The Medium Rules Episode 7: The Microinfluencer Economy with Alia Ahmed-Yahia & James Bosworth
“It’s not about you, it’s about your audience.” – Alia Ahmed-Yahia
Microinfluencer and Co-Founder of Spyglass Collective Alia Ahmed-Yahia and partner Jamie Bosworth join Alan in the podcast studio to discuss the trend of microinfluencers, their ability to drive business through engagement, the future trends in social media influence, and much more. Join us for a compelling discussion and stay for Alan’s style advice. Alia might provide a few pointers as well!
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INDUSTRY UPDATES AND INSIGHTS:
Alan BALDACHIN: Joining me today in the HBA podcast studio are James Bosworth and Alia Ahmed-Yahia, cofounders of The Spyglass Collective.
Kim Kardashian was recently featured on the cover of Business and Fashion Magazine with the headline, ‘The Age of Influence’.
“Truer” words may never have appeared in print. Indeed, the influencer economy on Instagram alone is worth an estimated one billion dollars and rising with a bullet. While deals with the top influencers can be worth millions of dollars, there is a huge sweet spot for so-called micro-influencers, loosely defined as influencers having between 10,000 and 100,000 followers.
A widely read article on Medium’s The Startup blog unabashedly asserts that the micro-influencer market is “the game” in 2018. In fact as we learn, micro-influencers are in some ways more valuable to brand and that they tend to have a more loyal and engaged follower community.
Joining me today in the HBA Podcast Studio are James Bosworth and Alia Ahmed-Yahia, cofounders of The Spyglass Collective. Spyglass is a collective of experts in marketing content and business development, working with design and experience-centric brands on marketing, content and strategy. Alia is also a fashion influencer herself, under her handle @thestylescout with 15,000 Instagram followers.
James and Alia are here in studio today to help us understand the key drivers of the micro-influencer economy. Looking forward to a very interesting discussion today on a topic that interacts with virtually all of us, but one that few people outside of the industry understand. So with that, let’s get started.
James and Alia, thank you so much for coming in today. I’m looking forward to a great conversation.
AHMED-YAHIA: Hi Alan, we’re so happy to be here.
BOSWORTH: Thank you for having us, Alan.
BALDACHIN: It’s a pleasure. So first off, let’s talk about Spyglass Collective, and I’d be interested in hearing you guys sort of elevator pitch. Tell me about your business.
BOSWORTH: Sure. I think our tagline says most of it anyway. It’s ‘vision magnified’, and so any of our customers come to us, we really want to integrate with what their vision is and we always say 10% further. Can we get them to go 10% further? Can we get them to engage 10% further? And we want to take their original vision and magnify it. So, that’s why we named the company Spyglass.
AHMED-YAHIA: I think it’s interesting because people say that we have clients kind of all across the map. Jamie’s background is in sports media and tech, and mine is in fashion and retail. But they all fit together and there’s a common thread that everybody today is looking to reach their customer in an innovative way and have a connection with that person. So largely, what we do is tell a great story that is very authentic and connects in the channels that customers are resonating with today.
BALDACHIN: So are your client’s brands? Who are you connecting to whom?
BOSWORTH: Well, we have celebrity clients.
BOSWORTH: So, we have a very well-known celebrity client that came to us, partnered with our company to help them essentially execute on the vision of a new brand.
BOSWORTH: Then we go all the way from celebrity, fashion, lifestyle all the way to a new digital financial service company called Alchemy Capital out of Boston. Really bright young guys, two cofounders, Reece and Philip up in Boston, and these guys are brilliant. They decided that they’re going to start a hedge fund financial service company and a couple different funds just focused on the digital ecosystem.
BOSWORTH: Ok. So, rather than saying hey, how can we invest in many different kinds of companies? They said look, the entire landscape of the economy is changing. Let’s figure out a way to tap into that.
BALDACHIN: And you guys are doing content marketing for them basically?
BOSWORTH: We’re actually partners.
BOSWORTH: Content marketers, as well as… we’re full partners in that business. Most of the businesses that we go into, we take equity stakes in those companies.
BALDACHIN: So you’re aligned?
BALDACHIN: Right. Ok.
AHMED-YAHIA: I think the other important thing that kind of connects both of us is, we, in our past lives, we’ve both worked in-house at brands, we’ve both been entrepreneurs and started our own companies, but we’ve always been that one disruptive person in the group that thinks a little bit differently, that takes risks and tries new things. And, regardless what our clients come to us for, it always grows tentacles. So we end up on the strategy side, on the business side, and, in James’ world, all the fundraising, the business development, the capital side.
BALDACHIN: For the tapping into everything you guys bring to the table.
BOSWORTH: Alan, like you said in the beginning, you know, you talk about it used to be you were a media expert right? And you’re either an advertising marketing, you know, you kind of like off in the corner, the sales guys did one thing. Now everyone, including individuals, have to be a media expert.
BALDACHIN: Let me ask you a question. We’re talking a lot about what you guys bring to the table. Give me a little bit of a sense of just the highlights of your background and, James, your background, just in terms of you know where you’ve been, what you’ve done, how you got to sort of this stage in your career, where you kind of have this expertise.
AHMED-YAHIA: Sure, I’m happy to jump in here.
BOSWORTH: Go first.
AHMED-YAHIA: I’ll give you my Reader’s Digest because it is many, many chapters. [Laughing]
BALDACHIN: Many stops along the Via Della Rosa of New York City.
AHMED-YAHIA: [Laughing] that is so true. So, I was born in Wisconsin, as the oldest of seven kids; no, that is actually true.
BALDACHIN: Go Badgers!
AHMED-YAHIA: It is Go Badgers, for better or for worse.
BALDACHIN: I’m not one for the record, but I have many friends who are.
