Influencers are great, but you need a sound strategy first

As marketing evolves and become more of a two-way conversation, brands must be careful in how they choose influencers.

To Aldrina Thirunagaran, assistant vice president of digital marketing at OCBC Bank, recruiting and managing influencers is a matter of two things– authenticity and trust.

There are celebrities that have a huge following but that alone may not be enough a reason for your brand to associate with them. More than the numbers what matters is their credibility and relevance to the brand persona, she believes.

Sharing her thoughts at the recent Customer Experience 2016 conference, Thirunagaran explained why influencers are great but brands need a sound strategy first.

Is the trust in influencers waning?

The recent Marigold Peel Fresh’s influencer campaign and NTUC Rebecca Lim debacle coming under fire, has signalled how tricky using influencers can be and how it places brands in a vulnerable position.

The Marigold campaign drew criticism for its impractical nature, with one of the influencers going as far to say that she carries a carton of the juice with her wherever she goes. As for Rebecca Lim, in an NTUC campaign, she announced her retirement on Instagram and asked fans to be happy for her. Little did her fans know, it was just a publicity stunt and therefore, it backfired.

“Today’s audience is incredibly smart, incredibly savvy and it shows that whatever you put out there has to cut through the clutter in a genuine and authentic way,” Thirunagaran said.

In both the aforementioned cases, what the celebrities said put their authenticity at risk. To the digital marketing native, a successful marketing campaign involving influencers has only one parameter - sincerity.

“It boils down to authenticity and them being real, content being real and genuine. It has to be for the benefit and good of the customer. That is something that will cut through the clutter,” Thirunagaran said.

According to Thirunagaran, a campaign is a marriage between what the brand presents to its audience and how they choose to do so. Whether or not a brand utilises influencers, she urges that its ethos has to be relatable and authentic.

Consumers are searching for the truth, and they want truth in everything that is presented to them. The need for authenticity and authentic content is very real.

She also pointed out the trust factor, where the audience has to be able to trust the influencers who are touting the brand as their own. “It is a battle ground and you have the most brutal of audiences out there. There are ‘trolls’, and if you put out a particular message or execution that does not resonate well, people are quick to be vocal about it,” she said.

Take influencers seriously

Being in the business of building relationships with consumers, it is equally important brands build relationships with influencers as well, as it is really a partnership. Talking about OCBC's two widely successful partnerships with local celebrities Michelle Chong and Porn Sak, she said they have gone on to speak for the brand at various events and on social media.

“Out of all the various media types  - paid, owned, earned - one of the most valuable is earned media because that is where you are getting advocates for your brand,” Thirunagaran said.





However, a deep understanding of the target audience precedes all of this, as it helps selecting the right kind of content as well as the influencer for the audience.

To Thirunagaran, it boils down to the objective of the campaign; a brand should then tailor its content and collaterals accordingly.

“There are different avenues and channels, and life for a marketer can get hard when it comes to content, but at the end of day it boils down to the kind of messaging and how that messaging is delivered to your customer,” she said.

Measuring the effectiveness of a influencer-led campaign should be done on a constant basis. To Thirunagaran, the important thing is to test and customize as you go.

“It is something which has to be fluid and never stops. Keep tracking the data and use it to gain insights as you go along. Always try to AB test to see how your audience responds to it,” she said.

Spotting trends and movements for storytelling 

Thirunagaran points out a trend called the #Goals movement, a well known example of Taylor Swift and her clique of equally famous singer-friends such as Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding and Victoria’s Secret Angels Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss – who appeared in her music video Bad Blood.

“You call them the #BBFSquad. There are so many hashtags: #squadgoals, #brandgoals, #lifegoals. It is all tapping into that particular movement where brands are leveraging on celebrities and influencers to get their messages across,” Thirunagaran said.

Lastly, she urged that brands need to have a story, perhaps much like sports. There are winners and losers, there is also overcoming a lot of adversity and emotions. Similary, brands need to incorporate those elements in their storytelling.

"That's how the magic is created," Thirunagaran said.