Lumanu co-founder, Tony Tran sits down with President of Elite Model World, Corey Martin, IMCX founder, Ismail Oyekan, and VP Influencer Marketing at Praytell, Rhea Woods, to discuss how influencer marketing is evolving beyond vanity metrics like follower count, into a true performance media channel backed by data. The video contains select highlights, read below for the full panel transcript:
Corey Martin: I’m Corey Martin, president of Elite World Group Digital. Basically, we represent 4,000 talent across the world with 23 offices globally. Frankly, it’s about 70 percent of the total modeling market that we represent.
Ismail Oyekan: And what are some of the brands that you guys work with?
Rhea Woods: So I work with Fender. We run their global influencer campaigns. We also work a lot in the automotive space and the audio sound space in automotive, as well as all the craft beer brands, Anheuser-Busch. We do Pepsi co.'s recycling business. A lot of corporate social good mixed into CPG.
Tony Tran: So we're a software platform, and it's very apt that we’re talking about the future of influencer marketing. We basically built a platform about three years ago predicting what are going to be the big problems facing this industry now. Three years ago, we wanted to have the software ready by the time these issues become big. I think we're gonna talk a lot about it here, but we basically help brands and creators share permissions and data much more seamlessly. And what it does is it unlocks this whole entire set of tactics, from whitelisting, dark posting, and all these things we'll talk about. But the idea is, you know, influencer marketing is just so much more than content likes and comments. So in terms of who we work with, we're a premium Facebook partner. We've worked with everyone from agencies' down to fashion brands, beauty brands. We work with Savage x Fenty, Rent the Runway, food and beverage. Our first client was actually in the alcohol space. As you can imagine, right, because advertisements should only be targeted to people 21 and up. You're an influencer and you post something online, you can't really control who sees it. So that's sort of the starting point of the evolution of today. Going from influencer marketing to a term that I'm trying to make stick. Who knows? It might. It might not. We're trying to call it influencer media.
Ismail Oyekan: So tell us a little bit more about what influencer media entails. Is it amplifying content?
Tony Tran: Yes. So I'm a math guy. So I'm just gonna simplify this down to an equation. I think influencer media is basically three things. Right. It's who's behind the content, who's the voice that, you know, the social handle. The second part is the content itself. Image, video, short form video, long form video, the actual content. And third is the audience. And I think the third one is where traditional influencer marketing sort of falls flat a little bit. We're fighting a battle here with the Facebook algorithm every single day. If you're an influencer with 100,000 followers, you're not going to reach a hundred thousand people. You might be lucky if you reach twenty, twenty five thousand. And out of those, you really don't control who sees the content. Right? It depends on your posting time. So I think, ultimately for me, influencer media is giving the influencer and brands they work with complete control over those three variables. The person (the identity), the content itself, and then the audience.
Rhea Woods: So that's something we're doing a lot of as well. It's funny you mentioned that 20 to 25 percent benchmark. We're seeing that across all of our campaigns on feed posts. Stories have a little bit less adoption. So if an influencer posts on their stories, we're looking at about 4 percent for those. But we are seeing those numbers increase as there's adoption of that element to the platform. But you're doing whitelisting or dark posting, as I know we're going to be calling it on this panel in some circumstances, it has become a really important part of the business as we've seen that the ability to get those hits and get those impressions really delivered to your core audience is just falling flat on organic. And you know, that for us signals a really strong pivot towards the micro space. I'm looking at people that have smaller, niche audiences that then we can put a microphone up to their content and amplify them as if they are macro influencers, and do so at a really cost efficient price in terms of fee.
Corey Martin: I'm going to be a little controversial here, especially to anyone in the audience that comes from the PR space. I spent about 20 plus years in public relations running major CPG brands, working in major PR agencies. And then I spent the last three years at a large advertising agency running the influencer marketing division. I saw a massive trend. A massive shift from basically earned engagement and the power of earned engagement, to the power of trackable media and the power of influencers as media, and most importantly, how we can really see that conversion into something meaningful, something measurable in a different way. And the reason I went from the PR side, the brand side, to the talent side is because I saw a massive power shift. A power shift that was either going to mean that I needed to be working directly for brands who had the supply or who had the demand rather, or working with talent, who had the supply. What I realized is that earned metrics, vanity metrics like likes and shares, weren't enough anymore to get the dollars. PR budgets were small and shrinking by the day. And really what we needed access to, and what we need access to, is media dollars, working dollars. So what Lumanu does, I think is quite interesting, is give us an ability to monetize talent in a new way. I actually expect us to see a trend, a shift in how talent are going to be monetizing their channels. We like to call ourselves at Elite, the world's largest talent media network, meaning that we actually have more eyeballs available to us than CNN, because we have the ability to reach massive amounts of people across the globe.