AHMED-YAHIA: I moved here right after college. I knew no one. It is very much the New York story. Back in the day, pounding the pavement, looking for a job; majored in creative advertising and journalism. I thought I was going to be shooting hoops at an ad agency in my pajamas like coming up with the next big idea. I think I watched one too many movies back then. [Laughing]
BALDACHIN: “Thirtysomething” episodes, maybe. [Laughing]
AHMED-YAHIA: 100%. I ended up with my first job at Vanity Fair magazine as the fashion assistant. And it’s funny because now, deeply rooted in the fashion community, people always ask, did you grow up sketching? Did you want to be in fashion? And really, it was never on my radar. And I learned everything about fashion from my first boss who is the fashion director of Vanity Fair and it was kind of like, not even a dip of you know, dip your toe into the pool. It was like tie concrete to your feet and drop you into the deep end and see if you can swim, which is the best way to learn.
AHMED-YAHIA: And I think, you know, a lot of people aren’t trained like that anymore. So, it really gave me a basis of seeing fashion as a business, and that came from Elizabeth. I went on to work at multiple other fashion magazines, Glamour, Elle… I started my own digital company in 2006 which was a luxury jewelry, sold online which ironically, as an editor, I would meet so many luxury jewellery designers that sold at Barney’s and Bergdorf’s and you know, huge retail outlets. But they had no E-com presence back in the day, and that seems crazy saying that–
AHMED-YAHIA: But my idea was, you could open up your market to so many other people that would love your product if you had a place to do it. So, I curated multiple designers, again, 15 top designers that sold at Barneys and Bergdorf’s and it was a one-man band. I did PR, marketing, I lead everything for it—curation, pitched the designers, and it was, you know, the best foray into entrepreneurship that I ever could have had, but it was right before 2008. Before the crash, I was trying to find an investor, it just wasn’t going to happen. So–
BALDACHIN: You also won a big award, why don’t you talk about that? [Laughing]
AHMED-YAHIA: [Laughing] It was Time Magazine’s Fashion Website of the Year in 2007.
BALDACHIN: Oh, amazing.
AHMED-YAHIA: So it was just really innovative and I think this goes through the thread of how Jamie and I came together. We have always been that person that is like, done something a little bit different and at the time everyone else was like, you’re crazy. And then five years later, people are like, “What happened to your website? That would really work right now!” [Laughing]. I’m like, thanks. Someday, I’ll catch up with myself and just do it in the right moment.
AHMED-YAHIA: But anyways, so I went on to work at Elle–
BALDACHIN: You’re not going to stop and tell me you were into crypto in 2011.
BALDACHIN: Not to that extent.
AHMED-YAHIA: [Laughing] Not to that extent.
AHMED-YAHIA: I did a lot of TV. I launched Elle.com’s blog again, one of those situations where in media back in the day, they were like we have this website and it was like the best, it’s-
BALDACHIN: An afterthought, now it’s basically their entire business. Really, it has to be as we know.
AHMED-YAHIA: Exactly. So, it was the wild wild west of media back then. You know, we did a lot of experimentation. I started video series, you know there was very little hands in that space because print was king. So, I got to do a lot of creative things and really develop my skill set as a stylist, as a journalist, as an entrepreneur, as an influencer, as a fashion director; and I left magazines and went to Ann Taylor Loft in 2008. And again, another moment where everyone in fashion was like, you’re leaving Elle to go to Ann Taylor? Why? And now I can tell you, I get probably two to three LinkedIn messages a week from people looking to leave magazines and media asking how I made the transition.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah, the world has changed in just such a short period of time.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, because people want to get out of the magazine world.
AHMED-YAHIA: And that ties back to this conversation too. You know, I think building your own personal brand is so important because it’s the only thing you can really fall back on today.
AHMED-YAHIA: You know, even if you have a great job, there’s no job security in any company in the world right now. And that’s sort of how we started Spyglass too. it was really responding to that trend of big companies really downsizing all of the, you know, C-level and SVP roles they had and really, you know, centralizing one person to manage multiple disciplines and looking outward for niche expertise as they need it.
BALDACHIN: Well, I think the other without being– the other thing that’s going on there is it’s very difficult for organizations to keep up with the technology, the trends, influencers, who’s trending, who’s… et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So you know, having you guys, I would think be full time making sure that you’re able to leverage content, assets, influencers, trends. It’s huge, you know, huge added value.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yes, it’s true. I mean I was at Ann Taylor for six years. I left as a Chief Style Director and I could not get out of those four walls.
AHMED-YAHIA: There’s so much happening every day–
AHMED-YAHIA: The reason they bring you in is because you’re this outward influencer who is forward thinking and then you’re like I have no access to inspiration, I don’t get to see what’s going on. I come in when it’s dark, I leave when it’s dark. So, I agree that businesses really need those people that are outside of those four walls; that are in touch every day because it’s happening so quickly.
BALDACHIN: You’re a wild card really.
AHMED-YAHIA: Right. 100%. So, that was not the short story. [Laughing] Short story long. I also launched CBS’ first style podcast after I left Ann Taylor. I started The Style Scout which really was an influential brand to speak to the style-driven woman and from that, our consultancy just organically grew because I had brands coming to me saying hey, you talk to this woman every day. I’m trying to reach her. Can you help us on the strategy side, on the sale side, on the style side? So, that’s what I was doing when Jamie came along and I’ll let him speak for himself, but he was doing similar things and made—our force multiplied.
BOSWORTH: I was on the corner with a tin cup, and she saw me and felt bad for me like a stray dog.
AHMED-YAHIA: That is not true!
BALDACHIN: I think I might have seen you too and just walked right by.
BOSWORTH: Most people did [laughs]. My background is very similar to Alia’s. I was extremely passionate as a kid about golf. I wasn’t athletic enough really to play basketball or football. I was a tall, skinny Irish kid from West Orange, New Jersey. So, I figured golf was a good place to start. I was really passionate about it and got really hooked on it. And so, I would go drive, you know, take my bike and drive to different towns to find these magazines, Golf World from Britain, Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, when they first came out Golf Week, and I started digesting all this information because I was just so passionate about something that I felt like, you know, I might have a place in.
