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Bernard Koomson believes in the value of collaborating with influencers to advance his brand, and he has the data to prove it. Now with leading e-commerce company Zalando, and formerly with Adidas, Koomson recently sat down with Ariel Dekovic, Global Communication Manager at InfluencerDB, to share his thoughts on trust in influencer marketing, how sometimes being a consultant in your own company is the best way to get things done, and why Virgil Abloh is a genius. 

Bernard, what’s your philosophy on working with influencers?

I think of our influencers in three groups. I want to work with macro-influencers to do influencer advertising because they’re especially valuable to us for their own platforms where they can link back to our company. They have blogs, magazines, or are editors, and address a different kind of target group with the medium they work in. So these kinds of influencers are actually less about Instagram and more about the magazine they work for, or their blog or other platforms. Then there are skill-based influencers — photographers, DJs, musicians, artists and others who have developed their followings based on their talents. Finally, I want to work with micro-influencers, people who are famous on Instagram and spend a lot of time engaging with the community and posting content that creates a massive following.

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We work with each of these different groups to create formats that make sense for the influencers themselves. I think that a celebrity, for example, is not as easy to do something around co-creation with as, let’s say, an editor. But with an editor you can’t necessarily start from scratch – they need guidelines, like writing a blog post or creating some editorial content. Micro-influencers tend to be the easiest to work with in every respect. I think that’s why many brands tend to work with these influencers a lot.

What advice do you have for others on how to work with different departments and interests to unify their influencer marketing approach?

I try to take a holistic approach. For the best outcomes and the best measurement of outcomes, you really have to share time and investment among different departments. If we have a really engaging influencer marketing campaign, press is really important, so both the PR team and the social media team would be involved. Or let’s say you work with a photographer, you wouldn’t want to rely on social media alone. You could also post content on your own website. The content can be reused and reshared on many different channels. For your brand to thrive,  you need to have a holistic approach to what’s happening.

I think in my position you have to become a consultant within your own company.  With influencer marketing, companies have to understand that different departments might have the same aspiration but not the same background. So you really have to explain the advances and changes in the industry and how influencer marketing affects different departments, not just the social media department, for example. This connects back to my earlier point about sharing some of the budget spend among the different departments.

There are so many different types of influencer marketing partnerships. But generally, what does an ideal influencer partnership look like for you?

I think the most important thing is to have a clear objective from the start. There are so many different pieces and so many different formats in influencer marketing. First, you need to have a clear understanding of why you want to work with influencers. Starting from there, it’s easier to not only find the right influencer but also to measure what happened at the end. With a clear goal in mind, it’s easier to determine whether you need an influencer for your campaign and why you might need one specific influencer and not just someone else. Sometimes you might find that you don’t need an influencer at all.

Why should brands use Instagram and influencers as part of their marketing strategy? What does the use of influencers and Instagram do for e-commerce brands, particularly?

Brands have used traditional methods like magazines and celebrities to co-create and spread a message. Instagram gives you a portfolio where you can see a person’s life and engagement, what they are capable of and how people react to them. You can really get a feeling for who someone is and how they present their work before you work with them. Ultimately, it’s great for working with people to tell your brand’s story on social media. 

That gets us to the challenges of influencer marketing. What kind of weaknesses do you see in this marketing strategy?

The thing to remember is that influencers are more than just digital natives. We want to tell them what we want them to do, but then we’re not really utilizing their expertise. They know how to get engagement and what platforms and mediums make sense. This also creates a situation where even if you get them to do whatever you told them to, they are less engaged. So communication is really important. You should have the conversation with influencers on eye level, or they won’t feel that their expertise is valued. So when an influencer comes in, and we have an idea of what we would like to do, we brief them as we would an agency but we don’t limit them to, let’s say, only writing with the blue pen. It’s really more about expecting them to show us what they can do for us and then measure that together. The idea of co-creation always sounds nice for companies, but many don’t really follow through, and that’s the step they need to take. Because at the end of the day having an influencer post what you told him to post is not co-creation.

What do you think are the limitations of influencer marketing? Is it trust?

I think it’s often a trust thing. At first, content was the hot topic, so everybody was focused on content, and then social media became the hot topic, so everyone was focusing on social media. And now influencer marketing is a hot topic, but people still need to learn about it. Right now, it’s really about trial-and-error. If you’re not getting the results you want, the difference with influencer marketing is that there are more parties involved. Social media was just a platform, just a tool, and the people working behind it were people in a company. But now there’s another person involved. So even if you’ve understood the whole idea behind influencer marketing, you still have to make sure the influencer is on the same page. There are so many more factors, and I think the awareness of that is still limited to some extent. In the future, we have to be able to understand how we can improve our work with influencer data.

You need to spend time understanding each individual. It’s almost like an art because there are so many different types of people, so many different types of skill sets, so many different formats and so many different genres. You have to spend a lot of time to find out what kind of genres and what kind of influencers make sense to you. That’s something that can come from the work with influencers, they can explain this to you. That level of commitment is different when it comes to social media and influencer marketing.

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What advice do you have for influencer marketing professionals on how to price partnerships with influencers?

I really believe in paying people for what they do. So if you commission a photographer to do something, you pay them and that’s a given. They offer a service, and that also applies to influencers. The thing is that the fee for influencers is really, really high. Especially if you’re not using their images on your channel and you’re not using their bio, and you are just paying for a post– that is really expensive. So you have to ask yourself what are they actually doing for you to justify their fee. If somebody else could do the same thing for less, then the answer is: “Don’t pay that much”.

If a Kylie or Kendall Jenner post something you can see a direct change in whatever you’re doing. The value of that is very clear. If you believe that specific influencers are going to add value to your brand from just a post, then you should pay them whatever you feel the value is. If we sit down with our social media team and figure out how much we would pay for our own channels, there’s no reason to pay an influencer more than that figure.

Where is influencer marketing heading? Can you identify any upcoming trends? What changes can or will affect your own influencer marketing strategy?

I think being an influencer is really not sustainable, in terms of how governmental structures are set up in different countries and paying taxes and so on. It’s very difficult to be working alone as a freelancer and making money in this way. So I think what will happen is that a lot more influencers will start their own agencies. Influencers also might become consultants for brands. They may also find a home in TV as presenters instead of just having a blog. I think TV hasn’t made the shift from its traditional form to a more modern medium. We’ll be seeing influencers going into that world because there is still a lot of money in TV. The field needs to be modernized in a way that makes it more engaging. A lot of consultancy will happen in the field of television engagement. There is so much video content and it has no place to live and that’s actually what television should be. By going into these new fields and roles, influencers will be working in worlds where their expertise is needed.

Do you have an all-time favorite influencer campaign?

For me, it’s always Nike. I think they really do their research. A really good example of a Nike influencer campaign is the collaboration they recently had with Virgil Abloh, with the sneaker design campaign, “The Ten.” I think the rollout of the campaign and the events and workshops that took place are a great example of not just co-creation but also of researching what people want. A lot of content was generated organically because consumers really wanted to get those sneakers and post about it. It’s a great example of how influencer marketing and co-creation can perform really well. They’ve done an incredible job.

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