Ismail Oyekan: So let me ask you a question, everyone has a general consensus that influencer marketing is shifting towards micro influencers. You’re managing this huge talent.
Corey Martin: That's what I disagree with. That's absolutely what I disagree with.
Ismail Oyekan: What’s your opinion on that?
Corey Martin: I think it's shifting. There are three reasons why anyone would engage with talent: content, credibility, or channel. Meaning, you're paying somebody to create content - you're paying them for the celebrity cachet, their expertise. That's typically in the PR industry where we- the PR industry founded influencer marketing basically, paying somebody to bring their expertise or their credibility to the table. And the last one is channel. Channel really is where the eyeballs sit, that's really where the value is. But to date, no one's been able to figure out how to effectively monetize channel. No one's been able to effectively monetize audience. And that's largely been because of the fact that people are basing it on funny numbers, potential impressions. 'Oh, I have 8 million followers.' Well, as we discussed, only a small percentage of those people are actually going to see it. So, whereas micro influencers give you great engagement, you're still not going to get great sales from a micro influencer campaign only. You need a mix. We organize our talent by icon, superstars, and army. What that means is that we build programs with our talent that feature people that can deliver mass awareness at the iconic level, 3 million+ followers or more. And our army, which we qualify as people who are, say, micro influencers. And stars and supers are everybody in between. Micro influencers alone will deliver you great engagement, but I would ask any brand, is engagement enough for you to be able to track sales? Does an engagement metric give you enough information to be able to turn over more dollars year over year? And the fact is, I'm seeing more and more brands say no to that.
Corey Martin: So I think, to your point, having a mix is really important. And so where a lot of our campaigns will see value in having content creators who are building this great wealth of content, having a captain to lead the overall messaging is a really important part of that. That way, the storytelling is cohesive in a national way (if the brand is trying to have a national reach), but still ensuring that we have that local coverage with those micros. So we almost look at it as a pyramid of influence so that we're hitting targets across all of those different sizes. So, you know, whether it's micro and nano who were then amplifying through dark posting, whitelisting, or those rising names who might lend really strong credibility in a certain vertical but not have that national touch point. And then having that really big name as the captain is just such an important part of it. If indeed it is a national or international campaign.
Ismail Oyekan: Let me ask you a question Tony. I’m going to ask two words: FTC and TikTok. Are they in the future of influencer marketing?
Tony Tran: I think TikTok is definitely the future, I think FTC is the plumbing. You know, it's not something super sexy to talk about. I think it is what it is. I actually want to talk about the FTC side of things, because when we first started influencer marketing, you know, I think one of the - at least me, coming from the outside world, like I'm not an influencer marketer. I was never an influencer. It, to me, was natural.
Ismail Oyekan: So my question to you is this - the FTC. Do you agree with it or not?
Tony Tran: I do! In fact, I think this is one area that I feel like it's for the better. I think when influencer marketing first started out, there was a lot of information asymmetry. It was treated as word of mouth marketing on steroids, versus, say, more authentic paid media. Right? And I think that lense sort of made it seem like, oh, you've got to pretend like you're not being paid and you’ve got to hide your hashtag S.P. way below the fold. You know, we ran studies actually. We have a study published on Facebook right now. Consumers aren't dumb, right? People know that things aren’t done for free. These are creators. They're entrepreneurs. They need to earn a living. They're creating content in return for either products or payment. And I think that's perfectly fine. So the FTC’s saying like, hey, you know, these are advertisements, at least disclose them as much. I don't actually think impacts the performance or the efficacy of this channel. And I think the data shows that, as well. I think for us, you know, the FTC is the FTC. You should definitely follow the guidelines. But if anything, it's forcing influencers now to say, look, this is advertising, but it can be fun. It's engaging. It's relatable. It's better than advertising that a photo studio on Madison Square Ave, you know, is cranking together because they have four men sitting around the table. Like this is relatable content. It's from the grassroots. It's using people that we engage with. Right? It’s diverse. And yeah, you have to disclose it. Funny thing is, with whitelisting and dark posting, everything is disclosed. It always says sponsored, so you don't have that problem. But especially for organic, you should at least disclose. Yeah. I don't think it's an issue actually, I feel like it adds a lot more clarity. It helps the consumer. People don't feel like they're being bait and switched.
