‘Influencers’ is a lovely buzzword like ‘online marketing’ and ‘millennial’s’…

…it can mean everything and nothing – classifying a broad range of people that (somehow) can bring attention to a specific audience. For the purpose of this article, let’s define them as being ‘a group of people with the ability to reach a wide audience in an emotional way that shapes the behaviour of others’. ‘Wide audience‘ is also highly subjective – it could be 1000 Ugandans in London, 1m Nigerians in Africa or 50m football fans globally.

Influencers give brands something hard to buy – authenticity & credibility

Big brands have the ability to buy all the display ads and OOH posters that money can buy. But the one big thing they struggle with is authenticity. If you’re a multi-billion $ business with a global footprint, how to you tell a Ghanaian that ‘yes, you mean something to us’? – the answer is often via Influencers. An example of great execution (with all football fans globally, not just migrants) is Adidas’s Tango Squad FC – taking Influencers aged between 16-19 living in 15 cities worldwide, who communicate with the brand via Messenger and WhatsApp. The squads are given exclusive access to Adidas football content, and opportunities to work with its sponsored clubs and players, experiences which they then share. This is not something Adidas could simply buy with a sponsored Premier League superstar – it takes them closer to their real consumer base.

Why do Influencers work so well in Africa?

Let’s remember something important – Africa is a) big and b) linguistically, racially and culturally disparate with 54 nations. Not to mention the lack of pan-African infrastructure connecting each country. In short – getting a consistent brand message across the continent is no easy task – certainly harder than in Europe or the Americas where media buy and advertising work seamlessly. A local Influencer from a specific country can add relevance to a specific tribe, language, social group or gender. With a local set of Influencers, brands can run a continent-wide campaign whilst allowing a local voice to micro-target a specific group of people.

Image: Source BCG – distance as well as culture separate Africa’s people from each other.

Everyone’s using English, but not in an English way

Across Anglophone Africa, English is used as the primary means of communication for government, commerce and consumer advertising. But that doesn’t mean it’s a language that will cut through emotionally for a brand. Every country across the continent will be using idioms, humour and word plays based on the local languages spoken. Using a well known speaker of a local language allows a brand to connect in an emotional way. This is not about pure reach – but relevant reach for the brand.

Money transfer disruptor WorldRemit recently ran Influencer campaigns across its key markets in Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria to help sell its international money transfer proposition. It’s a category that is confusing; most consumers have a low level of trust in international remittances and fear extortionate commission. Using local Influencers in each market, WorldRemit used a mixture of English & local languages to convey their value proposition. (Image Sheila Gashumba – Uganda – an Influencer used by WorldRemit to reach her 50k Ugandan fans on Instagram.)

Influencers allow brands to have an African sense of humour

Its harder than ever for any global brand to communicate universal values that avoid causing offence to someone, somewhere. What seems funny to a Danish man might be strange or offensive to an Ethiopian woman. Influencers give brands the chance to talk in a lighthearted and fun way specifically to a local community. WorldRemit’s Nigeria series were based on very specific Nigerian humour. The authenticity gave the brand a new perspective in the country. ‘Is London a country or a city‘ would bemuse a global audience, but the executional style in Nigeria was seen as fun, engaging and specific to their market.

An African Influencer is a global asset

There are tens of millions of African’s living and working across the world; many of these consumers will look to ‘home’ for news, fun and enjoyment. Moreover, they will be more emotionally invested in brands that communicate their global message in a local voice. This is particularly seen with female beauty and cosmetics. If you’re a black woman in a provincial city in the north of England, the chances are – there isn’t a massive assortment of products that meet your needs. Most local products and salons will not offer advice nor a range that will be relevant.

An Influencer like PeakMill from Nigeria who specialises in wigs, beauty and cosmetics seems a lot closer than the local salon if she can recommend tips and treatments that work with your skin. For many brands, an African Influencer will really be a global asset.

Beware – an Influencer is a person, not a poster!

According to Willy Mutenza, CEO of Promota Africa (UK) the biggest risks with Influencers lie with the inability to control their future actions:

“Companies like Airtel, MTN, Uber and Brussels Airlines have used Influencers extensively to influence new customers and also keep their brand awareness in the public domain. However its so important that you do due-diligence on the Influencer to ensure there are no integrity issues which might damage the company they represent.”

The very attraction of using Influencers – their authenticity, can haunt a brand which aligns too firmly with any one personality. A brand equity mistake is only a tweet away or an offensive opinion from a media circus. Additionally, there’s a need to be cynical on the number of followers to ensure that the reach of any consumer message is genuine. Clear guidelines between brand and Influencer are needed – ideally with a well written contract explaining the expectations of behaviour. Influencers are here to stay – a sound strategy within a wider marketing plan can make them a great asset for migrants as well as mainstream mass consumers.

The author of this article, Martin Best is the Managing Director of the agency Full Reach, and has run campaigns across Africa including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. Martin was previously Head of EMEA Marketing and Global Marketing Partnerships for WorldRemit, where he delivered two global campaigns ‘Money in Safe Hands (2016) and A better way to send money (2017).