Fashion Group International Presents “The Influencer Factor”

What becomes an influencer, or the brand they’re promoting, most? I’ve appropriated the old Blackglama mink tag line to represent the subject of last night’s FGI panel discussion, “The Influencer Factor” held at the Hearst Tower auditorium and led by EIC of Marie Claire USA Anne Fulenwider. Panelists included Toto Haba, VP of Global Digital Marketing, Benefit Cosmetics; Conor Begley, Co-Founder and President, Tribe Dynamics; Brittany Hennessy, Director, Influencer Talent, Hearst Digital Media and Kyle Anderson, Market and Accessories Director, Marie Claire.

First off the bat, “What is an influencer?” short definition version. Anderson — “An ‘influencer’ is someone who would influence someone’s decision to buy something.” Hennessy — “People who create great content”. Conor Begley — “I think of them as publishers rather than influencers. Those who build an audience and try to monetize it. This is the new wave of non-traditional publishers.” Haba — “The cream is rising to the top. There are really two kinds of content — How-to-use vs. aspirational.”

How does one track ROI (Return On Investment) when using influencers? Begley mentions that his company tracks the top 50 lifestyle influencers and sets about figuring out the correlation in revenue growth or value generated, which is not an easy proposition. In a case such as Gucci which has gained a large market share since designer Alessandro Michele came on board as Design Director (try 300% year-over-year), how do you measure the improvement in product against the large investment in influencer development? It is suggested that one needs to read the tea leaves on the relationship between the two variables. Later on, Haba mentions that there are algorithms to measure how influencers do in certain instances.

Fulenwider asks about paid vs. organic influencers — how do you create a spark for a brand? Haba mentions an incentive trip where 25 of their top influencers were sent to Necker Island to help launch a product.  The product became the top seller at Sephora that week. Anderson breaks down the difference between fashion and beauty influencers remarking that you often see “people dressed by a brand or carrying a brand’s bag at fashion week” and you don’t know if they were gifted that bag or they bought it themselves.

As far as selecting an organic choice of influencer, everyone agreed that it’s important to have someone who’s a fan of the brand or somehow identified with it such as Gucci Ghost with Gucci over an Instagram fave like Kendall Jenner. “We are thinking of these people as editors,” he said adding that they like to “bring the influencer into the creative process when possible” so that they’ll have “genuine enthusiasm for a brand giving it authenticity.”

Hennessy adds that they look for scale and engagement with a brand, “Does an influencer actually like the brand? I look for someone who has bought the brand herself.”  She cautioned against what they call “Thirst Traps” with Instagram followers. For instance, take Karlie Kloss, please. “Seventy-five percent of her followers are men, so we can use her for beer, sports or cars,” she said. If a man said that, it would be considered sexist, right?

Haba avoids falling into this situation: “We make influencers give up their follower data, audience demographics, and growth. That way we can narrow it for a product launch and target to a specific audience.”

A brief summary of earned media (editorial coverage) vs. paid media ensues and who is budgeting for what. It is mentioned that 40% of the marketing budget goes to influencers in the beauty biz. To get editorial coverage you need a really great product. If you don’t have a good product and people talk about it you will get creamed. Believe it or not, Kylie Jenner Beauty is one of the top 10 brands right now.

“The tipping point is, is it believable?” said Hennessy. “The top influencers are very protective about their brand and don’t want to sign on unless they believe in the product or they will lose followers. Some brands don’t get it — they want to instruct the influencer how to promote the product which is not authentic. If the content is good, people don’t care if the influencer was paid, or if there’s a #Ad.”

A few quick stats according to Begley — the top growing cosmetics companies NYX (“I thought it was a New York airport at first,”) Too Faced, and Anastasia Beverly Hills, all worked directly with smaller influencers — NYX with about 700-800 and Too Faced with about 1,500. Haba gets his plug in by adding that Benefit (founded in SF in 1976) has over 10,000 influencers worldwide and is now a $1.5 billion company.

Lastly, when working with influencers there’s often a “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach. Begley believes that there should be a “very genuine relationship” between the influencers and the brand. There should be a consistent approach to “finding the people who really love your brand and helping them to grow.”

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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