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Are influencer marketing agencies eating into the creative agency pie?

Are influencer marketing agencies eating into the creative agency pie?

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Earlier this year, we reported that the number of brands spending more than 30% of their total marketing budget on influencer marketing has increased to 25.4% this year, up from 21.4% in 2021. According to The Southeast Asia Influencer Marketing Industry report by influencer marketing and commerce platform Partipost and Quest Ventures, the percentage of brands that did not try influencer marketing decreased from 16.9% in 2020 to about 5.1% this year.

In fact, the trend is so popular that many marketers we speak to are choosing to work directly with influencers or their agencies rather than work with intermediary creative agencies. Reasons largely include direct access to the influencer, alignment of target demographic and reach, higher campaign or promotional awareness, and occasionally, of course, budget friendlier options.

However, to think of influencer marketing as “quick conversions and awareness” would be a misconception, explained Hilary Tam, regional marketing lead at Partipost.

“Influencers don't have to be a one-off engagement. In fact, having an influencer post and share about a brand repeatedly showcases authenticity,” she said. Sharing data from a recent survey, Tam explained that 93% of the respondents said that they needed to see a product at least twice before purchasing it, and 32.7% said that their purchase decision will be impacted when a product is recommended by many influencers over a period of time. 

As such, consistency and frequency matter. Agencies such as SushiVid are also seeing similar trends as the industry matures, said founder Foong Yuhwen. However, this isn’t a blanket trend across industries. While sports marketing and music are leading the trend in long-term collaborations, IT gadgets, skincare, beauty, and FMCG are much more general when choosing influencers.

“Some industries and product categories are more inclined to brand building with influencers while others are still working on general lifestyle influencers. But overall we are definitely seeing more and more brand-building work done,” she shared.  

Adding to the conversation, founder of X10 media, Sky Lim said brands should engage influencers on a more holistic approach, and the agency's mandate has been to constantly educate clients to do so – instead of having what Lim labels as “burst executions”.

The role of creative agencies

While clearly the tides are now shifting with clients exploring more long-term brand building with influencers and influencer marketing agencies, where then does it leave creative agencies?

According to Anish Daryani, CEO of M&C Saatchi Indonesia, the overarching strategy is the portion that creative agencies manage – and that is generally a much bigger pie than the influencer marketing portion. “That part is something no influencer agency should manage and do on their own simply because it wouldn’t be what’s best for the brand,” said Daryani.

Moreover, creative agencies also still play a strong role in determining the role of an influencer. They also must not relinquish the role of finding the right influencers for the brand, and then determining the guidelines for influencers to remain on-brand.

“A lot of creative intervention is needed to make influencer-generated content effective. There’s a fine balance that needs to be maintained between maintaining the individuality of the influencer and his/her content style, and what’s relevant for the brand and helps create differentiation – depending on the objectives the brand wants to drive,” he said.

At the end of the day, said Daryani, it isn’t the campaign or the influencer that helps to build a brand. It is the idea and a sense of purpose. “If that brand idea involves using an influencer to tell the brand’s story, then perhaps it can help in the brand building process,” he said.

Lack of exclusivity still an issue

While SushiVid’s founder Foong shared that many influencers are now getting into long-term partnerships with brands, resulting in exclusivity with the brand, the trend isn’t one that's widely seen.

Daryani is of the view that most influencers still lack exclusivity. They are known for a core competency or skill, and they apply that expertise to present an opinion on a brand – and they will do it for any brand today, and even its competitor tomorrow.

Echoing Daryani’s view is Tay Guan Hin, creative chairman of BBDO Singapore, who said that many influencers also work for various brands and those with bigger budgets might be prioritised. Where creative agencies add value is in the strategic view of the long-term growth of your brand.

“They often provide different innovative solutions to their client's business challenges as partners. And sometimes, influencer marketing might not be the best solution. Creative agencies will remain vital if they can add value to the client's bottom line,” he shared.

Clients can certainly choose to work with influencers directly. It saves them costs. Who wants to pay creative agencies when they can directly deal with them?

But when clients decide to go down the route of what Tay deems as “DIY influencer marketing”, they sometimes realise they have to sift through tons of Instagram or TikTok influencers manually.  “The ecosystem is very complicated, and they spend more time managing influencers' personalities than building brands,” he said.

What does good brand building look like?

Tay added that at the end of the day, in any company there are many stakeholders that decide on the direction of the brand – which can undoubtedly complicate matters.  Companies that build brands well have strong visionaries that can see far beyond, and bank on creating purposeful work that redefines their offering.

If the brand’s message needs to be communicated via an influencer marketing strategy, Tay advises inking long-term deals. This will allow brands to tap into organic communities, thus revving brand awareness and trust.

“With an ongoing partnership, influencers can communicate a brand's products more organically within their feeds over time rather than posting quick one-time tributes,” he said. However, banking on influencer marketing to build a brand alone is risky and temporary.

Synergies between influencer agencies and creative agencies

SushiVid's Foong added that the ecosystem is big enough for both creative and influencer marketing agencies. “There is definitely a distinct role that we both play. While strategy is one area that we will work together, project managing influencer campaigns is our expertise as an influencer marketing company,” she said.

She added that managing influencers is also an arena many creative agencies do not want to get involved in. “The overarching strategy, the portion that creative agencies manage is way bigger than just the influencer portion, and that part is something no influencer agency should manage and do on their own simply because it wouldn’t be what’s best for the brand,” he adds.

Partipost's Tam added that the relationship between influencer marketing agencies and creative players isn’t so much of eating into the pie of another, but rather challenging each other to grow.

“The reality of things is that some influencers will have the capabilities to cover some of the creative's scope of work however many times, there are also win-win situations where both parties are able to work together collectively to push out first-of-its-kind campaigns,” Tam said.

Kausern Hieu, country manager, Nuffnang Malaysia added that at the end of the day a brand is the sum total of all the impressions a customer has based on every interaction they have with its products, the company and its employees. Hence, a creative agency’s responsibility is to define their client’s brand architecture and provide guidelines for each consumer touchpoint - because every interaction sends a message.

“It’s crucial for influencer agencies not to be working in silos but to collaborate with a brand’s lead creative agency to understand the role its influencers play in brand building."

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