We speak to Pierre Cassuto of the social-media influencer platform Humanz about the rise of influencer marketing.

Love them or hate them, social-media influencers are becoming big business for brands. These “influencers”, if you have yet to hear the trending term, are either media personalities or individuals that are outspoken on social-media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and have garnered enough followers to be considered influential.

While influencer marketing is still in the early stages, companies are closely watching this space, as these individuals seem to have a direct route into the so-called “millennials” market segment. It seems millennials do not necessarily respond to traditional advertising, and they tend to prefer hearing from individuals they can relate to.

And they really do listen. Influencer marketing is the fastest-growing marketing practice and media channel worldwide, expected to become a $10-billion market by next year.

A young boy is a coverage of a sporting event, or a concert. A blogger is using a smartphone to go live. A journalist is a calling.

South Africa Catching On 

South African brands are also onto this global trend, although still a little behind the curve. Pierre Cassuto, chief marketing officer of the social-media influencer platform Humanz globally and CEO for its African operations, says influencer marketing is not yet well understood in South Africa.

Humanz, launched in South Africa in March this year, is a young startup with a sophisticated social-data platform specifically designed to make influencer marketing as accessible, reliable and trustworthy as programmatic media channels.

One of the main reasons we are still getting to grips with influencer marketing here, is because our broadcast media is not as fragmented as in many other markets. That is why there had been no urgent need to find alternative channels. Moreover, online-content creators still tend to stick to niche markets here, compared to most markets where they have crossed into the mainstream (although there are a few exceptions).

Different Types of Influencers 

“Many people in South Africa still conflate influencer marketing and celebrity endorsement,” says Cassuto. While celebrities often have big social followings, they only represent one type of influencer. Different types of influencers provide different benefits at different stages of the marketing funnel, and brands should look to extend beyond celebrity endorsements to maximise impact.

Within weeks of launching Humanz in South Africa, there were thousands of downloads from influencers keen to learn more about their followers and content.

“Our goal is to provide a safe environment through data and technology for both to collaborate, with or without an intermediary involved. It does not work without either party, so, we look to create value for both.”

Capturing the millennial audience with influencer marketing

Traditional Methods Remain Relevant

While Humanz’s tools help influencers and marketers decrypt content and audiences to improve their chances of success and to avoid fraud, “marketing remains a mix of art and science”, says Cassuto. “Success requires talent and work from all sides.”

He believes that influencer marketing needs to work alongside traditional methods as marketing is about finding, engaging and converting customers.

“The thing that stumps most marketers is that influencer marketing puts you face to face with the realisation that you don’t control conversations around your brand any more. Traditional marketing at times provides you with a refuge to hide. Influencers won’t work with you if what you want to say is not aligned with reality or how the market perceives you. Their own credibility is at stake, after all,” explains Cassuto.

Bluegrass Digital CEO Nick Durrant says to get ahead, brands and retailers must implement dynamic, integrated content-marketing and customer-experience strategies that forge personal, emotional connections with shoppers beyond transactions.

Influencer-marketing agencies are still very small in South Africa, and most marketers see this type of marketing as a novelty. “I think, however, the thing that would surprise most people, is how many potential influencers exist in South Africa, and how few are known to marketers.”

The Challenges

Nearly all marketers and agencies face the same challenges when it comes to accurately reporting and tracking their return on investment (ROI). According to Cassuto, all marketing strategies should focus on generating sales now, sales tomorrow and sales in a year’s time. Influencer marketing can help with all of these, he says.

“Fundamentally, all companies want to generate sales, and digital technology has somehow spoilt marketers with the ability to track ROI from the last channel someone had visited before purchasing from them. The pitfall of constantly looking to optimise your funnel, is that you are narrowing it down based on what you think you know. (Spoiler alert: you don’t know everything.)

Words By Thabiso Mochiko