And, you know, my parents and my grandmother, everyone was like why do you waste your time with golf? Why do you waste all your time with golf? And I was lucky enough to get a Division I scholarship to Seton Hall University to play golf there. And, you know, as I continued to be not the best athletic player, I was not the number one player, I was the most passionate about the sport and I really did a ton of research on equipment, how I could get better and how I could compete with people who are better than me. And everyone thought all this information was just a waste of time, until I got hired by Pebble Beach Golf Links to be their youngest assistant pro ever.
BALDACHIN: That’s amazing. What a beautiful course, too.
BOSWORTH: Oh my God, it’s gorgeous. So, going from literally Hoboken and West Orange New Jersey to the day after graduation, I’m on the Monterey Peninsula in Pebble Beach. And you know, that’s when I realized quickly that (A): I’m a fish out of water. I’m a New Jersey kid in Northern California, one of most beautiful places in the world. And my boss there, R.J. Harper, was just the most incredible, brilliant guy in the world—hospitality guy from Nashville, earned his way up from being a marshal all the way to being vice president of Pebble Beach and a part owner.
He took me under his wing and that’s really where I learned the value of mentorship and really just listening and being open and being coachable, where he took me from you know, relatively shy kid from New Jersey, really insecure, to being one of the faces of Pebble Beach, which to me was always a dream.
And from there, I liked a little company that was selling some putters in the shop. I called them up out of the blue and it was a company called Odyssey Golf. They’re now number one market share. They usually have over 40 percent market share. I started off with them when they were doing about 3 million dollars in sales. I was very fortunate to get promoted by a boss, a guy named Jim Grunberg. I was 23 years old. At 24, he made me National Sales Manager. I had 40 employees that were mostly 55 years old. Once again, you kind of look inward and you just—you’re trying to learn from people rather than tell them what to do, you learn from them and then spit back best practices.
From there, we got bought by Callaway Golf. Ely Callaway, one of the best entrepreneurs in the history of America. He sold this winery to Hiram Walker, worked at Burlington Industries. He was the youngest quartermaster in the U.S. Army and he was another mentor. And he was one of those guys that was just very plain-spoken where I’ve kind of taken a lot of inspiration by. You know, don’t get too complicated. Really just—you know, he would tell me all the time, you know, you just keep doing what you’re doing. You sell as much stuff as you can every day and make people happy and that’ll take care of your bonus.
BALDACHIN: [Laughing] OK.
BOSWORTH: You know, so, I had those types of bosses early on in my career. I started my own agency, I represented 15 professional athletes at one point in time, I’ll say golfers, and then sold that company and moved to a digital marketing business which I started, called Back Nine Network, which wound up with 3 million visitors a month, and from there, wound up in the media space.
BALDACHIN: Let’s take a crack at this. When we use the term influencer, what do we mean? Who is an influencer? You know, what attributes do they have? How do you think about that, both for yourself, and then when you’re working with brands to try organize and think about campaigns?
AHMED-YAHIA: You know, the way I would describe an influencer is somebody that has a strong point of view and tells a really important and authentic story; that shares their, either passion, or ideas with a group of people that really trust that person. So, that can cross many different industries.
For my own brand, it’s so funny to think of something like “I’m an influencer…” I think it’s not—and I don’t think most influencers think of themselves as influencers to be fair. I think they think of themselves as being either editors or journalists or they think of themselves as—it’s not a hobby, it’s actually a way of being and they’re sharing their life with a community of people. And now we have platforms like Instagram and Twitter and all the social media platforms that allow you to share that with people.
But there are a lot of people that did it way before there was money involved in it too. You know, and if you think about an influencer on the most basic level before social media, there was always that group in every group of—or there was always that person in every group of friends that you would ask for a certain thing like, oh, you’re the food person; like, where should I eat? Or you travel a lot, where should I go travel? Or you always look great, I need help putting myself together. So, there was always that person and then we can all think of our social circles, like, who you would ask for certain things. And now, we just have more capacity to ask, in air quotes, people we don’t know that have a lot more experience or expertise in that area that we feel like… I call it ‘age of the attractive stranger’; like, I kind of like you, you’re kind of like me, you’re like five steps more elevated than I am or five steps further than I want to be. So, if I go down your path and do what you’re doing, then maybe I can get there.
And it feels much more attainable than looking at a celebrity who’s telling me something. So, I’m like I’m never going to be Beyoncé, but I might be this girl I follow on Instagram, who also has two kids, who looks cute every day, who has her hair a certain way, who went to Rome with her husband, you know?
BALDACHIN: I think that’s a great—what I kind of take away from that is this sense of trusted expert or some point of view that is legitimate, that’s relevant—
AHMED-YAHIA: and authentic—
BALDACHIN: and authentic.
AHMED-YAHIA: confident point of view.
BALDACHIN: How do you get to that magical, let’s say, 10,000 followers? How do you build that up? How do you sort of go from here to there? What’s that journey look like?
BOSWORTH: I think first of all, it’s like an expertise—
BOSWORTH: or a point of view that is so different, that it attracts some people originally.
BOSWORTH: So, anyone could… and, I mean, there’s plenty of ways to buy followers, right, but they’re not going to be engaged. OK? So, that’s an inauthentic way to do things and—
BALDACHIN: And not interesting for the brand.
BOSWORTH: At all.
BALDACHIN: Because they obviously can measure that very easily.
BOSWORTH: and, yeah. Go ahead.
AHMED-YAHIA: No, I just said, to Alan’s point, there are metrics today. Like when Instagram first started, people were buying followers left and right, and nobody could tell, and now, there are so many apps and plugins that really can monitor, you know, down to the minute when someone liked it, who liked it, where they live, what their household income is. Which, in a way, has made it amazing for brands looking to advertise on social media because you can target somebody down to you know, what they ate for lunch basically. [Laughing]
BALDACHIN: I mean you can sort of group together and images, the visual that you like.
AHMED-YAHIA: Right, exactly
BALDACHIN: Combined with hashtags, combined with engagement, combined with geography, combined with-
BALDACHIN: It’s uh- the ability to slice and dice those analytics is amazing.