Ismail Oyekan: People don't know this, but the FTC is going to come down hard this year on influencer marketing. We asked the FTC regional director yesterday. For every post that isn’t disclosed properly, the fine is forty thousand dollars a day per post. How do you advise brands to navigate and thread the FTC guidelines adequately?
Rhea Woods: So we're incredibly buttoned up. I mean, everything that we do, from ensuring that an influencer really loves a brand before we even engage them, if that means sending out samples and delaying our timeline of posting. It's hugely important to us to ensure that the influencer actually does like the brand product, whatever it may be. More and more often we are getting on the phone with legal teams that are brands, which I think is a big shift from five years ago when it was the Wild, Wild West. So that's a really big component of it. But, you know, one of the things that came up yesterday in the FTC panel is that influencers are seeing they look better, and more brands are coming forth to work with them, when they are disclosing partnerships. And, you know, one of the first pieces of advice when we are building out a story arc, and how are we going to talk about the relationship, is ensuring that that first post right up front is disclosing that relationship and saying, “this is why I wanted to work with this brand”, “this is how our values align”. That way, every piece of content in that always-on relationship, those subsequent touchpoints are infused with that loyalty, because they've already outlined from minute one why they want to partner with this brand.
Ismail Oyekan: Working with huge talent like you do, how do you make sure they align with the regulators? Because they’re easier targets right?
Corey Martin: I mean, look, I come from an agency background. So my philosophy, and when I was in the PR world I dealt with the FTC on major ad disclosure issues, so they're not one to be trifled with. The reality is that a lot of our talent, or some of our talent, don't want to disclose. So we need to educate them and explain to them why. Frankly, the thing that brought the FTC to the forefront is the old Lord and Taylor campaign, where they had a ton of people wearing the same dress over a period of time. And Lord and Taylor got chased down by the FTC because of it. That was a brilliant campaign. And the reality is that the vision of seemingly hundreds of unconnected people talking about the same thing has power. But as Tony said, the data shows that people really don't care. When you have a trusted relationship with someone that you follow, if someone says #ad, there's an implicit sense of trust with that person. So it's an education process that we have to educate both talent and clients, because sometimes even the clients are like, how can we get around this? And in our world and the talent world, we do do a lot of sampling or gifting, which some people can technically get around FTC guidelines.
Ismail Oyekan: How do you get around that?
Corey Martin: We recommend disclosure. We recommend ‘in partnership with’ or, if you're not paid directly, you don’t have to write #ad, because it’s not an ad. But there needs to be some degree of disclosure. The FTC guidelines are specific to making sure that any reasonable - and I'm not quoting exactly - but any reasonable person can get from this communication that there's a paid relationship or some kind of relationship. So that's the advice that we give our talent.
Ismail Oyekan: This is more of a platform question. So Facebook is launching something called a Brand Collabs Manager Tool. I don’t know if you guys know what that is, but it's really going to make an impact on influencer marketing platforms specifically, because being that Facebook has all the data to be able to connect with the brands with the right influencers, there's a theory that that's why they took off the likes. Can you add to that? What do you think that would do to the industry the next few years?
