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“It’s worth it in all sectors.”

Influencer marketing explained by a professional

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Influencers are an indispensable element of a modern marketing mix. They set the tone on social media and play a key role in deciding tomorrow’s trends and flops. But how does successful influencer marketing work, and what needs to be taken into special consideration when selecting influencers? Katrin Krautgasser from the Berlin-based digital agency Plan.Net NEO is an absolute expert in these matters. Drawing on 13 years’ diverse experience in influencer marketing with very different clients, including from the interiors industry, she provides some top tips in our interview.

The world of influencers: Recommendation Marketing 2.0

“At the heart of it, you’ll find influencers everywhere. You can be an influencer, just as I’m an influencer,” Krautgasser makes this clear right at the start of our interview. “The big advantage that professional influencers have is greater reach that extends beyond their circle of friends and family.”

But what exactly makes influencers different from the faces that we usually see in advertising? What makes them so valuable and special for businesses? Krautgasser explains: “Influencers have a kind of parasocial relationship with their followers. That means that, because influencers share a lot about their private lives and allow their community into their private lives, I as a follower consider them a good friend. If they then present a product to me or talk about a particular topic, I listen to them. By contrast, a musician or an actor, for example, doesn’t have this parasocial relationship. They are simply too far away and out of reach. With influencers, you just have this personal connection.” Krautgasser summarises it aptly: “Influencer marketing is Recommendation Marketing 2.0 with three key advantages: high-quality content, the community’s trust and a direct and personal communication channel.”

With 15 years’ experience in very different roles and sectors, Katrin Krautgasser of Plan.Net NEO is an absolute expert in her field. (Photos: left: Katrin Krautgasser; right: Jon Tyson, Unsplash)

Finding the right influencer for your business

“The best influencers are actually those who already know the brand, are already using it and maybe show it in their content even without an advertising cooperation,” explains Krautgasser. But that’s just the ideal – it seldom happens in practice. “That’s why it’s crucial for brands to define: What are our values? What are our USPs? Who is our target group? And based on these criteria, they can then start their influencer search.” As Miriam Schmalen emphasised in our interview about service design, Krautgasser stresses the importance of defining the brand precisely. But what comes after that? How do companies look for and find the right influencers for their business? Krautgasser’s tip: “It’s important to use different channels. Jumping straight on Instagram and searching for a wide range of hashtags can be helpful, but there are tools, too. They can be used to find out which influencers have already named or tagged your product. When making the choice, a perfect brand fit is vital. That’s more important than high reach. In a nutshell, high reach doesn’t always mean that it’s the best influencer for my product.”

“That’s why we do a deep dive and look at their content over the last six months. We take a look and ask ourselves: How safe is the brand with these influencers? Do they fit the brand with their values, their lifestyle in general? Do they speak to the target group that the brand wants to target? These are things that need to be taken into account during the selection. More than the mere number of followers,” says Krautgasser as she explains her agency’s process.

"The younger generation is very conscious. They live very consciously and think very carefully about what they consume, where they go, where they get their food, where they buy their furniture."

Take a position!

But for what kind of business does influencer marketing actually make sense? “It’s worth it in all sectors. And it’s relevant even for small businesses. For the furniture store on the corner, for example, it’s worth looking for regional influencers.” But it’s not as simple as that. Open Instagram, look for the right influencers, and you’re done – that’s only half the story. According to Krautgasser, the company’s position is becoming increasingly important: “Influencers are now very careful when they’re choosing who they work with. They pay great attention to making sure that the brand they’re collaborating with genuinely fits the values they represent. In this area, we’re seeing a big shift when it comes to sustainability and social justice. Because it’s clear that companies that ignore these issues run the risk of encountering fierce criticism with their influencer marketing. A current good example is the cooperation between Shirin David and McDonalds. Although her community doesn’t seem to be hugely interested in sustainability at first, we can see in the comments that Shrin’s community isn’t convinced by the collaboration at all due to sustainability and environmental issues.”

Krautgasser says: “It’s very important to understand that influencers are showing greater awareness when choosing who they work with. It’s about sustainability, diversity, the environment, animal welfare, human rights and related issues. All those socially and politically important issues – influencers are concerned about them, too. And that includes even the influencers and their followers that you wouldn’t initially expect to be interested in these topics. The young generation is hyper-aware. They live very consciously and think carefully about how they consume, where they go, where their food comes from, where they buy their furniture.”

Camera, smartphone, tablet: the influencer’s tools

One big advantage of influencers: They produce their own unique content, and this is how they reach their target group everywhere. (Photo: Brooke Lark, Unsplash)

Virtual influencers – are they the future?

But with all the influencer collaborations there are today, how can companies really achieve effective results? The answer: by innovating. Even modern fields in the digital economy such as influencer marketing aren’t immune to transformation and further development. “Virtual influencers” is the buzzword of the moment in Recommendation Marketing 2.0. Krautgasser explains what it means: “Virtual influencers are essentially digital avatars with their own social media profiles. Their appearance is virtual; their personalities are purely virtual, but they have their own character. Just like typical influencers, they share their lives with their community and give them insights as far as this is possible.” One of these virtual influencers is Noonoouri. After five long years of work, a Munich graphic designer created the character and gave her a personality with her own values and attitudes. Noonoouri has worked as a virtual influencer for luxury brands such as Dior and Versace as well as for companies like Zalando.

“The advantages of virtual influencers are that they are very controllable and 100 per cent brand-safe. They communicate the brand’s CI one for one. Human problems – sickness, unreliability, mistakes – don’t exist. And there aren’t any scandals either. They’re completely excluded, and it’s highly plannable. But there are a few downsides as well. Because they’re staged, they appear somewhat less credible and less authentic. There are, of course, virtual influencers that already look like a person. We can identify with them in a certain way. But then there’s the problem that they often reproduce the wrong images of beauty. Virtual influencers reveal the fantasy or the ideal of a person. It’s not very real and therefore not very credible or authentic. They’re not going to be the only way forward, but as a creative new development – and especially in the context of the metaverse – virtual influencers are set to become more and more important. Nevertheless, I’m sure that ‘normal’ influencers won’t lose their value. They can produce high-quality content themselves; they’re very authentic and very close to their target group. At the moment, these advantages very clearly outweigh.”

What other advantages clearly outweigh the alternatives? A company stand at the imm Spring Edition 2023 – register now !