BOSWORTH: The ROI from when I used to sit at my seat at Callaway and running a brand and a budget… The influencer market was really the paid professional endorsement, like where–
BALDACHIN: Yeah, that was it.
BOSWORTH: 100%, that was it. And you wanted to go–
AHMED-YAHIA: So, wait.
AHMED-YAHIA: Just to be clear for the audience; the point of entry was you need to be famous-
AHMED-YAHIA: And you need to be either an athlete, a musician, a singer. So, you had to be in the one percent of the world to be an influencer.
BOSWORTH: Yeah, essentially the rich get richer, you know, in terms. And the point of view was very limited to that group of people. So, you might have someone who’s very successful in their sport but they’re not a very good spokesperson, they don’t have a point of view. Now, brands will look at- And there’s also remember; when digital first came, digital was like a throw-in. It was like you hired like the young guy, cousin, niece or whatever; really, that’s what it was.
AHMED-YAHIA: [Laughing] They know how to work the internet!
BOSWORTH: Right, 100%. They know how to turn on a computer, they’re in charge. Now when brands start, you start authentically from the digital platform because it’s the most effective. Back in the day, not too long ago, let’s say 10 years ago, you would do a buy based upon… You’d start maybe at network, you would then go to a large print, then you go to cable. OK? I couldn’t imagine that conversation today. So, a lot of the relevant conversations that happened 10 years ago, are not relevant at all.
So, these brands had to do a giant about-face and to say “We need to be relevant.” I mean, you see the decline of print. You see that- I mean, digital is everywhere and that’s why we try to say to everyone. Everyone has their own digital brand. Whether you like it or not, in today’s day and age-
AHMED-YAHIA: You’re a multi-media business.
BOSWORTH: You’re a multi-media business.
BALDACHIN: Let me jump in and say then, why the micro influencer? Why the rise of the micro-influencer? And within that, as a micro-influencer, how do you leverage this kind of democratization, if you will, of influence to do interesting things that might be innovative, that might be, you know, monetizable for you? So backing up, you know-
BOSWORTH: Sure, do you want me to talk about –
BALDACHIN: Because I think what we’ve been talking about, you could say sort of covers the entire spectrum of influencers from the Kardashian…
BALDACHIN: What’s going on with this micro-influencer kind of explosion that we’ve seen over the last couple of years?
BOSWORTH: The micro-influencer typically has a higher engagement value. So, that’s why it becomes a more efficient means to communicate and brings its message.
BALDACHIN: Why do you think that is?
BOSWORTH: I just- Well, you can go ahead.
AHMED-YAHIA: No. Go on, go.
BOSWORTH: I just think it’s because they come across more authentic and it seems more intimate, the relationship, because it’s not two million people like celebrities-
BALDACHIN: Or 100 million in the case of Taylor Swift.
BOSWORTH: Agreed. And I think that Taylor Swift does a great job in her messaging, in whether it’s coming from her not, to sound like it’s exactly coming from her. She does a wonderful job.
AHMED-YAHIA: I think you bring up a great point. Most celebrities have an agency that they hire, that does all of their social. So, you think you’re following Taylor Swift, you think you’re talking to Taylor Swift; it’s somebody that works at a huge agency in New York City.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, but let me ask you this, in terms of your community or followers that you’ve spent years building up…
BALDACHIN: Describe your feeling of connection to those people that you interact with kind of all the time on social media.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah. You know and it’s interesting because you have people that write to you and they tell you personal stories and I don’t know these people, you don’t know them personally. So, it’s interesting when you get to a place where everyone that’s following you is your family and friends and people you know and then suddenly, it’s this, like, the circle’s growing and people are writing to you and telling you that you- especially into my podcast, the focus was really giving women access to this amazing network of people that I had access to, that I felt like growing up in Wisconsin, I wasn’t born in a fashion family. People along way you know, on photo-shoots, who helped me figure out how to do my hair, how to do my makeup, what I shouldn’t dress like, introduced me to other people. “Oh my God, my friend threw this party, you should make that.” And so, I felt like I got all these tips along the way of this like very big group of mentors that are very influential in what they do in beauty, in home, and fashion, and I was able to interview them and in just like we are talking right now, like we’re having a cup of coffee at the table together and the audience is sitting here with us, and it was intimate. And so it’s what Jamie was saying, like it was intimate and they feel like they know me and I get these stories and people DM me like, you changed my life. And I was like, it’s a lot of responsibility, number one, because I’m like, oh, anything I say, somebody is listening and they trust me, and they trust me based on the fact that things that I’ve recommended to them in the past, they’ve done and they’ve seen success with it. And I think that’s how influencers authentically grow online is they’re sharing not only their point of view, but the best piece of information that I’ve read recently about how to do your Instagram right if you want to grow a business as an influencer is, it’s not about you, it’s about your audience.
BALDACHIN: That’s great.
AHMED-YAHIA: So, who is your audience and what are you doing every day on your Instagram that benefits them? Versus taking a picture of me and being like hey, good morning, happy Monday.
BOSWORTH: Look how quiet-
AHMED-YAHIA: Like versus, hey, did you know you can wear black and navy together? It could be the same photo but the messaging is different.
BOSWORTH: Can you wear black and navy together?
AHMED-YAHIA: Yes, you can, and you should Alan! [Laughing]
BOSWORTH: The voyeuristic nature gets old, I think.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah. I think that’s–
BOSWORTH: I think that wears on people like, okay, cool…
BALDACHIN: I love that. I love that insight Alia, what we’re talking about right now, which is just: give people something useful, easy, friendly, high-low, which is kind of your vibe a little bit, I guess I would say.
BALDACHIN: And I interrupted you Jamie. I think that’s sort of great insight.
BOSWORTH: No, not at all, Alan! I think that there’s just- you know, you look at- I think in social media for starters, like oh my God, I get to watch Tom Brady; like, all these-
BALDACHIN: Wow, I’m a voyeur…
BOSWORTH: I get to see into his life.
