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Is Asia Feeling Influencer Fatigue?


By Germaine Ong and Ivy Esquero

It was bound to happen eventually. Over a networking cocktail session, a junior brand marketer expressed her growing frustration with influencers: “I know we have to invest in KOLs and bloggers, but it’s so hard to justify any ROI to my bosses.”

The following week, at a client meeting, the conversation turned to a specific A-list influencer. “Honestly… isn’t every post on her feed a paid post?” said the global marketing manager. “Do people actually believe what she posts anymore?”

Cue awkward silence.

The decline of traditional media consumption and the rise of mobile-first content have driven brands to seek out - and spend handsomely - on alternative ways of getting their products and messages into the mindspace of increasingly younger buyers. According to MediaKix, global spending on influencer marketing will be $3-6b in 2018 and projected to reach $5-10b by 2020.

While influencer marketing is increasingly regarded as an essential component of any consumer marketing plan, the landscape is constantly shifting. Brand marketers are getting skeptical, the audience is becoming more sophisticated, and the recent spate of influencer-related controversies has given rise to more scrutiny both by clients and customers.


Back to basics: why use influencers at all?

The democratic nature of social media, where a video of your baby cousin appears on your feed right before a sponsored post by an internet celebrity, has presented no end of possibilities to brands looking to a) tap into new audience segments, b) create more affinity with existing audiences, c) tell an old story in a different way or d) all of the above. Platforms like Instagram are highly forgiving and even indulgent of content that’s shot on a shoestring budget. 

However, it’s becoming clear to marketers that there are just as many ways of getting influencer marketing wrong as there are for getting it right.


Potential vs pitfalls

When incorporated into a wider marketing strategy, influencer storytelling can be highly impactful in telling a facet of your key messaging that just lands better from a third party than from the brand’s own voice. In Asia, particularly China, where social platforms such as WeChat are themselves e-commerce platforms, influencers can directly drive sales.  Standout campaigns include Hong Kong actress Becky Li’s WeChat campaign for Mini Cooper, which sold 100 cars in five minutes. “Mr. Bags”, a Chinese fashion blogger, sold-out 300 limited edition Tod’s mini backpacks in six minutes on the same platform. 


Where did it all go wrong?

Many a brand has come across the challenge of picking the right influencer for a new product or campaign.  But do you go with a big name who brings a guaranteed audience, or do you opt for a smaller name, but someone you feel may bring an authenticity to the engagement? How do you properly identify, engage and measure impact?

When an influencer is not the right fit for a brand or a campaign, the impact can sometimes be minor – a dip in positive sentiment or brand preference, for instance. On the other end of the spectrum, brands have come under fire for collaborating with influencers who’ve engaged in fraud (be it plagiarism or suspicious spikes in follower acquisition) or who’ve been embroiled in the kind of geopolitical controversy which is fairly commonplace in Asia.


How to avoid jumping the shark

  • Be clear on the objective and evaluate fit. While reach and resonance should be baseline metrics, understanding context, credibility and relevance ensure that you are building a program that will truly add value.
  • Measure and understand impact over time.  Influence is dynamic.  Conversations, trends and technology shifts can impact the influencer landscape.  Are there new influencers emerging that are a better fit? Should you keep an eye out for new platforms that could further amplify your message?
  • Groom an influencer of your own.  Do you have a brand ambassador or spokesperson that can speak authentically for you?  Employees, executives and followers don’t have to be famous to tell engaging stories.  Find the people who can speak with authority and bring a spark to your narrative. 


The future of storytelling

Consumers are increasingly rewriting the rules around engagement, authenticity and influence.  According to Foresight Factory, a trend called the Pursuit of Real, where consumers are increasingly looking to more authentic representations of brand identities and conversations, has been growing in global markets. Consumers are looking to engage in 1:1 conversations and want to feel like they are genuinely connecting.   

In Asia, where recommendations and endorsements are still highly valued, influencer marketing remains one of the fastest ways to build awareness and drive connections.  However, as people become more discerning and digitally sophisticated, layering context and objective and ensuring that you are vetting and measuring results will help enable you to build the right influencer strategy.