control, and trust their influencers.
Photography is by Amelia Lourie.