SMEs turn to influencers to push products

Kepsa Deputy CEO Martha Cheruto taking a selfie with Kate Actress during the launch of Twiva at a Nairobi Hotel. [Courtesy]

For businesses, competing to catch the eye of consumers is a marathon whose ending is not supposed to come.

The end of one long race is the beginning of another, especially as the tastes and preferences of customers keep changing.

The race is even tougher for new businesses, caught in the daunting task of navigating through the noise in order to catch the attention of consumers from the hands of larger corporates.

While such businesses may not have the financial muscle to compete with the big brother who has the advantage of experience as well, using influencers has been fronted as the alternative to reaching the consumer.

Through these individuals— some commanding legions on social media with a wavelike ripple effect on consumer behaviour— a new business or an old business with a new product can find breakthrough.

One such people helping new business catch the eyes of consumers is Catherine Kamau, an actress whose popular stage names include “Celina” and “Kate Actress”.

“It is the value that influencers provide once you embed them into your business plan,“ she says.

“I am helping them (businesses) cut through the noise,” adds the actress, who also doubles up as a digital content creator.

The place of such individuals in growing brands was highlighted during the launch of Twiva—a social commerce platform that matches influencers to product and services,

Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) deputy CEO Martha Cheruto noted how important the role of influencers is especially to firms that are just starting up.

“If you remember Coca-Cola, how many bottles did they sell in the first year? You can picture who they are right now. Picture the person who was an influencer for them at that time. If you look at it from that perspective, it means their (influencers) role is big and we are now looking at the bigger picture,” said Cheruto.

Cheruto said with so many products being released into the market, especially by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), conventional platforms may not do much in swaying consumers’ choices.

Many consumers will buy such new products once they see them online.

“When the influencer comes to tell you that indeed I used the product and this is who I am, you know that is testimonial, and people appreciate referrals or seeing the results from someone,” she said.

Twiva chief executive officer Peter Kironji said as more people gets hooked to the social media, the platform has become “the equalizer.”

This, Kironji explains, is because small businesses can now compete with large corporates who have for long had big footprints in terms of reaching the consumer.

He said his firm will be the link between MSMEs that seek to make a sale and create a wave for its existence and the market.

The idea, he said, is to make it easy for influencers to get ‘jobs’ and for MSMEs to penetrate the noisy and saturated market.

“If you come to us and all you want is strategic influencers who can help you promote your business, we go to influencers, create a list and bring that list to you for free,” he said.

“There is no business in us undercutting the influencer who is creating value for you, not us when you just want their name.”

He said the firm will also be a data bank of how influencers perform so as to ensure businesses get value for the money they pay.

Just having more followers on platforms such as Instagram than the ordinary social media user or the newt influencer may not be enough, according to Kironji.

He said the issue of having one million followers, which for long has been the selling point for many influencers, may not be the only determining factor when it comes to businesses that are out to make sales.

Some of those followers, he notes, could be bots.

“Would you like me to send you a list of influencers who each have one million followers or would you like me to send you a list of who have sold similar products with the target audience you are trying to reach. Which one has more value?” he posed.

When a business approaches an influencer for a partnership, it is either they are looking for conversion or brand awareness.

While conversion is directly linked to sales, brand awareness does also sometimes enhance sales.

Kate the actress says sometimes new businesses cannot tell what exactly they want.

“Especially for MSMEs,” she says. “I have to know what the client is looking for: Are they looking for brand awareness, or conversion. It is always a conflict.”

She explains that brand awareness, where a business wants their products and services out there is always the first goal of an influencer.

But to be effective in influencing, one has to portray some kind of image that can hook customers to those brands. That means money.

Kate notes that the size of budget for a given influencer assignment is as a major challenge among influencers. She says the industry is a use-money-get-money type of business.

“To have quality content you have to invest in the craft. That means acquiring high quality equipment. That was a challenge when I was starting out,” she said.

New influencers usually have to do much more in getting clients and businesses to trust them in delivering results.

For Kate, the 10 years she spent as an actress prepared the way for her.  This landed her a good deal with a detergent brand that she has worked with for years, even when it rebranded.

She says for her to embed herself with a product or service, she has to experience it first.

“I have a community that I have built over the years. I have trust. So when I tell them this detergent is good, I have already established that trust with the consumer,” she said.

Cheruto of Kepsa said one of the things influencers should consider is evolving with the market.

“Of course she (Kate) has not been the same person the nine years. She has studied the market and identified how you continue to add value to the clients,” said Cheruto.

She added: “If you are planning to get into that space (influencers) always remember five or 10 years from now. Where do you want to be and will you still be relevant at that particular time?”

Cheruto says it is also key for influencers to learn how to pitch through business proposals. This should be done with the view that social commerce is global and Kenya isn’t the only market.

“How good is your pitch? There are skills that we need to appreciate and understand that they are required by communication, reporting or writing,” she said. 

“The market is not only in Kenya. Right now we are discussing the African Continental Free Trade Area (Afcta) of about 1.4 billion people.”

But even with the big name and legion of followers she commands, Kate still has to table her accolades from other brands she has worked with whenever she is in the boardroom for a new assignment.

Her two cents for businesses:  Engage influencers for a longer period in order to determine if the relationship works or not.

“Influencers, just like marketing, is a repetitive process.  If you do a two week campaign it is not even enough to create awareness leave alone conversion.”

Make sure you are engaging an influencer for a period of three months but for weeks or a month some will not even take it seriously,” she said.

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