AHMED-YAHIA: I get to go on his house.
BOSWORTH: Right. People couldn’t believe-
BALDACHIN: Which maybe that still exists online but I think that’s not what we’re talking about.
BOSWORTH: The micro-influencer actually, I think enhances your life in some way. So, it’s part education. You know, these micro-influencer is nothing like better than a great boss who’s an expert in something, right? Or a friend. So, they’ve expanded that. So, now you follow these five, ten people that you really love and they’re adding to your life on a daily basis. I mean, if you look at-
AHMED-YAHIA: And they respond to you.
BOSWORTH: The average person is checking their phone 375 times a day.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah. Crazy, isn’t it?
BALDACHIN: Yeah. Wow.
BOSWORTH: The average person. So, I’m sure if we slide that scaled down in terms of age group, ok, it’s going to go a lot higher.
BOSWORTH: So, I try that to say from a macro perspective on a lot of these companies, I say OK. 15 years ago, the average time spent looking at articles on a phone was negligible. Now you have on average people spending four to five to six hours a day. OK? So, in a lot of places that’s more than TV. TV used to rule the world. OK? Now it’s what’s floating around your pocket.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, yeah.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah and I also think, when we talk about micro-influencers and going back to your original question, I’m like how did this happen? Why is it important people that have 10,000 followers, brands used to go for the biggest number? They’re like, get me, but let’s get the influencer that has the highest following.
That’s not necessarily the right path. Micro-influencers actually, sometimes have a lot more power at lower numbers because as Jamie said, there’s higher engagement but also, if you just think about how much the world has changed in the past five years, we’ve been talking on this conversation with media and technology, the way we live, the way we interact… As an average person, finding information has become actually a lot more challenging with so many options. And when you Google something, you get 400 pages of responses.
In a way, we’ve lost the edit. We’ve lost the editor. We’ve lost the curation. So people are really looking for somebody to help curate. If you’re not a fashion editor, you don’t have eight hours a day to look through every blog and magazine and website and street style to figure out, like, what should I be wearing? You just want somebody that you like their style, that you trust, to tell you.
And that’s literally what micro influencers do every day. Like Jamie said, they add value to your life. It’s somebody you trust, it’s an easy editor that you think would be your friend that you can ask a question to and they’re probably going to respond to.
AHMED-YAHIA: So, you have an intimate relationship with somebody you’ve never met.
BALDACHIN: Brands are dying for that because of the trust factor; because… Why?
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah, because of the trust. So, I’ll give you an example.
AHMED-YAHIA: There’s a blogger. Her blog is called Something Navy. She’s 30 years old, she has 1.1 million followers. She just did a partnership with Nordstrom. She did a small collection with them; on the first day, they did four million dollars in sales.
AHMED-YAHIA: It’s insane.
AHMED-YAHIA: So, for brands, especially these like large retail companies that are trying so hard to turn the ship around with what’s happening in retail… J. Crew, Macy’s, Nordstrom… Partnering with influencers has become their new method of attracting that customer again by trading off some equity of this person and getting the cool factor back, but also having a new distribution channel that they don’t have access to because the average person is not responding as much to print advertising, outdoor, digital anymore. But they are on Instagram every day. In fact, I just read a stat that 72% of Instagram followers are—their purchasing decisions are influenced by their feed. 72%. And when you think about-
BALDACHIN: That is —
AHMED-YAHIA: That’s insane, right? It is the new marketing. I mean, we have been advising all my clients to shift into Facebook and Instagram advertising mostly because of how you can target, like you were saying earlier.
So, if you flipped that equation and think about… 72% are influenced by their feed. Well, nine out of ten things that come to me, sponsored in my feed are things I’m already looking for, I’m already interested in. I buy so many things off my sponsored feed and I’m not the only person. I’ve had this conversation with so many people. They know you so well, there’s so much data available about all of us that, from a brand’s perspective, it’s like a gold mine to be able to get that narrow. So, why would you do an out-of-home billboard? When you’re like, who knows who’s going to pass by here? I mean, I know, like, on average how many bodies will pass by but, also the course of the customer journey to actually take an action means you have to remember it. On average, people have to see something six to eight times before it actually resonates with them. Then, they have to go home, they have to Google it, they have to go on the website, they have to buy it. That’s so many steps. When you’re on Instagram, it’s this instant gratification of Oh my God, yes. I love that, I want it. I click here, I buy in two seconds.
BALDACHIN: Let me ask you guys a question about what a campaign would look like and how you guys are innovating; and maybe talk about your sort of style hack that you did with Harper’s Bazaar. From sort of book end to book end, you know, who were all the players? How do they all fit in? How are you guys thinking about, you know, innovating with brands and doing things differently?
AHMED-YAHIA: Sure. So I think there’s a couple major ways that brands partner with influencers now. There’s actually full influencer agencies, there’s an agency called Social Native that all they do is partner with micro-influencers around the country and brands come to them, and brands pay, I’m going to throw that out, 25 grand let’s say. 25 grand gets you 100 posts on micro-influencer websites and you gift them products.
So, major brands like Nike just had a campaign with them. If they’re launching a product, they might partner with Social Native and say okay, here’s 100 sneakers. I want women who have one kid, who live in tertiary cities, who —
BALDACHIN: Why does the brand need the agency in there? I mean in other words, they can go on any number of these social tech platforms that have the analytics or did until relatively recently (Facebook and Instagram kind of cut off their fire hose) but putting to the side for a second—what role does the agency play? Do they run the campaign? Because the brands can find the influencers on their own.
AHMED-YAHIA: Logistics. It’s usually logistics. I mean, when you’re talking about a scale of reaching out to 100 people, that’s a full-time job for somebody in-house. To find the right people, to vet them, to do all the back and forth outreach, to send them products, to get the images back, to do the editing.
