Former Maxus MD Sarwar Khan joins the Digital Engagement Network

Armed with two seasoned leaders from Maxus, the year-old influencer marketing platform is already delivering campaigns for MCB, Uber, Nestlé, Stylo, RDX, AkzoNobel, and Carrefour

Sarwar Khan, the former managing director of Maxus in Pakistan, has joined the Digital Engagement Network (DEN) as a partner and member of the board. An influencer marketing marketplace and self-serve campaign planning platform similar to Kyndoo, DEN was co-founded in late 2019 by Muhammad Ibrahim and Bilal Mahmood, respectively the co-founders of Agilitize, a software business.

“With lockdown and nowhere to go, social media is producing new influencers everyday and they are broadcasting engaging content relating to fashion, travel, food, music, education, tech etc to woo their followers,” said Khan, who is also the co-founder of IG Square, a media buying house specializing in fit for format media solutions that embrace data, content, and technology. “This trend is gaining a lot of momentum globally, especially as millennials ignore traditional media for the homemade content of online stars and advertisers are taking a lot of interest in this as spending on influencers is expected to peak at $10b this year.”

Speaking to Profit, Khan said that working with the right influencer can generate a lot of engagement and salience for the brand, insisting that DEN has an artificial intelligence layer which matches brands and influencers, as well plan, track, and assess the performance of the campaign. He added that the feedback from both stakeholders has been positive. 

Within six months of being formed, the DEN welcomed Umais Naveed, formerly business manager at Maxus, as the business head for the platform. Within his first 100 days on the job, Naveed locked and led campaigns for FarmPure, Uber, Nestlé, and Stylo, with campaigns for RDX, AkzoNobel, and Carrefour around the corner.

“Influencer marketing is a Rs 2 billion per year business opportunity in Pakistan,” said Naveed. “We only work with influencers with authentic followers, which is verified by brand reviews, brand mentions, audience information, the recency of posts, and most importantly campaign performance data.”

As seen in a demo shown to Profit, DEN gives marketers the ability to create an account, fill in a brief pertaining to an ongoing or upcoming campaign, specify audience demographics or psychographics, and see a recommended list of influencers that are matched by brand fit, subject area interest, audience size, a relevance score based on the content created by the influencer and the target audience of the marketer campaign, and more variables. In short, it’s an influencer credit score. The platform then allows campaign planners to deliver content to selected influencers, and deploy a full tracked & measured campaign.

“We aim to fill the gap on finding the right influencers for your campaign, complete tracking, monitoring, fraud detection (influencer audience authenticity) and even in the logistical processes for creatives and approvals,” said Mahmood. “The recent addition to the founders team has been the media mogul Sarwar Khan [and is] one of the most reputable and seasoned media professionals who has been at the helm of digital transformation of some of the biggest advertisers in the industry, including Nestle, PTCL, Packages to name a few.”

Formed in the same month as Amplifyd, another technology platform in the influencer marketing space, DEN intends to primarily work directly with brand marketers instead of channel partners, with Naveed telling Profit that this approach considerably speeds up decision making and campaign rollout.

“We would love to work with digital and media agencies where an effort has been made to understand influencer marketing and be familiar with best practices for successful outcomes,” said Ibrahim. “When agencies fail to invest in building their technical expertise in influencer marketing, they become mere coordinators between the experts and the client. If a client raises a concern and the intermediary doesn’t forward that concern to DEN in time, the ripple effect can effectively slow down a campaign launch up to weeks. For the sake of an agile workflow, it is in the best interest of the intermediary agency to insist that DEN deals directly with the clients, for speedy coordination and issue resolution.”

As the first point of contact for brand marketers, this strategy by DEN means it is competing with digital and media agencies as well as with international influencer marketing software, which have clearly made inroads in Pakistan.

Platform popularity

Spokespersons from social media teams of Madvertising, Mirum, Ishtehari, Ogilvy, and MWM Studioz told Profit that they do not use any platforms or planning tools for influencer marketing, citing a range of reasons from unwillingness of clients to pay for precision to the loss in intelligence effectiveness of the platforms since Facebook changed API sharing settings in 2018.

In contrast, representatives of Spectrum VMLY&R and Fibonacci said that they use Socialbakers, while Empact uses Paladin, and Daraz uses Upfluence. Digitz, the first digital agency in Pakistan to offer a credit score on influencers in Pakistan, uses a variety of platforms such as Keyhole, Hashtracking, Klear, Ninja outreach, Traackr, Hypeauditor, and Maltwaterbuzz, a spokesperson told Profit.

