Interview with Peter Srna: Influencer marketing from punk to sophisticated process

How did influencer marketing become one of the fastest growing industries? How has it moved from the first unlabeled posts masquerading as friend referrals to influencer posts sophisticatedly labeled as paid partnerships? Why did WOO decide to specialize primarily in influencer marketing and how did a small local agency grow to 7 countries in Europe? Find out all about this in an interview with WOO's founder and CEO, Peter Srna.
kruznice pruhledna

What led you to focus specifically on influencer marketing when you started the agency?


I like the fact that it’s working with people, not with a system, which is more complicated but more attractive to me. When I did a report on influencers for the Geysir programme on Czech TV about eight years ago, it became one of the most watched on iBroadcast. It made me realise that this was a topic that resonated with society and I wanted to be there for its birth. Which I did.


Was there an agency that was doing this back then?


One or two, I think.


What’s the biggest advantage of influencer marketing?


At WOO, we approach influencer marketing as buying media space with increased credibility, which is also its biggest advantage. By doing this, we don’t become one of the 7,000 ads we see every day across other ad formats, but get into a much closer zone of the follower. As a result, we are able to present the message better than other advertising formats such as banners or television. In general, we deliver a much more specific message than other platforms, and we do it through a person that the viewer likes to be inspired by. 


So do you look at influencer marketing as a good tool for storytelling and increasing brand awareness or also as a tool to achieve conversion goals?


I see it as a tool through which you can talk to thousands of people. And if the message is delivered in the right way and to the right audience, it resonates with them and stays in their memory, which may just lead to the next action or conversion. I don’t think it has to be an awareness tool, but rather a way to deliver an idea into a more intimate customer space. 


No need to do first awareness and then performance anymore? See for example the Trendyol campaign, which started straight away with a massive conversion campaign without anyone knowing it beforehand.


They’ve moved away from that linear customer journey that applies mainly to more expensive products. Today it’s a hexagon where you have different triggers and the conversion can come from any part of that journey. Without social, it was always linear, brands had to raise awareness first and then move into the consideration phase and so on, but today you can get a conversion from any part of it.


What are the risks of influencer marketing?


Brand safety and ad tagging. But the biggest risk is in working with people, you’re giving a lot of responsibility to someone you don’t know. You’re letting them talk about your brand and your products. Your brand will automatically connect with the personality and opinions of that particular influencer. So you have to be in tune with them. At least in part. When an influencer fails, it’s a failure for your brand. And that’s the risk. On the other hand, anyone can speak publicly about anything and our message is at least somewhat controlled. That’s what agencies and influencer specialists are for, to be aware of influencers as people, not just numbers in a report.


And how do you view virtual influencers that avoid the human factor and the risk of making mistakes?


I find them suitable for specific segments such as finance and pharmaceuticals where there are very strict regulations. But rather they represent another channel, an interesting tool to fill the marketing mix. For me, however, it cannot replace true influencer marketing. Users like to see influencers in their lives, they in turn do well when it brings them sharing, a kind of wife swapping in practice. Recently there has been a big boom with coming out, abortion and other real topics that all of us deal with. Influencers wanted to show that they were people too, not just some image of perfection, and tried to reach their audience by sharing these topics. Then there are the people who follow celebrities so they don’t have to buy the Flash – like my grandmother. There’s a lot of motivations why you want to follow real influencers. Some we follow just to stay up-to-date on the topic, like Leoš Mareš who sets the lifestyle trend, etc. Generally it’s a nod to the sharing economy, everyone wants to share everything with everyone. What you wouldn’t have said to your best friend before is now being said publicly, and it generally opens up topics that resonate in society and brands can be part of the social discussion. That’s why I don’t think even the controlled messaging of virtual influencers can replace that human part.


So influencers can be such a shortcut to get into the picture on a given topic…


Yeah, that’s why I like the idea that influencers are kind of journalists. Like, in Italy they’ve turned them into media houses, so real media. They get information and they process it and they deliver it somewhere else, they have influence and they should take responsibility for it.


Where has influencer marketing moved since the first campaigns?


The shift has been primarily in terms of trust towards the new format itself. In the beginning, companies needed to explain what influencer marketing even is, why they should invest in it and how come there are videos with millions of views. Today, there is no need to explain who an influencer is. The whole channel has gotten more complicated, but that’s actually a good thing. You can work very efficiently – leverage influencer audiences, work with retargeting, measure sentiment, evaluate all the metrics. There can simply be a sophisticated process behind it, leading to results, which is why we decided to specialize primarily in influencer marketing and not to spread WOO’s activities into completely different spheres. Rather be the best in one of them!


Influencer behaviour has also changed. They weren’t used to signing contracts, there was no basis for fees either, we were shooting from the hip. Us and the influencers. There was a bargaining process based on feelings and the number of beers we drank. Nowadays, I don’t think that would be completely possible when we’re doing a campaign for one client with 400 influencers in 7 countries. 


Was it even possible to tag the ad from the beginning? If so, did anyone do it?


It was really punk. People who were in influencer marketing often had no marketing experience. As the industry started to professionalize, it became a more regulated and safer space. The biggest contributor to this is definitely Fair Influencer, of which WOO is a part. It’s interesting that a lot of influencers still don’t label advertising and don’t even mind the data from Denisa Hejlová’s research, which proved that one in ten kids will recognize an influencer’s ad. This topic has already resonated abroad, but we were a bit behind. At WOO, we’ve been very careful about the labelling of paid partnerships since the beginning, it’s part of our contracts with influencers and we’re a proud member of the Fair Influencer Network. Not just us, but our clients as well.


What budget should brands set aside for an influencer campaign?


A lot depends on the segment here and whether it’s B2C or B2B. B2B influencer marketing is very specific, there’s a much smaller influencer base for the industries and there’s a much longer conversion window, but at the same time there are often much bigger amounts at play.


What’s the biggest problem for the clients you manage influencer marketing for?


Mostly that clients try to manage influencer marketing directly. They don’t know how to evaluate a campaign, they don’t know the pricing, they don’t know a good or bad result or they don’t choose the right partner and then they get frustrated. Then we make it unnecessarily difficult.


How did a small local agency grow into a company that manages influencer marketing for global brands and 7 countries in Europe?


We’ve expanded gradually, of course. With each new country, we found it was pointless to think we could handle it on our own. It’s not just the execution of the campaign and the numbers that matter, but also the sentiment of the influencers in question. Agata may have a good engagament, but what do people really think of her? Does the brand want to associate with her? Of course, we can’t judge this from Prague about Romanian influencers, for example. That’s why we have local partners or influencer specialists in each country, from whom the client can expect the same quality as from us in terms of sentiment. We then interpret the data and make conclusions or optimizations. Each country is specific and there are major cultural differences, we need to keep this in mind. For example, in Greece influencers suddenly wanted to pay up front, this surprised us. But that’s the least of it.


This was an interview with Peter Srna, our CEO. If you’re planning to start with influencer marketing, or want to try expanding into other markets just through influencer marketing, reach out.

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