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  • Writer's pictureSonny Ngatai

Treating Influencers as Marketing Tools: The Mistake Agencies Keep Making

Updated: May 30, 2023

Watching ads on TV as an 8-year-old was captivating. 'Sharpen Up' ads from Lift Plus, with the "oh mum look" stare of death, to the wooden spoon prank - I laughed every time. I could lip-sync "Better living New Zealand'' with the Glad Wrap lady in unison. And let's be honest, if you didn't try to show off to your friends at school by reciting, "I've been internalising a really complicated situation in my head." Did you even go to school? Before Youtube changed the game - well before my parents allowed me to sign up to access the internet - these were my influencers. Influencer marketing to 8-year-old Sonny at its best! Me, my TV and I.

Today, the buffet of influencers available to us is enormous. There are influencers for everything, from fashion and reo Māori to gaming and māra kai. The availability of social media platforms has made it easier than ever for people to build a following and influence others. As a result, influencer marketing has become more complex and sophisticated. Brands can now work with influencers who are specifically aligned with their values and target audience, allowing for more targeted and effective marketing.

Influencers provide an authentic and genuine connection with audiences. We see them as real people who endorse kaupapa they believe in rather than just marketing channels or a random ghost offering chips. As a result, influencer marketing has evolved.

But the core of influencer marketing remains the same: to connect with audiences on a personal level and build trust through relatable content.

But why are we still working with influencers like we used to?

One of the biggest issues I see with influencer marketing is the way some brands and companies treat influencers as nothing more than a tool to promote their products or services. This is a mistake. In the words of the great puppet Pinocchio, "I'm a real boy!" Influencers are real people! - With unique voices, values, and interests. Unlike our national treasure, the 'Briscoes lady,' influencers aren't an extension of your brand or campaign but a mouthpiece to re-share your message to an audience that doesn't listen to you.

Think of a cup of milk - it better have been oat milk.

Whether you serve it to me, with a straw, in a glass or mug, it's still milk. Real influencer marketing is adding Milo to that bland old milk. It's the combination of milk and Milo, neither overpowering the other but working together as a refreshing drink. Now, you're probably thinking, "What in the actual Whakatāne is going on here? We've gone from ads to milk...make it make sense?!"

Let me give you some real-world examples. This year the Olympics of Haka, Te Matatini returned after a four-year hiatus. As per usual, it was out of this world! With over 1.3 million streams on TVNZ and a gazillion more engagements across socials, it REALLY was as big as the Olympics.

But one key aspect that I most enjoyed was the 'Te Aorere' social takeovers leading up to the Haka marathon. As Kapa campaigns were ending, Te Matatini's social campaign was just heating up! With Te Aorere's comedic flare, we saw Blue's players, Tipene funerals, NZ of the year nominee and Matariki GOAT, the celestial Rangi Mataamua, Turia from Shorty Street and even Sir Pita Sharples make guest appearances. Information about the dates, how to navigate around Ngā Ana Wai Eden park, and even how to score free tickets were all shared in the most non-govt Milo combo way! Now the Milk analogy makes sense...

And examples of good influencer partnerships continue! Social platform giant Hahana also saw significant success during its 2022 Matariki campaign! Hahana has always known that the traditional approach of working with influencers must be rethought entirely if we want messaging to be on-brand and still attractive to audiences. Their collaborative and mana-enhancing approach to working with influencers resulted in 3 million engagements across their platforms - just for Matariki!

Hahana and the other stars before and after can all take a bow, 'Mānawatia a Matariki' will rival any Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. And while engagement was high on Hahana, they also empowered and trusted their influencers to post content to their own platforms. Making it a win-win for everyone!

But only some paddle their waka this way. Many still steer from the front in search of their own Glad Rap lady. But she moved on, and so should you!

Forcing influencers to promote messages that don't align with their personal brand or values is a mistake many make. It's like fake laughing in front of someone. It's inauthentic and insincere. I recently experienced this firsthand when I was asked to create content for a national campaign. While the marketing agent provided an overview and messaging points, they essentially gave me the freedom to craft my script for the videos I made. However, when I wanted to create a video that aligned with my personal brand and values, it was deemed off-brand. Cue the fake laugh. This led to a rewrite of the script, a change in my intended direction and what’s worse my Sonny’isms were stricken off.

But the truth is, we know our audience best. Influencers know their audience and have built trust through relatable content. Making influencers fit into your agenda delivers low conversions and can damage their BFF bonds with their audience. Brands and companies should trust influencers to create content and work with them to find ways to incorporate their messaging into that content naturally. This approach will enable brands to reach their target audience effectively, and they will see better engagement.

The key is to balance the influencer's personal brand and the brand's messaging, creating a mutually beneficial partnership that makes the best damn Milo there is!

Instead of treating influencers as marketing tools, treat them as people with their own unique voice. Trust them to create content that resonates with their audience. Doing so can make powerful messaging that reaches a large audience and has a natural, lasting impact.


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