How Unilever’s micro-influencers fit into its “less is more” advertising strategy

Bigger doesn’t always mean better for Unilever when it comes to the influencers it works with.

The influencers previously hired by the advertiser were to be as well-known as a finalist on the hit TV show “The Great British Bake Off”, according to Madeleine Boulton, deputy brand manager at Unilever. Now the company is turning to so-called micro-influencers, people with smaller following numbers than the biggest social media stars, but who can offer better engagement at a fraction of the cost. At least that’s the theory. For Unilever, which is looking for alternatives to expensive agencies, these types of influencers are making more and more sense.

Working with the Tribe influencer network, the advertiser treated influencers like agencies, reaching out to them with briefs and relying less on their agencies in the process. “Previously, we used agencies [to work with influencers]but if you have a middleman like that then as an advertiser he gets a little detached, ”Boulton said. “I like to control influencers myself. “

Unilever’s most notable use of Tribe’s micro-influencers to date came this summer when she launched a campaign for her margarine brand Stork. After posting a brief that asked influencers for pictures of foods they had cooked using Stork ingredients, Unilever picked out the 21 designer posts he liked the most. These creators then posted their images to their own Instagram accounts, which resulted in an estimated 436,000 followers seeing the images in five weeks, according to the brand.

The images generated 11,990 likes and comments, while the cost per engagement was 16 pence (21 cents). Anything considered 30 pence (40 cents) or less is considered good value for money, according to Tribe. Another micro-influencer campaign for Stork around the same time had a CPE of 20 pence (26 cents).

Unilever uses the CPE to compare the performance of its campaigns against others within the Tribe network rather than as a metric for paying influencers. Instead, the advertiser pays the influencer a flat fee per post, which ranges from £ 50 ($ 66) to £ 100 ($ 132) for influencers with between 3,000 and 10,000 followers, according to Tribe. . “If the influencer had a good number of followers and I really liked the content, but the price he was asking seemed too high, then I would ask him if he could lower the price, which he has. does most of the time, ”Boulton said. .

Advertisers like Unilever are increasingly applying performance-based pricing models like CPE to their influencer campaigns, seeing metrics as a way to keep campaign costs tied to what influencers deliver, like likes. and shares. The problem, however, is that influencers could play around with the CPE model and focus on hitting engagement numbers at the expense of creating quality content. CPE is a step towards more qualitative metrics for influencer campaigns, according to industry watchers, but it still poses a philosophical challenge, in which brands measure engagement the same way they would. for a media purchase.

While big influencers aren’t as “authentic” as their smaller counterparts, Boulton said there was always a role for them in the advertiser’s plans. According to Boulton, the perfect mix between the two groups would be to use the biggest influencers for high-impact campaign launches, while also making micro-influencers take more care of the day-to-day engagement. “This cake posted by a micro-influencer might look a bit damaged, but it has this simple advantage that you don’t get polished, pristine content from an influencer,” she added. “It’s not as accessible for the everyday baker.”

The advertiser is always testing micro-influencers, having done sporadic campaigns with them before working with Tribe. Last year, Unilever worked with influencer platform Mavrck to recruit 1,000 micro-influencers for a three-week campaign for its hair care brand Clear, which captured 2,421 email addresses.

“Brands like us [Unilever] don’t necessarily have the budget now to go spend on mega-influencers, ”Boulton said. “We are looking at all levels how we can be smarter with our money, and working with micro-influencers is one of them. “

As Unilever gets closer to influencers, it moves further and further away from working with traditional agencies. The advertiser is cutting half of the 3,000 agencies it employs worldwide, whose savings will go to the billion euros ($ 1.2 billion) it hopes to generate by 2019. Aline Santos, sa global marketing director, said earlier this year that the traditional agency model is “under tremendous pressure.”

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