Tony Tran: So, yes, I think it's brilliant and I'm surprised it took Facebook this long. They are sitting on basically the largest data set of what you do, where you shop, what news you read. And they also know what the influencers do. Right. So when it comes to like a dating app that connects the brands to the influencers, no amount of third party data’s going to ever be able to compete against the Brand Collabs Manager. That said, you mentioned earlier, you know, what do I think about TikTok? So I think this is really exciting for us, sitting on sort of this precipice of a lot of innovation. So TikTok, I was talking to yesterday, has a lot of power. They’re the only true multi national social platform, because everyone else is blocked in China. China alone is better than every single other country combined in terms of total usage rights, so that gives TikTok a lot of power. So what does that mean? It means that TikTok, from day one, took a very concerted effort to prioritize the creator needs. They have an entire team called Creator Monetization. Instagram was lucky that creators were innovative enough to make money off of the platform and didn't go away to Vine, which basically shut down because creators left because they weren't making money. So I think if you're a social platform like Facebook, Youtube, Tik Tok, Twitch, the truth is your platform lives or dies based on the creators on it. And creators need to make money for them to keep making content on your platform. So this Brand Collabs Manager, I think it's a natural evolution. There’s going to be a lot of other things coming out by the way on top of, to the side of Brand Collabs Manager that gets made by Facebook, made by Instagram. You know, Brands Collabs Manager, right, it helps influencers get deals directly from Facebook. TikTok today has a team that actually reaches out to talent directly and says we have brands that want to work with you, we know you create great content.. do deals.
Rhea Woods: So that’s like the Pinterest model
Tony Tran: Exactly. Pinterest collective. Shoppable Instagram just got launched, not just for brands but actually for some talent as well. And we know that it's going to be spread out. So now influencers can start almost becoming like micro shops on Instagram.
Corey Martin: That's that's the bigger opportunity with respect to what Facebook, big daddy Facebook, is doing in platform shopability. That's Brand Collabs Manager. We've talked to them about this because we wanted to make sure that our talent, we're the first in line for that, but one, internally, they're not sure what to do with what they have. And two, they're really trying to get young, upcoming talent signed on. They're not really going after major talents. They fully disclose that they don't even really have much of a management team handling it. So it's not to a point today that anybody.. any, say, of the influencer search platforms need to worry about. But if I were an influencer search platform, I would be watching it very closely because it is potentially going to impact their business.
Ismail Oyekan: Are they going to be here or are they going to be done?
Corey Martin:: I have done so many RFPs for different platforms, influencer search platforms, that I think you're either going to see a consolidation or an acquisition process that happens where tools are being brought in-house. I think some of them are going to have a really smart model, because they're doing ad buying directly, or they're trying to go to a mass audience, or are really low in pricing. But I mean, there are hundreds of them, and there's a lot of parity in the technology. And getting the differentiation and really understanding the differentiation is tough. I feel for them. I feel bad for them. But the fact is that, going to the talent side, the data is still important. What they do is still valuable. So making sure that they have the right offering for brands is an important thing. I don't envy them.
Rhea Woods: I think, you know, definitely having a tech platform that is an Instagram API official partner is really, really important, because that helps make the data a little bit more validated. You know, it ensures that there is sort of a quality check in place because we've all been in a conversation with a client where they're looking at numbers and they have different numbers from what you have right in front of you for your platform. So that disparity really can breed questions from the client about is this the most authentic, you know, numbers? Do you have access to the data? Why is yours different? And being able to say we have access from an Instagram verified partner is really powerful. And I think that as platforms build out, that will be something that becomes increasingly important for agencies and brands that are looking for a platform.
Corey Martin: But that's where I think the only data that really is ultimately going to matter is performance media; how talent content performs as opposed to how talent on average can be evaluated from a vanity metrics perspective. Like average likes, shares, followers, none of that really matters. What matters is how the content that's created performs, and how that content is used to drive sales. Like ultimately all that matters is click through, sales, cost per conversion. That's where this industry is going. And until we get a handle on how to communicate that, we're gonna be in a weak position.
Ismail Oyekan: I think it would be rather weird to talk about the future of influencer marketing and not discuss virtual influencers. Is everyone here familiar with the concept of virtual influencers - Lil Miquela and stuff like that? Is that a threat to a talent company like yours? I mean, are we going to have Lil Miquela replacing Kendall Jenner because it’s more cost effective? What do you think about that?
