Opinion

Marketers get real: Using influencers without a strategy will do brands more harm than good

Ahead of his panel discussion at Mumbrella Asia's upcoming Travel Marketing Summit on May 7 in Singapore, PR agency owner Wesley Gunter warns marketers not to jump on the influencer bandwagon unless they have first developed a sound strategy for doing so

It baffles me why the majority of folks, including marketers, are just drawn to things they cannot understand. Is it that air of mystery about not knowing how their key performance indicators are met? Or are fancy numbers and colourful graphs such a big turn on?

I guess I will never know. When I walk into any new business meeting and I begin talking about my portfolio I can bet you a dollar some smart alec in the room is going to ask about whether I do any ‘digital’ public relations or for the more technically savvy, words like ‘blockchain’ tend to pop up (oooh he must think he sounds real smart in front of the boss).

Over the years I have learnt to use certain buzzwords randomly during presentations merely to grab attention, even if I sometimes hate myself for doing that, just like eating toast with condensed milk (it’s delicious, really).

What is extremely rare I find during these meetings is for anyone to ask about probably the most important aspect of any marketing or PR campaign – the strategy. It is time to get real, using influencers without a clear strategy will do brands more harm than good.

The medium is not the solution

Let’s rewind back a couple of decades before influencers, social media and even the internet came about. Let’s go back further, before television even in 1922 when the first paid radio commercial was aired at $50 for 50 minutes of airtime.

This was a revolutionary platform for marketers as they could now reach their audience in the comfort of their own home while they were listening to music or the news. Everyone started jumping on the bandwagon then by selling everything from toothpaste to apartments just because it was the ‘new kid on the block’.

The same phenomenon happened with TV in the 1950s, and when the internet boomed in the 1990s click ads were all the craze. Things got even more complicated at the turn of the century in 2000 when social media was born and the simple mobile phone evolved to become a mini computer in your pocket.

Now in 2019, marketers are spoilt for choice when it comes to which platform they can use to reach a desired target audience. There is so much analytical data available to help them decide which platform would be the most suitable for their budget constraints and even how to push content to a desired target audience.

What I see however is that marketers tend to go with the easiest option by foregoing their strategy and just jumping on to whatever new ‘trend’ is happening for their marketing push. In this case, it would be the engagement of influencers which have been used purely for the sake of popularity without much thought going into it.  

Some of the worst examples would be the Peelfresh influencer campaign in 2016 and most recently, in 2018, when the Singapore Ministry of Finance engaged bloggers to create awareness of the budget.

The messaging and content must fit the medium

Like a durian burger perhaps, it was a case of the wrong medium used to deliver a message that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. As much as influencers have been getting a lot of flak recently about whether they really have influence or not, I feel that it’s not really their responsibility.

A bad carpenter blames his tools. So marketers, instead, now need to realise that influencers are not the means to an end when it comes to a campaign. How they are used to engage their audience ultimately depends on the strategy implemented.

For example, if your client is an automobile brand and you park (pardon the pun) your advertising budget in broadcast ads on a Korean soap opera channel, does that mean TV is the wrong medium for your campaign? No, it means you need to change your profession.

Jokes aside, the important thing in this whole equation is the strategy and not the medium used. Unfortunately, many are missing the point. Influencer campaigns can, indeed, be brilliantly executed if the right strategy is used to bring about the message to the right target audience.

So can we just stop using the buzzword ‘influencer’ in isolation and start talking more about ‘influencer strategy’ instead please? We would all be a lot better for doing so.

Gunter believes in strategy first and medium second

Wesley Gunter is the owner and director of Right Hook Communications, a boutique PR agency in Singapore – and he will be on a panel of speakers discussing influencers at the Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit in Singapore on May 7

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