ProVeg International was recently joined by three plant-based marketing specialists for a webinar on social-media influencers and their place in marketing strategies. Lydia Stuart-Kregor, the Category and Strategy Manager at plant-based dessert brand Oggs, Bernat Añaños, the Co-founder and Chief Social Movement Officer of plant-based meat company Heura Foods, and Maxence Damarey, the Co-Founder and CEO of Øzers, all shared their insights on the topic.
Key areas covered in this webinar include how to build relationships with influencers to promote your brand, how to seek out influencers who align with your values, the challenges of working with influencers, and the benefits of paid versus unpaid collaboration.
Building relationships with influencers
The panellists first share insights into the most effective way to build connections and relationships with social-media influencers. Having started out as small companies with few resources, all of the speakers agree it is best to begin by collaborating with those who share your brand’s mission and values, and thus foster a natural connection.
Bernat highlights the importance of remembering that influencers are not just another tool in the arsenal of the marketing team, but are rather real human beings who have their own goals and values.
The panellists begin to draw out the theme of transactionalism, agreeing that the focus should be on building a long-term and equitable partnership, as opposed to forcing an inauthentic exchange. As Max points out, by choosing influencers who already love your product and are aligned with your values, they will produce more genuine content and will not need strict guidelines on what to post. This authentic love will filter through to their audience and reflect positively upon your brand.
Lydia reminds us that, when forging connections with influencers, it has to be a two-way street – it should not just be the influencers giving and the brands taking. Brands should ensure they work with influencers on an individual level and get to know the person behind the account. Max seconds this, going a step further to highlight how the influencer must feel like they too are speaking with a real person, as opposed to a faceless representative of an aggregate company.
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Who is the ideal influencer partner?
For Max’s brand, Øzers, the type of influencer they wanted to represent the brand was immediately clear: combat-sport athletes in France. This immediately honed in on their product’s target demographic, and meant that they were able to approach the most appropriate influencers: Olympic athletes who were quickly convinced by the product.
You need to find the right key people at the beginning because that will improve your strategy in the future.”
Going further, Lydia highlights how brands must differentiate between their current consumer and their target consumer. Brands should identify who these people are, who they follow, and how they currently interact with the brand online. From this, networks can spring up organically.
Macro- versus micro-influencers
For our panellists, both the smaller (micro) and larger (macro) influencers can play a role in marketing strategy.
Oggs prefer to use micro-influencers as there is less cost associated, they tend to have more engaged audiences, and brand partnerships come across as more natural and genuine.
Heura, on the other hand, tries not to differentiate between the two types and has found both kinds of influencers want to support the brand when they see their values are aligned. While macro-influencers may usually have a cost for product promotion, Bernat insists that creativity can go a long way in getting even the largest of influencers on board, saying: “There is always a different way to approach people that you think are impossible to approach…You have to think of how you will stand out.”
There is always a different way to approach people that you think are impossible to approach…You have to think of how you will stand out.”
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Paid versus unpaid product promotion
There is some contention as to the role of payment in influencer marketing. Heura prefers to form and maintain relationships with influencers in exchange for experiences and opportunities, for example, a stay at their ‘Rebel House’ in Costa Brava, explains Bernat. He argues that this serves both parties more effectively than a monetary transaction.
Max, however, states that “at some point you have to” pay influencers – a sentiment echoed by Lydia, who argues that ‘influencing’ is now a full-time job for many.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a binary of you either have a relationship and you aren’t paying them, or you’re paying them and it’s a business transaction…It’s not unreasonable that if you’re using their time that you would pay for that in the way that you pay for a PR agency or a digital agency.”
For Øzers, a combined strategy is best, mixing paid opportunities with unpaid and gifted ones. One is not better than the other: “It’s up to you to define if the collaboration will be profitable or not.”
The challenges of working with influencers
Some of the key challenges the panellists emphasise include cross-cultural difficulties, the management of company expectations, and the saturation of the market.
In Heura’s attempt to expand globally, Bernat highlights how influencer marketing cannot be effective without comprehensive knowledge of each country’s social, cultural and political landscape.
Lydia moreover reminds us that not all influencer and social-media marketing will go viral — a common misconception for those new to this kind of marketing. Managing this expectation among team members is thus essential and ensures that we also utilise other forms of marketing and PR to promote products.
The issue of standing out comes up once again, as Max explains. Almost every athlete Øzers seeks out is already sponsored by a sports nutrition brand, so it can be difficult to convince them of your brand, product, and mission. “Sometimes, you have to convince them with the paycheck as well as the mission,” Max admits.
Advice for startups approaching influencers
Our panellists recommend three key actions:
- Be authentic and personable
Lydia recommends engaging with influencers’ content frequently and getting to know them as a person – the influencer should know who you are before you message them privately. This will humanise your brand and expand your network.
In Bernat’s words: “Be proud of being a company, being a business. Businesses can do good things.”
- Be generous
When your budget is small, it is important to combine being authentic with scale.
Max suggests casting your net wide and sending plenty of gifts to amplify your reach. Even micro-influencer accounts can have a huge impact.
- Be creative
Don’t limit yourself to DMs only — instead try networking at in-person events in order to make a lasting impression. Consider how you yourself would like to be approached if you were in their shoes.
“Resonate with them: what is it about that influencer in particular…beyond the fact you’re a plant-based brand and they’re vegan? It’s got to have a little more substance than that,” says Lydia.
Mistakes in influencer marketing
From the perspective of Oggs, Lydia suggests that brands should not stretch themselves too thin, and instead be clear on exactly who they want to work with in order to minimise wasting time and product.
Even if a collaboration is successful, notes Lydia, you will not see immediate results. Adjusting expectations is thus vital. “These things take time…It’s about continuous exposure and relationship building.”
Bernat expands further on this idea and emphasises that making people care about your product is essential to see a high ROI. By personalising each box of product and thinking creatively, brands can craft a story to tell the world – something which helps influencers to create interesting content.
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Finally, Max comes back to the point of being authentic, putting values first, and being mission-driven. Drawing anecdotally on Øzers’ experience with influencers, he highlights how focusing too much on follower count and engagement rates can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, brands should put shared messages and values before numbers and sales.
For Max, the key point to take home from this discussion is to think about the strategy as a whole, rather than as a one-time opportunity.
Similarly, Lydia suggests that brands should view influencer marketing as building a relationship that will last, rather than as a single business transaction. She suggests scaling back your marketing strategy to a level where you can have genuine relationships with each influencer you collaborate with.
Bernat reminds us that changing the food system is a marathon, not a sprint:
It is a marathon and you have to pick who you want to run it with. Take it step by step, expect to go slower sometimes. Create a platform which is unique, explains who you are, and is strong enough to keep on running. We have to remember there is a lot to do to change the food system.”
If you enjoyed this webinar and would like to take a deeper dive into the world of influencer marketing then check out our whitepaper, ‘How to work with influencers to reach key consumers’. Find case studies and strategies that fit your plant-based brand.
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