Corey Martin: No, no, I'm not scared. In fact, it's super interesting and it's something that I think all you have to do is look to the universe of digital social personalities to determine if there's a market opportunity. And the reality is that there are digital social personalities that exist in the gaming environment, that if the right opportunity comes along to bring them into the social sphere and develop relationships with them, relationships are digital and virtual anyways. The most valuable relationships that people have are with, yeah it’s a real person’s picture, but that relationship is virtual. So to translating that into a virtual digital personality is just an evolution. I don't think it's going to eclipse real talent, but it's a part of the opportunity available to all of us.
Tony Tran: Yeah so I think about this a lot, so catching up with a friend of mine who's a venture capitalist, and they're straight up investing in virtual influencers and even virtual talent agencies like a virtual CAA. You know, it's funny. This is the age old phenomenon of like artificial intelligence versus augmented humans. So let me expand on that a bit. I'm super excited. I think this whole idea of virtual influencers is just one symptom of a cascading improvement in technology. So to give you some examples. Right, I think creators today are on this train of ‘I'm creating content, that's the value, I'm getting paid for the content I produce and the audience that's engaging with me’. But if you just visualize for a moment the mountain of value that a creator makes, the IP.. the intellectual property, that is like the tip of the mountain. I'll give you an example. There's technology today where you could go in, get an influencer to record a two minute sound clip, and pay them money for that sound clip. And then on top of that, royalties, and then use artificial intelligence to then digitize that two minute sound clip, and then you can overlay voices on every single ad you want to do. So you don't have to invite them into the studio to record things anymore. This isn't science fiction. It's happening right now. But there's no structure in those licensing agreements, right? An influencer who doesn't know what they're doing might sign away rights in perpetuity to their voice forever. And then that brand can then resell that voice. So I think what's exciting as technology evolves, what you're finding is digitizing an influencer’s voice, doing a 3D model, and superimposing clothing on them, putting their face on top of body models in different locations so that you don't have to fly an influencer from Missouri out to France. Like these are all things that are happening that could happen. It comes down to, do influencers and the talent managers that represent them understand the true value of their IP. And in the future, IP is not the content you create, it's who you are. Is the accumulation of everything you've ever done, your voice, your identity, your 3D model. And I think it's really exciting because, you know, we're gonna probably see holograms of influencers greeting you as you go into Sephora, and someone has to pay for that as there’s royalties and licensing and all of that. So I think it’s a great opportunity for talent groups and influencers to monetize and capitalize on that.
Rhea Woods: Just because the influencer isn't real doesn't mean that the influence they yield is not. And I think an important part of that is just knowing the client. I had a client in the sort of medical field, cosmetic medical field, come to us and say, should we be thinking about virtual influencers? And my answer was no, for a medical procedure I think it's really important to have that, you know, to have someone who's real representing the brand and being able to give that authentic storytelling. Whereas, for lifestyle brands, this could be a really great fit for them and a great way to work with the talent that, you know, you can really dictate a lot of the terms.
Ismail Oyekan: Ok, let's talk about the global landscape. Influencer marketing actually applies to every vertical you can think of and its use of every culture. She just spoke about what they're doing in Costa Rica. I know China. Ali Baba is the title sponsor of this conference. They're very, very engaged in influencer marketing. What do you think is going to happen on a global scale with influencer marketing? Do you think we're going to continuously have to have this incline in ad spend, what is it, 10 billion dollars is going to be spent this year. Is there anything that will make that flatline or recede?
Corey Martin: No, I mean, I think my goal personally with my talent and my team is to go after working dollars. So right now, the spend that we're seeing is is a mix of working and non-working dollars. So for the most part, I see a convergence between influencer marketing, PR budgets, and ad spend. But more than that, that ad spend is global in nature. I know with our talent pool, we have talent that can have global resonance, but regional impact and we can create programs where we target down to the city. Because of the technology that's available, I can identify influencers in those cities. But because of our network, I have offices and talent in 52 countries across the globe. So we have an ability to basically develop and create programs that land in each market globally. Our campaigns are global, companies are marketing globally. And I think the influence our marketing industry is going to respond as well.