BALDACHIN: To get the agreement signed
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah. So, basically they’ve created an easy platform where they have all of these influencers. They basically put an RFP out to 10,000 influencers that fit the bill of what the brand’s looking for. It’s all digital. A hundred of them sign up-
BOSWORTH: It’s a one stop shop
AHMED-YAHIA: And then they upload their images there and Nike can go right on their platform, look at all the images, download them, take them when they need them. So, it’s an easier, exactly, it’s a one stop shop.
BOSWORTH: Bigger companies look for efficiencies because they can. They have the capital to do it. Smaller companies will do it more hand-to-hand combat.
BALDACHIN: Sure, that makes sense.
BOSWORTH: Yeah, that’s just the way it kind of goes. Yeah.
AHMED-YAHIA: So, that’s the first way, right? It’s leveraging an influencer to wearing your product, to do a post on their feed, get access to their audience. We’re thinking about it in a little bit of a larger perspective, from a content perspective; video and content are huge on social media right now. The engagement is much higher in video. So…
BALDACHIN: We have found that actually just in our content marketing here at HBA, you know, our clips… any video does great.
BOSWORTH: I think that comes down to one of the basic tenants that we try and let our clients know, is that, human beings even as we are little kids, like we talked yesterday morning, in the pre[paration], they looked to other human beings for –
BOSWORTH: Yeah. That’s what they look for. Your whole life is staring at other human beings. So, I think that video is so much more impactful. You know, you could listen to this and you paint a picture in your head but you really want to see what the people look like, how are they acting? Are they comfortable? Are they nice? Are they good people? You can’t really tell that just through a voice or a still photograph.
AHMED-YAHIA: Right. And I think, so, one of the ways that we’re thinking about it is just leveraging the influential space that I have with my audience in partnership with Hearst and Harper’s Bazaar, we did three part designs here; it’s a summer called Design Girlfriend where [Laughing] Jamie was kind enough to let me loose in his Connecticut home and we turned the traditional living room into a polo bar-inspired putting green room. I actually did have to cut two holes in a wood floor [Laughing].
BALDACHIN: Oh my God! How did you get through that, Jamie?
BOSWORTH: We had a lot of people that were dialing in and they were just like are you kid- what are you doing? And I’m like well, you can’t actually putt into a whole without-
BALDACHIN: Let me ask you this key question; when the ball dropped in the hole, did it have that same sound?
BOSWORTH: Same sound.
BOSWORTH: We actually-
BALDACHIN: Whatever that- I can’t onomatopoeia-
BOSWORTH: It does. It has a great-
BALDACHIN: Like a cut sound.
BOSWORTH: Echoing sound. And what we had to do in order to recreate the outdoor sound because it’s in the floors, we actually had to take some Styrofoam and some paper around the cup to make that same soil.
BALDACHIN: So, somebody thought of that, wow, that’s awesome.
BOSWORTH: Look, we get down to the very nitty gritty.
AHMED-YAHIA: It’s so funny. So basically, the show was obviously designed focused but very much playing into the audience that I have—A style-driven woman who you know, she may not have the time anymore. She is interested in fashion and style, she wants to elevate herself and push yourself further and she trusts me to give her, you know, the right direction and not give her 50% further (then you lose trust) but give her 10% further than she is and open her up to new ideas.
So, the way that we really thought about partnering with Bazaar and you know, if we’re talking brand, Bazaar was a brand coming to me as the influencer to work with them on this series was to really integrate brands and product organically and authentically into the show.
So, rather than take a picture of a Sony TV and put it on my Instagram saying I love Sony, which is one way that some influencers incorporate brands, we’ve basically built a whole content series that every single thing in the show was product placement in a really authentic and organic way and it wasn’t like and this Ethan Allen–
BOSWORTH: Well, to back up a second, we actually came up with what we wanted to do first. In other words, we didn’t say, oh, we want to use Ethan Allen. Alia came up with the vision of what the.
BALDACHIN: The Putting Green
BOSWORTH: Yeah. What the end product was going to look like. The pudding green floor, the pudding green room and how she wants to stylistically do it. Then with that vision in mind, she then went –
BALDACHIN: Sort of worked backwards into the brands.
BOSWORTH: Yes, she worked backwards.
AHMED-YAHIA: Right, right.
BALDACHIN: Into the content.
AHMED-YAHIA: I actually think that’s a really important point.
BOSWORTH: Yeah, I do too. I think people make the mistake of pitching a brand first because they want to make money, rather than being authentic, coming up with a really clear and concise vision
BOSWORTH: And then going them and pitching them the vision, then they can buy into it, then they can buy into you authentically doing it.
BOSWORTH: I think a lot of these companies get pitched a million things a day, but they’re being pitched to either make money or give free product. When you’re pitching them a vision of a completed process that they’re a part of organically, they’re much more apt to do it.
BALDACHIN: Well, particularly when it ties in, again kind of coming back to this micro influencer theme today, when it ties in to… that vision is the vision of your brand and your community and you’re following and—
AHMED-YAHIA: Right. To a certain extent a brand does have to give up a little bit of control when they work with a micro-influencer and, you know, there’s a lot of brands that have really struggled to become social brands because they are very rigid on what they see themselves as. And anytime you work with a person, they have their point of view. The reason you’re micro-influencer and you have the following is because you have a point of view, you have a style; you have an aesthetic.
BALDACHIN: You can’t just sell that out.
AHMED-YAHIA: There are things you like. Exactly; so, if I’m partnering with Ethan Allen, I need to do Ethan Allen in my way versus Ethan Allen’s way. And if I did it in Ethan Allen’s way which I’ve had to have this conversation with many brands, you wouldn’t like the outcome, because you’re coming to me because I have a following that likes my style and my ecstatic and that’s what they expect from me. So if I did something that was off brand for me but on brand for you, they would see right through it.
BOSWORTH: It also wouldn’t be of any value.
BOSWORTH: Because what do you bring to the table?
BALDACHIN: It will fall flat.
BALDACHIN: And that campaign went well? You got great results?
AHMED-YAHIA: We did actually. So, you know, it’s interesting because Hearst is also, like many media companies, really trying a lot of new experimentation and original content. As, you know, we see Amazon and Netflix and all of these other big media companies doing really well with scripted and unscripted series.
