Influencer marketing expert Nick Baklanov spoke to WARC’s Catherine Driscoll to share insights from HypeAuditor’s analysis of the influencer marketing industry.

Working with creators

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to working with creators.

CD: Why are creators so important for brands today?

NB: Firstly, creators have a target audience, which brands need access to. Creators have built connections and relationships, and as a result they have influence on their audience’s buying decisions. So, creators can literally share their influence with brands through collaborations.

And secondly, more people are spending more time on social networks. TikTok has almost 1 billion monthly active users and Instagram, over 2 billion active users. To be relevant brands need to produce content for social media. And with the help of creators, they can produce more cost effective and better content, that will have more engagement, than if they will produce their own branded content.

Have you seen an increase in brands working with creators since the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation?

A recent HypeAuditor survey polled 500 content creators with over 1000 followers and revealed that marketers are increasingly turning to influencer marketing to reach their audiences. According to the data, 46% of influencers have seen an increase in brand partnerships this year (2023) vs. 2022. The research also showed that more than a third (39%) of respondents noticed an increase in the amount paid by brands for sponsored posts.

What are some of the best practices for brands that are looking to start working with creators? How should they select creators and then build a relationship?

The first thing to do is to look at the competitive environment to see what other brands from the same category are doing. This can be done with competitor analysis tools where you can analyse all brand mentions on a platform, and whether they are paid mentions or because people love the brand. The second step is to look for influencers from your own customers, it’s easier to collaborate with creators when they know your product and they actually use your product. This can also be an automated process, for example, HypeAuditor has a tool that can connect to email data or a Shopify store and see if an influencer has already bought your product. And the third step is to start small, have defined goals and track every step. Make it data driven and don’t just analyse the results of the overall campaign, but the performance of each influencer. Sometimes it happens that maybe two influencers out of ten might show extraordinary results, but the other eight are only so so.

What are creators looking for in brand partnerships?

Some creators are focused on money, but most creators take collaborations seriously and think about their longer-term future with a brand, and what benefits their audience will receive from operating with that brand. In a survey we asked, “Have you ever turned down a brand deal?” And 77% of influencers said yes. The survey also revealed why influencers would refuse to work with a brand, with the top reasons being that they do not like or value the brand (51%), that they were not happy with the budget (42%) and they were told exactly what to write and had no creative freedom (38%). When asked what they’d like to see in messages from brands, to make it easier to select potential brand partners, the following were the top reasons selected:

  • 59% of influencers stated they’d like to see a clear idea of available budgets and expected deliverables
  • 61% of influencers want a clear description of the product or service to be advertised
  • More than half (51%) asked for information on the company they would be aligning with
Could you share any examples that you’ve seen of a strong brand and creator collaboration that could be regarded as best practice?

What I enjoy most is when direct-to-consumer brands use the full of potential for influencer marketing. They may use celebrities, have a strong affiliate marketing programme, and repurpose influencer content on their website and other channels. Examples of companies succeeding with influencer marketing include Daniel Wellington, Gymshark and Bang Energy. Manscaped is doing great work on TikTok and Shein dominates affiliate marketing for fast fashion on Instagram.  

Thinking about measurement, what are the most of important KPIs for influencer campaign?

The number one is to track any kind of sales, but if you can’t track sales and the goal is awareness, then could it be reach. Engagement trends is one of the most common metrics because it can be calculated. So, engagement rates, number of comments, number of likes, overall reach, but if you can measure sales, focus on sales.

Where does influencer marketing fit in the media mix?

I think that the best way is when it’s not set it apart from other marketing channels. And when it’s not a one-time campaign, when it’s ongoing, and think then it becomes an asset and actually enhances other marketing channels because influencer content can be repurposed. More and more brands have their own influencer marketing specialists and don’t outsource it to marketing agencies, because they understand the value comes when the campaign is ongoing.

What are some of the most common mistakes that brands make when they’re working with creators or influencers?

I think the main mistake is to work with the wrong influencer who doesn’t have your target audience or maybe who has a fake audience. We know that it’s very easy to purchase bots on Instagram and you can buy 10,000 followers for as little as $20. So, if brands don’t make a proper check of influencer accounts and the quality of audience then they won’t get results. Another mistake is not to repurpose influencer marketing content. So, as I said, you can use it in your email marketing, you can use it as content on your web site. And the third mistake is to see an influencer marketing campaign as a one-off and not to build long-term relationships. If an influencer only mentions your brand once it’s unlikely to lead to a purchase decision – it should be a few times over months. A long-term relationship with the right influencer is like nudges in the purchase funnel, as well as it’s more economical and efficient to have a longer-term relationship than constantly changing collaborators. And brands should think how they can actually be useful for not only for influencers, but also for the audience, which is part of a longer-term strategy.

What are the key differences and trends in influencer marketing between different geographies?

There are a few differences. One is adoption of influencer marketing – based on our internal research the USA is the undisputed leader in terms of brands using influencers as part of their marketing strategy. Second place is Brazil, and the third place is the United Kingdom.

The adoption of social commerce and livestream commerce in China is something that has not been replicated elsewhere. We have seen Instagram and TikTok in Europe and in USA trying to make some steps forward in online shopping, but audiences don’t care about livestream commerce like they do in China.

Another regional difference is regulation. For example, in France there was recently a deal that would require influencers and content creators to disclose when they use a filter or digitally manipulate their face or body image. And in the United Arab Emirates you have to have a licence from the National Media Council to work as an influencer or creator.

Are there any other key trends you see that are going to be the next big thing?

We’re definitely seeing that short form video is dominating as the main form of content across TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. And we see how Instagram pushes Reels. After making all videos Reels whether you wanted to or not, it also gave more reach too Reels. Regular posts are still the most popular form of content on Instagram, but Reels receive more reach and more likes than posts.

Another trend is rapid development of AI tools, like ChatGPT that will have a great impact on the industry. These tools give creators the opportunity to make better content faster.

Right now, I’m like diving deeper into influencer marketing in different industries. For example, luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Gucci and Prada have a lot of mentions from creators. But when you start analysing these mentions then it can be seen that only 12% have one brand mentioned and 40% have six or more brands mentioned. So how can you value these posts? In different industries, like hospitality, how brands are mentioned form quite different patterns with different values.

Read more articles from the WARC Guide to working with creators.

How digital commerce adoption influences the way brands partner with creators in Asia
Wing Lee, Korakan Yamasattham and Shodai Fujita
AnyMind Group

In the battle for attention, content is everything
Jeremy Hollow
Listen + Learn Research