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Influencer marketplaces/platforms vs influencer marketing experts: what choice?

Marketing professionals and companies looking at exploring influencer marketing must wonder whether it's better to use a do it yourself (DIY) influencer marketing platform or to engage the services of influencer marketing agencies. Well, after reading this, you'll not wonder anymore.

An influencer marketing platform/marketplace is like Tinder. It’s a platform that connects brands/marketers and influencers together. A brand visits the online marketing platform and signs up. An influencer signs up on a marketing platform in their private capacity. A brand having a campaign to run searches for an influencer on the platform, based on filters and selected criteria. Once the brand or the marketer selects an Influencer, the brand or marketer sends the brief and if the Influencer accepts the brief, then both of them engage directly with each other via the platform. 

Not all influencer marketplace users are experts in influencer marketing, as they are often used by marketers of different fields who may be experts in their own field but may not possess the required level of expertise in influencer marketing. An influencer marketing agency/expert on the other hand, is a specialised marketing agency comprising of experts who focus solely on Influencer marketing. While influencer marketing agencies use various sources and technologies to source Influencers, their value lies in the significant expertise that they have in designing, building, and managing an authentic influencer marketing campaign. 

There are significant differences between content creation for a social media advertising campaign and an influencer marketing campaign. For social media marketing, the content is more of a corporate message. It is generic in the sense that even if the campaign is extremely targeted, everyone within the target audience may see the same message. The brand speaks directly to the audience and the marketer carefully designs every detailed aspect of the content – design, message, fonts, size and placement of the logo, colours, etc. For influencer marketing however, the brand does not speak directly to the audience but relies on someone else (the influencer) to speak to his/her own captive audience. The message is the voice of the influencer and reflects his/her own original style. The message is not generic. The same target audience might see different content, depending on which influencers they are following. The influencer marketing expert does not create the content, the influencer does. 

Social media advertisers and influencer marketers have different skills. While social media marketers must be experts in creating perfect content, expert influencer marketers must be experts in creating the perfect framework from which the influencer’s content will perfectly align with the brief, while remaining authentic, highly engaging, and protecting the brand equity. It is this onerous task of creating the perfect framework, that brings about maximum campaign success. 

Now, with regards to the use of Influencer marketing platforms, there are differences in service between an influencer marketing platform and an influencer marketing expert. We’re going to explore 5 integral differences. 

1. Expertise

Influencer marketing requires a lot more than choosing an Influencer and tracking metrics. 

Setting up a successful influencer marketing campaign is like baking a cake. Trying to bake with the ingredients only, but without the recipe, will lead to catastrophic results. And even when the recipe is provided, without expertise in executing it, the risk of failure will be high. Even if the result is good, it will never be as good as when it is executed by a pastry chef. The level of quality will inherently vary. 

Similarly, in influencer marketing, the influencers’ marketplaces/databases will provide a brand with the ingredients (the list of influencers), but if the campaign is executed by someone who is an expert in his/her own field of marketing, but who is not an expert in influencer marketing, the campaign / project’s quality and performance may not produce the full potential desired compared to when executed by an expert in influencer marketing. It is also critical that all the risks that are very specific to influencer marketing are fully understood and accounted for during the campaign design, building and management processes. 

2. Brand equity, strategy and framework 

Specific sets of knowledge/expertise as discussed above allows for the campaign to be very authentic and engaging, and also protects the brand equity. This protection is achieved through a dedicated high-level influencer marketing strategy and framework setup for the campaign. The Influencer marketing expert, in setting up its framework, is concerned with vetting the influencers, and the content quality, identifying cultural and other potential conflicts of interest, knowing about industry specific marketing regulations/laws, and other salient factors that can backfire on the brand equity if unchecked. An agency guides the Influencer without scripting the content and brings about the best strategy to promote an authentic, story-telling campaign, that creates a long-lasting emotional connection with the audience. 

Many risks are specific to influencer marketing. Masterful management will ensure performance success and brand equity protection. Some of the risks that are very specific to this industry segment are:
- Selection of influencers with the wrong audience.
- A brand strategy that may result in audience alienation.
- Content that will look like a plain endorsement rather than being authentic.

- Incorrect use of story-telling.
- Non-respect of the mandatory disclosure regulation and restrictions.
- Inefficient engagement mechanisms to create a positive conversation about the brand, with a clear buying signal.
- Engagement mechanisms that may lead to negative PR, driving the conversation to a competing brand, etc.
- Low influencer engagement rate
- Incorrect metrics
- Mismanagement of the influencer-brand relationship (that could turn into a toxic relationship)
- Content not matching the expected quality or the brief, etc.


3. Strict audience matching between the influencers’ audience and the brand’s target audience

Upon request by the Brand, the influencer marketing platform will only suggest influencers matching the search criteria. Influencer marketing experts on the other hand go further in ensuring a perfect match between the brand’s target audience and the Influencer’s captive audience. 

For instance, in a campaign R-Squared managed, we were presented with a female Influencer by a top female fashion brand in South Africa. When analysing her audience, we realised the she was followed by a 86% male audience, as she is extremely attractive, while the brand’s target audience are females. Further than that, more than 50% of her audience was based in the USA, with only 13% in South Africa. Therefore, the audience of females in South Africa is 13% to 14% = 1,82% only. Even though she was a fashion model, and therefore highly relevant and interested in fashion, her mainly male audience was interested in travel and photography, as described by their key category of interest, which is understandable as she takes her fashion pictures while traveling. Her audience was interested in seeing her travel pictures more than her fashion pictures. 

4. Regulations

In practice, it is not the duty of the marketing platforms to ensure compliance with specific regulations (i.e., the mandatory sponsorship disclosure, industry specific regulations, etc.) This is understandable because it is a DIY platform. An influencer marketing expert on the other hand, ensures that its’ strategy and frameworks, as well as the Influencer’s content, are in accordance with all relevant regulations and laws. 

5. Reserved Influencers

The pool of influencers on influencer marketing platforms may be limited, as it only contains those influencers who have signed up. Hence, while good influencers might be there, the perfect ones for a particular campaign might not have signed up. The database might also be highly skewed to certain categories of influencers, demographics, countries, or languages. Influencer marketing experts, however, must have the expertise and capacity to source for the best influencers for the campaign / project, regardless if using a marketplace or other sources as its means. 

Conclusion

Brands and agencies can manage their influencer marketing campaigns if they have a significant in-house expertise to cover for the peculiar skills of an Influential marketing expert. Thus, whether marketplaces are used or not is not the most important factor. The primary factor here, is the expertise of the person who manages the project, whether in-house or with a specialised influencer marketing agency.

*Emmanuel Okonkwo works as an External Communicator at R-Squared Digital - a leading influencer marketing creative agency in South Africa that works with most of the best brands and agencies locally and internationally. R-Squared Digital is known for its specific industry expertise in designing, executing and managing influencer marketing projects that are extremely engaging, authentic, whilst protecting the brand equity.

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- R-Squared Digital –

R-Squared SA's press office

R-Squared SA Founded in 2014 and based in beautiful Cape Town, R-Squared is an Influencer Marketing Creative Agency that designs, builds and executes kickass influencer marketing projects locally and internationally, and is recognised as one of the Top 5 Influencer Agencies in South Africa. Our projects are curated to be engaging, authentic and to protect both brand and advertising agency brand equity.
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