No matter where you look: when it comes to marketing strategies, working with influencers seems to be the ultimate promotion tool. It almost seems as if the sales power of digital opinion leaders is hardly questioned, instead it’s a must to cooperate with bloggers and social media stars. We asked Henner Mamane, managing director of Berlin-based marketing agency ThinkOOTB (Think out of the Box), if the hype is justified or a bubble that is about to burst.
Henner Mamane calls ThinkOOTB a celebrity marketing agency. In that sense he and his team focus on choosing the right testimonials for their clients (among them General Motors, Maybelline, DHL, Escada and Timezone)–be it actors, football players or influencers such as Kate Hudson, Mario Götze, Jérôme Boateng, Elyas M'Barek, Olivia Palermo and Caro Daur. Prominent examples of ThinkOOTB’s activities are the turnaround campaign for Opel "Umparken im Kopf" (Change your mind) and a viral campaign for “Call of Duty” featuring football player André Schürrle.
Even though Mamane also votes for influencers and bloggers as cooperation partners for brands, his view on these collabs is rather critical and he asks marketing decision makers to think widely diversified instead of sticking to a “me too” strategy.
Is influencer marketing a must for brands to communicate with their target group today?
First of all, it is a good thing that marketing decision makers question the traditional marketing mix and reach out to new channels. They are looking for new strategies instead of sticking to the stereotype idea of “that’s how it was always done, and so we go on doing it.” Times are gone where you would call your media agency and have them book the usual package of print ads or TV commercials. Marketing managers are willing to make more efforts to promote their products–especially in times of sensory overload where consumers are bombarded by all kinds of information. But I doubt that it is the right thing to treat influencer marketing as the Holy Grail as many marketing people do. Many simply seem to be just dazzled by the potentials that influencers might have.
What makes you think that?
Well, you know, nowadays you often have to fight for marketing budgets for any kind of campaign or for any kind of media–but as soon as you suggest a campaign with influencers in it all doors are open and budgets seem to be approved without any problem.
It’s simply that hype that surrounds influencers and bloggers since a while. Apart from that it’s bizarre, because when you check hard facts and numbers, influencer activities are not too transparent. You see, before you launch a traditional campaign in a magazine the client on brand side wants to know all about the numbers of that magazine: circulation, TAI, etc. and by that the possible outcome–which is absolutely legitimate, of course. Compared to that the marketers are much less concerned when it comes to comparable numbers of influencers.
...But also influencers can give proof of their success: take the number of followers or the engagement ratio.
That’s correct, but at the same time everyone knows that this is often a big lie because not only can you purchase followers, but meanwhile also likes and interaction. This is hardly ever analyzed, so the sheer numbers seem to look great, but in fact it’s half fake.
There must be certainly exceptions to the rule–let’s think about famous German influencer Caro Daur who you also worked with...
Absolutely, and let me point out again that it is a great progress that marketing mixes are much more diverse now. But to treat influencers as if they are somewhat as a Swiss army knife, like THE solution when it comes to product promotion is just shortsighted and naive.
Considering that many of the influencer stars have a fan base of a couple of millions it makes sense to engage them to reach as many consumers as possible.
But take for example a brand that wants to promote a high-price product. Does it really help them to have an influencer feature this product and present it to a huge group of followers that cannot afford it because they are still teens or kids? What’s the use? What I mean is that some brands almost randomly just choose the influencers that have the highest number of followers instead of checking if these followers fit their target group. In that case it is more efficient to choose influencers that rather act in a niche array. They might have fewer followers, but they are focused on a certain target group that is then also the appropriate one for the brand.
But what if the main goal of a brand is just to make a product or the brand itself more popular?
Fair enough. If it is the goal to create just a desire for a brand among consumers no matter if they can afford it or not, this is fine. In fact, that was Dolce & Gabbana’s argument when they sent many international blogger and influencer stars on the catwalk some seasons ago: among their followers might be many who could never afford Dolce & Gabbana’s fashion, but to see something not reachable makes it even more desirable. I get the point, but I do not necessarily agree. I think in the end you want to sell a product, and this shall be the main goal behind any kind of marketing activity.
But isn’t this a general problem of marketing campaigns: how to precisely evaluate the return on investment?
It’s true that in many cases it’s hard to get exact numbers. Still, when it comes to e-commerce and digital business, affiliate marketing is a very proper way to track results, because you can simply see how many pieces have been sold in connection to the influencer who promoted it. Let me tell you that many influencers are not too fond of deals that generate their share based on affiliate business. They prefer to get a flat charge, because through affiliate commissions their success can be tracked and it might be too low to bring them enough money.
Your agency works with celebs and connects brands with an actor or football player. Aren’t they also influencers in that sense?
Yes, they are, but there is a difference between influencer marketing and celebrity marketing. Celebs make their money through their main job as actors or musicians and do not have to rely on an extra income, whereas for influencers doing campaigns it is their key business model.
What’s the problem with that?
The latter might take any job, and the result is a growing lack of their credibility because you cannot be the perfect face for five denim brands or automobile companies at the same time. Since celebs have another source of income they choose deals with brands more selective. Accordingly, he or she can transport contents authentically and lead the focus to the brand or product in a more subtle and elegant way without extra creating a public stage-such as influencers need to do.
What about the level of attention?
Based on my longtime and internationally gained experience I can say that celeb marketing is the more efficient tool. With a celeb you will reach a wider audience. Celebs are true multipliers who have access to all different kinds of channels and who are medially omnipresent. That kind of non-paid PR-which often will not even be noticed as promotion-comes almost automatically if a famous football player or singer is engaged with a brand and goes public with anything while an influencer in many cases is stuck to his base of followers only.
Still, wouldn’t you agree that influencer stars such as the Kardashians brought the whole thing to another level in terms of public attention?
The Kardashians are really a phenomenon–and I doubt that their concept would have worked anywhere else than in the USA, for sure not in Germany. But speaking of influencers such as Chiara Ferragni or Caro Daur and her success there are definitely criteria that separate someone like them from other influencers.
Which would be?
First of all, they act highly professional. Their pics show a high quality level, and of course, it also helps that they look stunning. But their key quality is that they understood that it is necessary to promote themselves cross-media. They run their websites and social media accounts, but at the same time they are also present on other media platforms, work with daily newspapers, appear on red-carpet events, etc. It’s important to think in an entrepreneurial way and they understood that earlier than many others.
Do you ever see an end of this whole trend coming?
I think in a couple of years the influencer fame will come to an end, because by then also the decision makers and their bosses will have overcome the hype and will evaluate things more rationally again.
This interview was published in the current print issue #280 of SPORTSWEAR INTERNATIONAL. Read the full digital magazine version here.