Whether they use a platform or prefer the manual route, representatives of the above mentioned agencies and teams insisted that the recommended influencers for every client campaign are determined based on content produced, brand fit, audience relevance, and other factors.

Adoption barriers

The influencer marketing space in Pakistan, much like the celebrity endorsement space, is riddled with vanity metrics within the influencer selection process. Naveed told Profit that marketers and agency decision makers entirely look at the gender of the influencer as an indicator for relevance, often completely ignoring whether the influencer is a content creator within the product scope or if their audience is the right demographic. 

One example is the consistent finding – through an API that allows DEN to see the followers of any influencer that joins the platform – is that male followers significantly outweigh female followers for a female content creator. And vice versa. This means that the female brand being spoken about, being held, or being pushed by the female influencer is often irrelevant to the majority of her audience. 

This insight would suggest that marketers selling products for women are better off finding the influencers that have acquired the right target demographic or find a way for an attractive man – who may be followed by the target demo – to hold, endorse, recommend the product instead.

Naveed said that this insight derived from the audience data of registered influencers on DEN, suggests that marketers need to start scoring influencers on a variety of variables in order to assess brand fit, content relevance, and more if they intend to use influencer marketing to drive a commercial outcome.

In a survey conducted by Profit, 73% of respondents said that influencer marketing campaign success is measured by the engagement rate while a quarter of respondents admitted that campaign effectiveness is not measured.

How it works

In the demo seen by Profit, DEN offers marketers the ability to define campaign objectives by filling out a briefing document that defines parameters. In the second step, marketers are matched with a list of influencers based on details shared in the brief, with influencers primarily matched based on their acquired audience matching the intended audience of the campaign plus the influencer being a brand category fit for the campaign.

In the third step, marketers can upload brand assets such as images, audio, and videos for influencers to use in the sponsored campaigns, along with specifications on the correct hashtags and coupon codes that improve tracking and performance assessments. In the demo seen by Profit, all of the above takes place in a project management system built within DEN, keeping the entire planning and execution journey within the platform. 

In the final step, marketers can view campaign performance in real time over a dashboard, with live information on costs per impressions, views, engagement, and the engagement rate by impressions.

Value creation strategy

Taking into account the industry profit pool within the influencer marketing space, Profit believes that Pakistan needs a trade body that represents the social media content creators operating on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, LIKEE, Facebook, and other large digital platforms. 

In light of a repeated threat from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to ban various sites and apps over indecent content, the aforementioned trade body would need to impose strict content creation and audience monetization guidelines on its members, similar to the FTC disclosures.

Without a uniform operating model, the influencer marketing industry will repeatedly be threatened with cancelation by regulators and marketers, the latter of which has valid concerns from going all out with the tactic. Keeping in mind the industry profit pool approach in value creation, Profit believes that a platform such as DEN – with an advisor such as Sarwar Khan – should mirror the talent acquisition and monetization strategies of both the Kpop manufacturing machine and multichannel networks such as Maker Studios. 

In doing so, DEN would hold auditions similar to the “Got Talent” series (which in itself can be broadcasted and monetised), signing on the most talented participants as ‘influencers’ and building an entire business around their specific talent and the brand fit that they attract. 

In this way, DEN can lock in high potential talent and remove the headache of talent acquisition, while creating a “Got Talent” platform which becomes an organic talent attraction funnel of its own. More importantly, by being the platform ‘creating’ the stars of tomorrow, DEN can truly control the content being produced, outside the interpretation of the PTA’s definition of vulgarity and the ever changing variables of brand safety.

With enough traction, this long game approach would allow DEN to create an equitable ecosystem that sustains platforms, influencers, brands (and their safety concerns), and ultimately audiences nationwide. A singular platform strategy, Profit believes, is not nearly enough to truly capture all value in the industry profit pool for long term success. In 2020 and beyond, the technology business that controls supply will influence demand.

Babar Khan Javed
Babar Khan Javed
Babar Khan Javed covers the advertising industry and marketing function in Pakistan for Profit. He can be reached on [email protected] with details about media, creative, and digital briefs, future projects, management changes, client wins or losses, and everything in between.

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