Guest post by Benjamin von Martens
Influencer marketing is one of the most innovative marketing disciplines. Unfortunately, the influencer industry is suffering from unprofessional work, says Benjamin von Martens, founder of .martensgarten. He explains what we need to improve and why.
Ask the German media industry why certain media and people stay in business for so long, and you’ll hear the same answer again and again—because those are the ones that work professionally and fairly, spelling a win-win for everyone. Professionalism and fairness are the reasons why German pop star Helene Fischer stands out from all the rest, why hip hop dinosaurs “Die Fantastischen Vier” are still around, why German model Lena Gercke is more famous than other Germany’s Next Top Model contestants, and why, despite all the prophecies of doom, TV advertising still generates extremely high sales.
Judging by these criteria, the outlook for the influencer industry isn’t great. Quite a few advertisers report paying “astronomical prices” when they first tried it. Meanwhile, influencers recall contracts that were barely profitable, leading to unsatisfactory content. Three years after we launched the German Association of Influencer Marketing, in some respects we’re still far from our original intention of establishing ourselves as a “creative, sustainable and visionary discipline”.
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Challenge 1: Dollar signs instead of a desire for innovation
In my opinion, the influencer industry still doesn’t grasp its importance for innovation in communication. Be it TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube, whenever a new medium comes along, influencers are the first to understand how to build reach and win fans. And no wonder, for people use these new networks to follow people, not to be sold to by brands. With each of these new media, we had the chance to define marketing on this channel – after all, we’re the experts. Instead, influencers simply did what the marketers told them – even though the marketers knew less about this medium than the influencers. We have to change this and explore new media together with our followers. Sure, we can invite the brands to be part of this journey—but with us firmly in the driving seat.
Challenge 2: No sustainable branding
Amazingly, whenever I tell anyone outside the influencer industry that .martensgarten manages actors and markets influencers, they immediately get the link between the two. Well-established influencer brands are as durable and high-quality as those of actors. They’re treated with the same respect and receive equally serious offers. Only the industry sees things differently, excited by the prospect of making a quick buck. Yet I believe that smart influencers are more interested in their “lifetime value” rather than their “fee per post.” Instead of holding out for the highest bidder, they strive to develop together. Collaboration should bring the values of the brand and the person together so that they both benefit for a fee that’s mutually fair.
Challenge 3: No knowledge of the media business
However, in order to know what fees and contracts are fair, you need to know the business – the media business. I’m not just saying this because I spent years working for companies like ProSiebenSat.1, Axel Springer, and Hubert Burda Media. Influencers aren’t just “celebrities” – they’re media in their own right. The magazine InStyle’s Instagram account is in direct competition with that of influencer Caro Daur (and which one has more followers ought to be obvious to everyone). Accordingly, influencers should also be marketed like media with their own profile, an editorial concept, and campaign concepts that are more elaborate than “Your shower gel in my Insta story will cost you €500.” These concepts should include goals, strategies, and KPIs. If we take the plunge here, this will strengthen our position in the marketing mix – and ensure better campaigns, better content, and happier followers.
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Challenge 4: Not thinking outside the box
The fourth problem is ultimately related to the third. For good concepts, you have to think outside the box. The best influencer for a topic may not be a traditional influencer at all, but an athlete, actor, doctor, or an artist instead. At .martensgarten, we, therefore, develop holistic media concepts for our clients, that don’t just feature the influencers we represent – and sometimes don’t even include any influencers at all. For example, for the American Football League NFL, we work with German actor Matthias Schweighöfer – because he suits the concept. Instead of questions like “What do I have to sell? Who doesn’t have it yet? And who wants more?” we need to ask “How does a brand find its way to its target group?”
Conclusion: It’s time to recognize and increase our worth
I believe that we as an industry have the chance to play a far more prominent role in marketing. But to do so, we need to raise our game in terms of professionalism and fairness. This will result in successful campaigns for advertisers, exciting content for followers, and long-term careers for influencers.
Benjamin von Martens (39) is the founder of the influencer marketing agency .martensgarten and one of the most established cross-media and artist marketing experts in Germany.
After looking after international stars like Justin Timberlake for RTL show Top of the Pops in the late 1990s, in 2003 Benjamin began developing cross-media marketing concepts for ProSiebenSat.1, Axel Springer, Funke Medien, and Hubert Burda Media. He repositioned media brands such as BILD.de and BUNTE.de on the market and managed the launch of HarpersBAZAAR’s digital activities in Germany. In 2015, Benjamin von Martens established .martensgarten, as one of the first influencer marketing agencies in Germany. His goal was to generate better results for brands and influencers through professional collaboration. This was also the motive for joining forces with others to set up the German Association of Influencer Marketing in 2017. These days, .martensgarten works on behalf of influencers such as Chany Dakota, Adriana Burova, and Tom Twers as well as brands like H&M, NFL, JBL, and McDonald’s. In addition, actors such as Tim Oliver Schultz, Nadine Warmuth, Gina Stiebitz, and Caro Cult all place their trust in .martensgarten’s celebrity expertise and digital know-how.