Influencer Marketing in the Middle East
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By John Alexander Adam
Blogging is a passion: as bloggers, we want to share our thoughts, feelings, insights and knowledge with the world. Whether a blog is purely a hobby or has a commercial element, in the majority of cases the blogger wants to reach out, connect with and influence as wide an audience as possible. In the modern era the top bloggers have huge influence and following and this is particularly true in the Middle East.
Influential bloggers from the Middle East are in the enviable position that their followers are more active and engaged than those from almost anywhere else in the world. This is probably due, at least in part, to the fact that as a traditional, conservative society, the independent voice of bloggers, imbued with their own personality, is particularly valued as juxtaposed to mainstream media.
That engagement is a dream for marketers trying to connect with a Middle East audience and it should come as no surprise that brands are particularly keen to be associated with influential bloggers from the region. So, as a marketer in the Middle East, how can you best leverage the unique opportunities that influencer marketing presents in the region?
Think Indie Movie, not Blockbuster
The first step is to grasp the nature of influencer marketing and how it differs from more traditional channels. The Middle East as a region has a tendency towards the big budget and the extravagant and that culture is often reflected in the character of marketing campaigns targeting the region. Influencer marketing goes against that grain and marketers must first get their heads around that if they are to be able to properly exploit the strategy.
Social media influencers are generally successful not because of the slickness of their production but their raw, stripped-back entertainment value. The most successful may start to add some slickness and production to their video clips and other forms of content but there is only so much ‘production’ that can go into a 15-second Instagram video. Their followers like and relate to them for what they see as their personality and how that comes through in the content they create. Trying to change that would almost certainly have a negative impact. It is up to the marketers to find creative, unobtrusive ways to inject brands into influencers’ content if they want to connect with their audiences.
Sarah Barry, general manager at advertising agency Momentum, has discussed how many brands and marketers take the wrong approach when it comes to working with influencers.
“Most brands just want to be seen with the influencers and not make any real effort to connect with their audience. A simple cameo of your brand in an influencer video does not mean their fans will like you too. A real collaboration with the influencer is needed to build real relationships, and there are so many ways to do that.”
Effective influencer marketing is all about co-creation of content that is true to the influencer’s own style and not putting the influencer into a traditional marketing campaign.
Invest in Influencers
While it is a growing market, the number of genuinely good influencers producing quality content is still limited and this is particularly true in the Middle East. Every influencer is also not suitable for every brand, further reducing the suitable options for marketers engaging in influencer marketing. As such, it makes sense for brands to invest in and nurture suitable influencers as a longer term strategy.
Khaled Akbik, director of social media at OMD UAE confirms this, saying “engaging with influencers should be part of a long-term strategy to build an ongoing working relationship with them and move them from simply being influencers into being actual brand ambassadors.”
“This may require the brand to empower them with tools that help them get the job done (i.e. cameras, vehicles, gear, studios, etc). Yes, this means it will be costly, but remember that these ambassadors are producing quality content that is loved and trusted by hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of people. Don’t think of it as a cost coming out of your media budgets only, rather from both your media and content budgets. When you combine the two and perform a cost benefit analysis over a long term, you’ll find that it’s well worth the cost.”
Used correctly, influencers can be just as effective, if not more so, than mainstream media celebrities when it comes to brands connecting to particular audiences. Their followers feel more personally connected to influencers. Compared to the cost of marketing that features top celebrities, investing in good influencers long term will actually be far more cost effective.
Managing Influencers without Compromising their Appeal
One phrase which sums up the challenge of influencer marketing perfectly is “to the marketer, the brand is the hero, but to the audience, the influencer is.” One of the major challenges in influencer marketing is to ensure that the content produced is not compromised. The appeal of the influencer is in their perceived personality and their followers buying into its authenticity. Marketers have to learn to find the sweet spot between the two when it comes to influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is still very much a new, developing marketing channel and everyone in the industry is still learning. We have only touched on some of the key considerations marketers must bear in mind. However, the points outlined here are certainly key to a successful approach.
If you want to take your marketing skills to the next level, Morgan International offers a number of different digital marketing diplomas at locations across the Middle East.