Published in Jan-Feb 2022
"This content is not sponsored,” wrote someone in a review about a restaurant on SWOT. But why?
Like many people, we check reviews before trying a product or service. Getting feedback on a product can be very useful when choosing between multiple options. However, over time, we have begun to read these reviews with a far more critical eye. Although many reviews are legitimate, more and more sketchy companies are inflating social media platforms with sponsored content because that is what we (and they) think influencer marketing is, right? But are we doing it right? Or are we copying one another just to keep up? Maybe we should first understand what influencer marketing is actually about.
Influencer marketing involves a brand collaborating with an online influencer to market a product or service. But is this what we are doing? No. What we usually tend to do is ask (read: instruct) an influencer with a significant following and a good engagement rate to post content about our brand. However, that is not the right way to go about it. The issue is that although we understand what influencer marketing is, we fail to understand what it is not. Influencer marketing is not about finding someone with an audience and offering them money or exposure in exchange for them saying good things about our brand – this is actually what we use celebrities for. Influencers are different. They have a reputation and people trust them, follow them, relate to them and take advice from them. They did not become overnight sensations; they started small and kept on doing what they do until they became the people they are right now. Their opinions matter, not because of the size of their following, but because of the content they post every day. Another thing most of us don’t know about influencer marketing is that sales and quick results are not the objectives. The objective is to build brand equity, earn the trust of our current and potential consumers, and become synonymous with whatever our brand is offering.
You may ask, why do you need an influencer to build your brand’s equity – you already have a good following on your social media handle and a good media budget to push your content. So isn’t all this enough? The reality is that people trust influencers more than they trust brands – nearly two out of every three consumers say they trust what an influencer says about a brand more than what an advertisement says about a brand. Successful influencers leverage their content to shape the opinions and purchasing decisions of others.
Brands need influencers because of who they are and not what we want them to be. Their power lies in their content and in the way they connect and share their opinions in their own unique way. This is what gained them followers and helped them create influence. Brands can only harness this power if they understand that influencer marketing is native and not owned. Now let’s look more closely at what ‘native’ means.
Native advertising is the ability to seamlessly blend into the flow of digital content rather than interrupt the user experience. With native advertising, the most important factor is the end consumer. The advertising must offer them value and it cannot be disruptive. The purpose of native advertising is to engage with consumers and deliver content that is useful to them – and this is what influencers do.
Today, the word ‘influencer’ has lost its true meaning. It is used as a label for anyone who has followers on social media. However, a real influencer is someone with an inspiring personality who makes an impact on their followers.
Let’s look at two effective influencers and at the reasons why they have a following. The first one is Nas Daily, the Israeli-born Arab vlogger known for his daily one-minute videos. It started with his love for travel, during which he began recording his trips and sharing them in the form of one-minute videos on his Facebook page. People quickly started to share his content because they liked it. His videos are about the people he meets and who have interesting stories to share – which is what got people hooked on his content. Now, when he partners with a country or a company to create a video, he does not change his format; instead, he integrates the content and crafts it in his own way, and brands are fine with it because this is what people want to watch.
The second is a local influencer and one of my favourites – Girl Gotta Eat. As her name suggests, her handle is about food. From street to fine dining, Pakistani to Asian, healthy to fattening, she samples everything and blogs about her experiences. What makes her my favourite and an influencer for many foodies is the fact that she is a food expert. When it comes to anything to do with food she is the go-to source. People who follow her want to look at food pictures, read about food experiences and get detailed information. Her content works because it helps her followers (consumers) and the brand.
To conclude, influencer marketing is very important. At a time when consumers are increasingly distrustful of advertising, influencers serve as a bridge to connect brands with their customers – and above all, they never have to write: “This content is not sponsored.”
Raaj Kheraj is Manager, Digital and User Experience, Adcom Leo Burnett.