Interviews

From Alibaba to SMEs, this business bottled and monetised influencer marketing

11 min read

14 February 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

Thought the services of online influencers were beyond the budget of your humble SME? They're not, says fresh-faced influencer marketing platform founder Ben Jeffries. As customers increasingly read up on businesses via social media, you better make sure that your company, digital or traditional, communicates the language of their goods and services online, and influencers can help you do that. (They don't even have to be celebrities).

Influencer marketing. It sounds frighteningly modern, doesn’t it? But, before you reach for the blue-rinse and deplore the state of society, you should know that the industry is useful to all types of businesses, digital and traditional.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a middle-aged entrepreneur who runs a tailor-made shoe business, you can and should make use of influencers. Why? Because they can help you sell your goods and services to the customers that you want to sell them to.

How do we know this to be true? Because we met up with a twenty-two-year-old influencer marketing entrepreneur who said exactly that.

More than that, he says that his company, the aptly named influencer marketing platform called Influencer, is actively looking to work with British SMEs, Why? We’ll find out later.

Influencer: From a student dream to billing global clients

Ben Jeffries was a Bath University graduate when he founded Influencer. As we stand today, the company counts digital banking giant Alibaba and e-commerce clothing brand Pretty Little Thing as clients and has achieved 40% QOQ growth in the two years since its launch in 2017.

But where did the idea for monetising the embryonic influencer economy come about? For Jeffries, it was triggered by an early entrepreneurial experience at the age of sixteen when he started his own clothing company.

From Chelsea FC to influencer marketing

Ben Jeffries of the Influencer

Ben Jeffries is the founder of Influencer. Source: The Tab

“So I had the company up and running,” says Jeffries, “but how was I going to make this business different and cool? How was I going to drive sales and generate that promotional aspect?

The solution for Jeffries was to get famous people to wear his product over social media, but where to start, and who to target?

“I was a Chelsea football club fan, so I reached out to the players to see if they would wear my product,” says Jeffries.

The initial response was positive, and Jeffries managed to get a number of Chelsea’s reserve players to wear his brand and post across social media.

“It’s like climbing a ladder,” says Jeffries, “people were engaging with the social media content where the players were wearing my clothes, and I was getting more social media followers in the process,” he says.

The eureka moment: Social networks can boost sales

“I started to think, If I can benefit from this network, so can other people, and their respective businesses, that’s where the spark for Influencer came from,” he continues.

“Influencer marketing is word-of-mouth marketing, plain and simple, it’s undeniably effective in our digital and social media savvy world.”

So, Influencer was set up with the specific intention of connecting brands with their desired customers via the work of influencers, but not just any influencers, they are matched via their compatibility with a brand and their desired customers.

Influencer marketing for dummies: The breakdown

“Influencer marketing is essentially the power behind word of mouth,” says Jeffries.

“It’s based on an influencer, (someone with tangible commercial influence over certain customers), who can tell those customers about a product or service they like,” he says.

“The way we talk to people has evolved, and is conducted largely through social media these days, that’s why you see influencers take pride of place over social media channels.”

Moreover, these messages don’t have to be communicated in obvious ways, says Jeffries, they don’t have to be an obvious post of the influencer with the product, they can be content-rich posts, videos, or even include the influencer visiting the business and attending related events.

Always look at the value of influencers

Although the world of influencer marketing is relatively new, it has undergone a series of re-evaluations about what constitutes effective influencer marketing, and what doesn’t.

This starts with the level of impact an influencer has over their followers, Jeffries explains further…

“Levels of engagement are underlined by the number of likes views and comments a post receives, it’s the engagement levels that businesses should be looking at if they want to work with an influencer.”

“There’s no point for a brand to work with an influencer based on the fact they have a high number of social media followers if the influencer does not engage with them, nor has any impact over them,” he continues.

Gaining that crucial ROI

“The level of effectiveness and commercial ROI for businesses depends on what the followers are doing with the content the influencer posts,” says Jeffries.

“When assessing the commercial power of an influencer, we ask ourselves a series of questions,” says Jeffries. “Does the content resonate with followers or not, and are followers actually going through and purchasing the goods and services advertised in that content or not?”

Trends and changes since the industry’s inception

“In 2016, the industry was infatuated by the numbers of followers an influencer had,” says Jeffries. “In 2017, it became the number of engagement levels,” he continues.

So, how about today?

“Then came the advent of micro-influencers,” says Jeffries. These influencers are the ones that should be of most interest to SMEs,” he says.

“Micro-influencers may only have, say, 10,000 followers, but the levels of engagement they have with followers and potential customers are far higher than some with double the number of followers,” he continues.

The value for businesses is in the content, not merely the ambassador

“In terms of cost-per-mile, you could afford to buy the services of say, 10 influencers with 10,000 followers each, as opposed to one ‘celebrity-style’ influencer with 100,000 followers,” says Jeffries.

“Followers are probably only following them because of their name and not because of their content, so that’s useless for SMEs trying to peddle their products through them,” he continues.

Micro-influencers can be a treasure-trove for SMEs

“With micro-influencers, people don’t follow you because of your name, as you’re not famous, to begin with! There more likely to be following you because they like and engage with your content, ” says Jeffries.

“This makes micro-influencers fruitful and more affordable ground for SME businesses to engage with,” he continues.

How Jeffries shapes campaigns for clients

“We have our own purpose-built technology that allows our clients to search influencers and build campaigns around the audience. We are data led,” says Jeffries with some confidence.

“This can come down to gender-based target objectives, do they want to target customers based in the capital, or under eighteen, we can tailor it right down to what customers they want to target, and align the right influencer for that specific campaign.”

Their unique approach: Quality first

“Think about it as the difference between influencers on one hand, who are more like demi-celebs and reality tv stars, and influential content creators on the other,” says Jeffries.

“The latter are the people we work with as they create content which is influential to follow and can drive engagement and sales with brands who work with them,” he continues.

I’m a ‘traditional’ SME, why would I need a social media presence?

Jeffries is not only passionate about social media influencers, but he is also passionate about businesses embracing the commercial possibilities social media, as a platform,  has to offer everyone…

“Not having a social media presence is detrimental to any brand, whether they are a goods or a services provider,” says Jeffries.

“When customers want to know something about the brand, they no longer just google it, they look at the brand’s social media channels, and if there isn’t anything there, they won’t trust them.”

Which social channels businesses should capitalise on and which ones they should leave behind

“Twitter is more of a customer service tool, it won’t do much to bolster a brand’s revenue,” says Jeffries of the social media stalwart.

“Whereas Instagram should be seen as a portfolio of a brand, it’s a natural instinct for customers to search out a brand online, it doesn’t have to be depth as long as there’s a presence there, that’s fine, as long as your mission is clear,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a construction company, potential clients will want to see how you come across as a brand online and what your culture seems to be,” he continues.

And with that, our meeting concludes, and Jeffries is off for another meeting to discuss expansion plans abroad…watch this space…