Rhea Woods: I think for brands, it's a great thing too If you are a global brand and you are able to have a global collective of influencers, having that nice spread of platforms from Weibo to Instagram, it's a really important part of the mix. And what I've seen from working on a global collective like that, is that the influencers really enjoy interacting and that some of the U.S. based influencers will open Weibo accounts and see that they'll start to get traction. Because, you know, for the Weibo influencers, we might get a really great name that has many more followers who want to get the American exposure. And so, to have that sort of cross channel, cross country publicity is a really great thing for brands and influencers.
Tony Tran: Yeah I think it's gonna keep going up, I think to Corey's point, influencer marketing as a category is expanding now to become a true media channel. And, you know, if you look at Facebook ad spend, it’s way more to 10 billion, it's nearing hundreds. Not hundreds, hundred. But I think for me, the growth is probably going to start sloping up and become potentially exponential as a couple of things happen. So in emerging markets, more and more people are getting access to digital phones, the Internet. As platforms become a lot more bandwidth efficient, you see new platforms like Tick Tock, right, which really is short form video. They took one type of content format and built an entire ecosystem and now it's booming. And that’s only beginning, right. We're not even talking about potential other forms of media, both new and traditional. So you talk about influencer content now being put on billboards, being put on out-of-home advertising, over banner ads. Is that influencer marketing, or is it pay media? Right. I think it's sort of a combination. And I think influencers are going to be able to get a piece of that pie as this keeps getting bigger. And then you start talking about internationalization. You know, it's going to even get bigger. So basically more ways that the content can be used, more people making the content, and more countries where that localized media, the different countries, I think is just going to keep going on.
Ismail Oyekan: What is the future of content monetization for creators? Is YouTube still in the future of influencer marketing?
Tony Tran: Yeah. You know, if I call YouTube long form video, I think for sure. Long form videos, specifically YouTube are definitely the future. I would encourage influencers, you know, the right mental framework is everything in this case. Think about it as IP monetization. Content is probably right now 90 percent of your IP, but it's not your only IP. We just actually heard about an influencer, he makes close to six digits per month. All he does is actually repurpose videos on his Instagram feed onto YouTube. He makes compilations, and as long as the video isover three minutes long, you get passive income stream from Facebook. We have video ads, and the same thing with YouTube, right? If I were an influencer, I would think about the world as you know, here's my IP and the ways I can monetize it is either active monetization, or passive monetization. Right. And in fact, if you think about this, it's no different in the music industry. In fact, if I had to say something, I think the future of influencer marketing is basically following in the footsteps of the music industry. Back in the old days, if you create music, you make money off albums. Now, you make royalties from Pandora, Spotify, Apple music. Same thing with influencer marketing. You make money from sponsor content, which is transactional. You pay me, I create content. Then, you can start making money via passing royalties from Facebook and YouTube. There’s probably going to be opportunities for you to start licensing more and more of your IP. Whether it's your voice, your likeness. Whitelisting is basically you as an influencer giving the brand permission to use your account. Which is, you know, it's cool, it's new, but it's really, again, just monetizing your IP. I think a smart influencer would try to understand all these different ways. It's not for everyone, but there's definitely ways to monetize that expands beyond just branded content or sponsored content that has been the norm for the last few years.
Ismail Oyekan: So does anyone have any questions or requests?
Audience Member: Hello, my name is Vanessa. How are you? So my question is, I know you guys work with celebrity celebrities and influencers, you know, that have a high network dealing with the PR side of things and having them post and use tools to keep it organic. What tools do you guys use to keep their either story or page moving? When they lived such a busy lifestyle where that might not be their priority, but it would be your responsibility in helping them continue to grow
Corey Martin: Right. So we take a look at three types of strategies for them. We take a look at content strategies to improve the quality of their content, which helps drive growth. We take a look at growth strategies, which includes a lot of networking strategies, networking them with other talent and PR opportunities that help drive growth. And then we take a look at what I would call eCommerce influencer commerce, which is monetization strategies. All three of those things together help maintain the social health of someone's account and helps also cross-platform pollination. So taking a look at how you use tech talk to drive content to Instagram, how you can use TikTok to actually change the demographics of your Instagram audience. So, for example, if you create a TikTok account and start cultivating an audience on TikTok, TikTok will actually bring a younger audience to your Instagram and literally shift the age demographic to your audience on Instagram where you might be monetizing that already. So things like that, I'll speak to social health.
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