So, this was really their first foray into an unscripted series with a micro-influencer in the design space. So, it was very much a question mark as to, you know, if their audience, whose very beauty and passion oriented, if there would be a crossover. I mean the assumption is yes, because when we think about style, we think about all of those things, you know, really having a lot of crossover but, you know, you never know.
So, we ran this summer, and there was really no benchmark against how to measure it, but what media companies really do look at is retention rate. How long was somebody watching a video? And it has one of the highest retention rates they’ve had in any type of content. It’s over five minutes, which basically means that once someone started watching it and they committed to it, they watch it till the end, which for a brand, is gold because, if people fall off, they’ve lost part of your message.
So this basically means that the audience was really interested in the content, interested in the tips and ideas we had. And then there was also sales from—there was a shopable gallery on site, so you can track that. So, there’s a lot of metrics that brands can use to track how these more innovative partnerships are working.
And I do have to say I think we’re just at the beginning of seeing more interesting and less obvious partnerships between brands and micro-influencers. I think there’s very easy ways to do it. Like we’re saying, we give you product, you put it on your Instagram. But creating video and content and creating another reason and experience around a person that you can see mostly put your product into, so it feels holistic, it feels lifestyle. I mean, that’s what people are buying into. They’re buying your shirt because they like you. But then, they want to see, like what are you eating for lunch? Where are you going on vacation?
BOSWORTH: Sol Angeles by the way.
BALDACHIN: That’s right. I was about to say.
BALDACHIN: Alan’s got a great grey T-shirt. I mean, he’s got the blazer, he’s rocking the look and you know what? That’s what people want to know. I mean, that’s-
AHMED-YAHIA: They want to buy into your life.
AHMED-YAHIA: So just to like cut that off; if a brand- as we see these collaborations with micro influencers and brands, I think it’s going to be more about how does a brand get into the experience of that person authentically and seamlessly because that audience- they want the experience and the lifestyle of that micro-influencer. So, it’s more organic way to present yourself as a brand.
BOSWORTH: It was very cool I mean, just to go back to my sporting good… PXG, which is owned by Bob Parsons of GoDaddy fame.
BOSWORTH: So he started his own golf company, PXG, Bob Parsons Extreme Golf, and he did an amazing job hiring micro-influencers, along with a couple tour players. OK? So, he went after a woman, Paige Rene, and Paige Rene had a ton of followers. Rather than go out and hire another professional golfer, he hired a female style golf blogger who is a golfer and she’s become her own celebrity. So, you can see the mavericks. I mean, Bob Parsons is going to do exactly what he wants to do. He’s a brilliant guy and really great guy. He’s going to do what he wants to do and he’s always ahead of the curve. And when I saw him do that, and it’s funny, you know, a lot of the other companies are trying to follow suit but they don’t like to break with their paradigm of what they usually call the pyramid of influence. Especially in sports they go, best player in the league if we can get them, then kind of go down from there and that pyramid also would then go to like a golf professional in your local golf course.
That’s flipped completely upside down because people- like we said are walking around with connected phones and so Paige Rene who could be in Arizona can be connecting with somebody in Maine that day.
And so, I think really PXG has done a great job in that particular sector of flipping models upside down and you know, they’re not only a company to watch in sports. He’s the kind of person that disrupts entire industries, which I think those are kinds of people that we’re attracted to.
BALDACHIN: Are people making a living as micro-influencers today?
AHMED-YAHIA: Oh my gosh! Very much. I mean the Something Navy example. She’s obviously not a micro-influencer; she has 1.1 million followers but, micro-influencers, yes.
BALDACHIN: Like the 30, 40 thousand?
AHMED-YAHIA: Yes. More and more brands are offering like, for example, we have a client who owns the spa in Foxwoods or she has to deal with the spa in Foxwoods and she wants to do an influencer event. And so basically, the package that we’re offering, we’re going to have 10 micro-influencers come for an entire weekend experience, which is a package valued at over five thousand dollars, that they would get for free in exchange for coming on the experience, doing Instagram stories, doing Instagram posts… But a lot of what they’re getting now, there is some payment, but a lot of visitor experiences, travel, dinners, hotel stays. I mean, people want you to come and experience their brand. So, that’s where a lot of the invites are going right now for micro influencers.
BALDACHIN: By the way, every one of those people, this is like 5,000… So I guess they’re going to pay tax on that? Really, I wish you hadn’t said that.
BALDACHIN: Sort of starting to maybe, you know kind of wrap up; what I’d love to hear from you guys is where do you think this is going and where are you thinking you know, in terms of- we talked a little bit about video being you know, where you can innovate but what do you think is next here? You know, what will we be talking about in 2019 do you think in terms of influencer marketing and micro-influencer marketing?
BOSWORTH: I think a lot of it is going to depend upon some of the, you know, some of the platforms. Platforms have been at the cutting edge of innovations.
AHMED-YAHIA: That’s a good point.
BOSWORTH: So, I think a lot of the video apps that we see that work with Instagram and Facebook, you know a lot of this quick cut; I mean even what we’re doing right now would be unheard of ten years ago.
BOSWORTH: So, I mean the quality of production that you guys are doing right here. So, I think a lot of it is- some of it is technology based, so you have to kind of like keep your ear to the ground on what’s going on. And, you know, I think ultimately it’s going to become more and more specific. So, what I see, at least in my mind, and what I see out there when we’re doing our research is, it used to be brands were like head to toe. Right? Just in terms of- let’s just take fashion for a second there, head to toe. Now somebody is like, oh, I’m going to make the best workout short in the world.
AHMED-YAHIA: Because it’s got much more niche.
BOSWORTH: Much more niche.
BALDACHIN: From the brand perspective?
