Beyond advertising

Beyond advertising

How Withfluence secured a toehold in Asia and why


In the modern approach to consuming news and information, online influencers are mightier than the sword. To cater to these platforms, Japanese start-up Withfluence now serves as a bridge between online influences and brands, with its primary focus on marketing.

The influencer platform has been popular in the US and European market but is still in its infancy in Asia. Withfluence -- which claims the first of its kind in the region -- found a huge opportunity with this market.

"Influencer marketing is important because consumers don't trust advertising, they trust the people they follow. That's why brands understand that they have to express to consumers not in a direct way, but by working with influencers who will help them deliver messages effectively to consumers," said Withfluence's founder and president Hiroyuki Okamoto.

Founded two years ago, the Japanese start-up initially had around 5,000 influencers in every category and was not effective for being too broad to handle. It later found that the team should focus on what they really specialised in, so they started to gear toward millennials, and now the company serves three main categories: beauty, fashion and lifestyle. Currently, there are around 1,200 influencers across Asia.

The founder pointed out that the platform is helpful for international brands that want to look for local influencers. At the same time, it offers more opportunity for influencers to be able to work with international brands.

"Each country in Asia has a unique lifestyle. Our vision is to connect fashionable influencers across Asia and we want to provide marketing data to cosmetics and fashion companies," said Okamoto.

So far, most brands are Japanese companies who want to expand the market outside Japan. Japanese cosmetics brands such as SKII, Kose and Shisedo, for example, already signed agreements with Withfluence allowing them into the influencers database.

Withfluence has several campaigns here in Thailand, too, connecting Thai influencers with Japanese brands. One of them is Minon, which started selling its products in Bangkok two weeks ago.

The start-up has offices in Tokyo and Bangkok, working with international brands to do influencer marketing in Asia. So far the company is working with a Denmark agency, US agency and Chinese application Meitu.

The company is also working in South Korea with Line, which wants to reach the female market with its camera application H621, allowing users to take photos of their faces before putting on cosmetics.

Okamoto added that this influencer marketing industry is very new and the price for influencers varies. Thailand is a leading country in Asia in social media, with a higher number of followers than other countries in the region. Even Japan is three years behind Thailand in this market. The price of influencers here in Thailand is a bit higher than in other countries in the region.

"Based on a 1,200-influencers database, we recommend them and provide them our price to make it easy for them to set the price," said the president, adding that Withfluence charges 15%, which, in his opinion, is reasonable compared to traditional agencies, which mostly charge 50-60%.

In Thailand, Withfluence recently signed a memorandum of understanding and collaboration with True Incube, a subsidiary of True Group, to jointly develop digital technology and a cognitive-computing platform to leverage Asia influencers' marketing campaigns.

Teerapon Tanomsakyut, chief innovation and sustainability officer of True, explained that in the social-network world, people don't listen to advertising, but prefer word of mouth and believe the influencers.

The number of influencers in Thailand has been considerably growing, but so far no one acts as an influencer manager. Withfluence offers a platform for even non-celebrities who have followers to generate a fair income.

"Scholars also have followers ... Now they can earn money because they have a certain group of followers," Teerapon said.

Brands and corporations of any size looking for influencers in Thai traditional costumes, for example, can use the platform to see who are the top ten influencers in the field, and how much they would charge based on number of their followers.

"True is a content generator -- we can create added value to our artists as influencers, promote products and services by using influencer marketing, make it more effective," said Teerapon.

In the meantime, the influencer marketing platform will be supported by the technology of IBM-Watson.

Phiphatphong Sumranphun, influencer marketing specialist of Withfluence, noted that the platform provides complete support for campaign planning and negotiation with influencers.

Thailand is Withfluence's primary market, accounting for around 35%. Singapore influencers are also very active, but don't know the concept of the platform yet.

In Thailand, he added, with a large number of influencers across the board, in the past the number of followers signified influencers, but now an engagement of followers must also be considered.

"To be an influencer, they must have a minimum of 3,000 followers of social-network channels such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, and we also focus on an engagement rate, which are comments and shares, and they should have an average engagement of 7-9% of their followers."

Withfluence offers a free trial until the end of this month.

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