Trend: Influencer-led revolution sweeps Gulf’s digital and social media

Article by Manoj Nair, Associate Editor, Gulf News

First came the “influencers” and now marketing services firms in Dubai are setting up full-fledged divisions to match them with potential brands and select campaigns. And then there are the talent agencies — more used to handling fashion models and celebrities — busy signing the best and the brightest of influencers.

Clearly, the influencer-led revolution that has swept the Gulf’s in digital and social media over the last 12 months is looking to have a lot of staying power. These days it is quite unlikely that you haven’t come across an influencer. If you feel like adding “follow” to any person of interest in the digital and social media space, that makes an influencer. And if these influencers manage to rack tens of thousands of followers like yourself, they can make or break brands they talk about.

This is where their marketing influence comes into play. And brands everywhere want to harness that influence to their advantage.

Which is when agencies and specialist firms come into the picture. They marry an influencer to a campaign or product.

It was in June that Cicero and Bernay (C&B) launched “See & Be”, its dedicated influencer-based programme. “While influencers and their social media offer optimised channels for delivery, content still rules,” said Jamal Iqbal, Director — Brand Outreach at Cicero & Bernay. “And campaigns must be charted keeping in mind accountability at every stage.

“For influencers we represent, we ensure the right kind of brand partnerships, great content, top-notch production values. And the guidance of when to say “No” to a brand that might not be suitable to them.

“Fees, contracts and royalties are of course negotiated keeping in mind the best RoI (return on investment) to marketing spend for brands and the “time-to-service” ratio to influencers. As an influencer, their talent is what makes them special. We allow them to be themselves and focus on that special, while we focus on building their personal brand.

“We are a New-Age solution to the marketing challenges faced by brands in an increasingly digital world, where consumer attention span is often captured or lost in 5 seconds.”

It wasn’t as if C&B made a sudden entry into managing influencers. There was a beta testing phase for six month for Arabian Automobiles and the Infiniti brand. But it is still a learning curve for agencies and brands in how best to handle what influencers have to say about them.

Iqbal says this is par for the course. “As is always the case with any new marcom tactic, certain clients justifiably more conservative when it comes to disruption of their time-tested tactics,” he added. “At these points we offer brand or product specific programmes tailored to needs that range from new launches to promotions to events.

“When they see direct, measurable outcomes on their desired KPIs (key performance indicators), they often change these to long-term partnerships. At present, our ratio of clients that wish for six-monthly and even yearly partnerships versus those wanting ad hoc projects is a healthy 1:3.”

Even as more agencies get into the business of handling influencers, campaigns are starting to feature them prominently.

Canon’s regional operations announced a partnership with the Arab YouTube star and travel influencer Haifa Beseisso. This was to launch the company’s new brand proposition — “Live for the story” — and especially with a younger audience.

Beseisso, for her part, will create videos that will tell her story of being a local influencer and with a passion to travel.

““Live for the story” is an industry-defining approach developed to completely change the way that people view Canon,” said Venkatasubramanian Hariharan, the B2C Business Unit Head, Canon Middle East, in a statement at the time. “The shift sees Canon cement itself as a storytelling brand, ensuring that every output from its entire ecosystem and product portfolio helps consumers to tell their story.”

Channelling the influencer in you

Do you have what it takes to be an influencer? You can find out by giving your voice and thoughts on brands and anything else you feel having a viewing on.

Now, Dubai based Access Influence has launched a digital platform to make it easier to voice those views. It connects the “most loved brands with their loyal consumers”, offering opportunities in word of mouth marketing.

The platform even rewards consumers for sharing experiences about brands they relate to.

“Spending money on advertising is becoming less and less effective due to general ad blindness,” said Nour El Chaar, CEO of Access Influence, in a statement. “Companies, regardless of size, stand to make the most of their marketing budgets by rewarding passionate advocates and growing with them in a market environment where trust in brands is low.

“By creating real conversations within relevant communities, the overall authenticity of the brand is elevated, while influencing purchase decisions among more like-minded and trusted consumers such as friends, family members and peer-groups. In today’s gig-economy, consumers who become brand advocates also benefit commercially from working with brands they already love.”

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