Mae Karwowski

Obviously: influencer marketing made simple

Mae Karwowski – CEO of WPP’s recently acquired company Obviously – says that companies turn to Obviously to access the world of influencers as easily as possible

“Brands want to work with the best influencers, and they want the best content to be created. But they also want the process to be simple so, ultimately, they can scale their marketing efforts,” says Karwowski.

But influencer marketing is notoriously messy. ‘Herding’ numerous content creators and guiding them to create content that makes sense for a brand and its audiences is not easy. Scaling that mess is nigh on impossible.

“That is why we built our own proprietary technology to make it easy for global brands to work with, say, 50 creators to create amazing content that delivers fantastic results that brands can then scale to working with 500 people or even 10,000 people,” says Karwowski.

This is just the beginning

Karwowski predicts that – given the cultural relevance of influencer marketing – in 10 years’ time, a significant proportion of content associated with brands will be created by influencers on social media. “Partly this is because people are spending so much time on social channels – upwards of three hours a day for the average American. That presents a fantastic opportunity for brands,” she says.

As audiences grow, content types across platforms are also expanding. “When we founded the company in 2014, content revolved around images. Now, over 80% of what we're doing is in video format: TikTok reels, YouTube shorts, long form video content on YouTube or streaming on Twitch. There’s still a place for images, but there’s a huge appetite for videos – and videos are hard for brands to do well and do so globally,” she adds. “We can help with that.”

Building the right relationships between brands and influencers is key; after all, success does not always rely on accessing a huge audience globally. “We work with nano influencers, who have maybe 2,000 followers, but their following is very specific. We also work with people who have maybe 20m followers,” she says. “The way a brand will work with those two influencers will be very different, and there will be very different objectives.”

The beauty of Obviously’s technology platform is that it helps brands spot very specific categories of influencer – something you could never achieve by just typing in hashtags. “Some brands want to find, say, professional footballers who live in, say, Ohio. We might suggest we broaden that approach to work with people who love football, who have a football podcast and talk about it on social media and reach the same audiences as the footballers in Ohio. That could result in a fraction of the cost, and the content could be significantly better and achieve the brand’s goals,” says Karwowski.

Distribution plus the right content for the right channel

Influencer marketing is about the confluence of several factors: brands, content, creators, distribution channel, location and so on. That is why Obviously looks for experts in telling their stories, on the channels they are expert in, to audiences they have grown organically. She reminds us that social channels have distribution systems built in. That is why you must create compelling content in the way the system works if you are to achieve your marketing ambitions. And frequency – along with regularity – are what gets audiences on board. For most brands, this is a challenge too far.

“There is also this whole concept of quick turn content to accommodate viral trends. We built a product line whereby we can have content ready to go in a few days. And then the brand can jump on that trend before it goes away,” says Karwowski. “We're seeing a lot of traction with that.”

What does WPP bring in terms of scale?

Obviously’s clients are global. They are enterprise brands that operate across markets and tend to be household names. “They need scale and they need reporting,” says Karwowski. “We have built our technology to service these large enterprise companies.”

The synergy with WPP is remarkable – which is why Obviously is now part of VMLY&R’s fold – and it is this synergy that will enable Karwowski to move influencer marketing forward.

From the technology point of view, she says: “We’re unique in our industry because we have a sizable tech, data and product team. It is a huge reason why we have continued to grow so quickly. We will keep pushing that technology forward. There are so many changes on social media that we have to account for. And it is important to remain up to date from a client’s perspective.”

Ultimately, it is about being able to access all markets with an appropriate solution and a full understanding of brand safety. After all, influencer marketing is about influencing all demographics – but not all at the same time. “We work with grandparent influencers, and we work with influencers in very specific niches like small business owners – these people are very influential within their communities,” she says.

“And over one-third of our work is with creators who are creating video and photo assets on behalf of brands that the brand can use across all their marketing. We're powering TikTok accounts, email, billboards, product pages. It's a really cost effective – but also high performing way – to create a lot of fantastic content at scale.”

Mae Karwowski


published on

01 June 2023


Communications Experience

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