AHMED-YAHIA: But I also think from a micro-influencer perspective, you see whole Instagram’s just on, you know, the quality of a burger. And they have, you know, and everyone that loves burgers follows the burger guy. You’re the burger guy, you’re the shorts guy, you’re the, you know, Magnolia flower girl. So I think these like very specific interests and passions from a micro-influencer perspective-
BOSWORTH: And perceived expertise.
AHMED-YAHIA: Right. Exactly. When you’re that-
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah exactly. You- there’ve probably not a lot of competition which is- if you’re talking about being a micro-influencer and how do I build my brand; build it in a space that everyone else doesn’t live in. So it’s very hard. We’re talking this yesterday to sell a lifestyle, like to sell Alia, because Alia is multifaceted and there’s so many things happening. It’s hard for a brand to look at it and be like you do what, exactly?
So, as more and more micro influencers get smart about building a business and making a business out of it, it’s like what can I be the best and the most differentiated at which is perceived expertise? So, they become the go-to person for asks. So-
BOSWORTH: I think it’s like… get smaller to be bigger.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah. For example, Mr. Bags, we’re just trying that; he’s an influence. He’s like the third largest influencer in China.
BOSWORTH: By the way, we have to plug Vice News on that.
BOSWORTH: Vice News, they did an incredible job. They do, they do a great job. It’s very funny. They do a great job and a great story that opened up, you know, at least awareness of what they were doing over there on WeChat and Mr. Bags, it’s like it’s an incredible story and people need to know it.
AHMED-YAHIA: Basically, he has 3.5 million followers and he’s started to go; he now has the cache just in luxury handbags. All he talks about and cares about are luxury handbag… to go directly to brands and they are designing; he’s opening a shop, they’re designing exclusive bags just for him to sell, which is sort of unheard of. We’re talking about like Fendi, Givenchy, Gucci, like luxury –
BALDACHIN: Are these co-branded or are these exclusive collections?
AHMED-YAHIA: Yes, exclusive collections.
BOSWORTH: Exclusive collections that are usually sold out in less than 30 minutes.
AHMED-YAHIA: No, 12 minutes.
BOSWORTH: 12 minutes.
AHMED-YAHIA: His first collaborations with Givenchy, he sold 1.2 million dollars in 12 minutes on WeChat in China. So you know as micro-influencers can- I think like you said, get smaller to get bigger, as they grow into actual influencers, there’s real business to be had. And I think brands are really shifting marketing spend there because they’re seeing much bigger results.
BALDACHIN: Do you think that micro Influencers will somehow get more and more leverage, vis a vis the brands?
AHMED-YAHIA: Yes. I think brands, especially in fashion and retail, they’re struggling. They’re looking for a lifeline. They’re looking for connectivity. They’re looking for new distribution channels and they’re not… traditional marketing teams aren’t well versed in, well we should create a show and have us integrate it in it… So a lot of the things we’re pitching is still early days. People are like, what are you talking about?
BALDACHIN: Do the big agencies have any- are the big agency sort of frozen out of this whole micro-influencer economy like the big holding company agencies? Or is there a role for them? You know you have these micro influencer agencies; you have micro influencers that are their own free agents. I think the huge amount of brand dollars going in- are the big agencies- are they getting any of this?
BOSWORTH: They are, but they’re very aware of it. It’s just, look, the bigger you are, the slower you are.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah. They’re not as nimble.
BOSWORTH: Right. They’re not as nimble as smaller specific companies that just do that.
AHMED-YAHIA: And I also think there’re so many people at the table, like Jamie and I are very direct with our clients. I mean, we are willing to lose a client if you don’t think that this is the right path because we don’t want to appease you and not be successful.
BOSWORTH: I think us taking an equity piece makes us a little bit more partners as opposed to- and we don’t –
AHMED-YAHIA: But we are very direct, unlike most agencies, it’s not…
BOSWORTH: They want the business so bad that they like, you know we’re going to put together a great deck for you. We start upfront saying, like, here’s our point of view. We may not be your point of view. You may not be ready or it just doesn’t align. And that’s okay with us. That’s why being small is great.
AHMED-YAHIA: Yeah right. I think that’s the difference between the big agencies. There still is some traditional methods that are happening because they’re almost like service business.
BALDACHIN: But you know their billings are going down significantly because so many dollars are shifting. You know, one of the big holding companies, literally their billing this year are half what they were last year. It’s a little bit of kind of an annihilation going on. I don’t know if it’s directly tied to this, but…
BOSWORTH: Some of it is, but think about just from a value point. And we’ve all run businesses, right? Real businesses. So, if someone came to you and said 15% of your spend goes to just essentially profit and overhead rather than taking a budget and getting a more specific target.
The logic train to brands is there already. That’s why you see the publicly traded companies and that’s why you see their revenues going directly down because, especially publicly traded, you have to answer to your earnings every quarter. OK? And the efficiency in which that media is being placed right now doesn’t work anymore. So it’s really about efficiency and ROI.
BALDACHIN: You know, it’ll be interesting, and this is maybe a good place to wrap up, it will be interesting to see on the technology side, what happens with these platforms, privacy issues and so on and so forth because, you know, historically the data has been totally transparent, the API has been open, that’s starting to change and we’ll see how that transforms.
[Theme Music Plays]
But I would love to have you guys back at some point to talk about how this space innovates and the changes that we see over the next six and twelve months.
BOSWORTH: Video, video, video.
AHMED-YAHIA: I would love to know how many t-shirts you sell.
BALDACHIN: I should have my own branded t-shirt.
BOSWORTH: That’s right.
BALDACHIN: I should do my own gray t-shirt.
AHMED-YAHIA: You are a micro-influencer.
BALDACHIN: Well, yeah but more offline… Thanks guys so much for coming in.
AHMED-YAHIA: Thank you.
BOSWORTH: Thanks Alan.
AHMED-YAHIA: Thanks so much Alan.
BOSWORTH: Thank you Alan, appreciate.
BALDACHIN: My pleasure.
That’s a wrap on this episode of The Medium Rules with Alan Baldachin. For more information, go to our website at www.hballp.com and you can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget rate us on Apple podcast.[/showhide]