Episode 50 of the Influencer Marketing Lab podcast where Mindshare's Esme Rice talks professionalism and the importance of understanding regional differences in influencer marketing 


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Show notes

This week I'm in conversation with Esme Rice, Worldwide Influencer Practice Lead at Mindshare

We talk about the professionalisation of the industry which has shifted within six years from a time when Esme had to battle with academics trying to dissuade her from focusing her degree dissertation on influencers to a sector moving to the heart of multi-channel, integrated marketing programmes.

We discuss the 

  • Regional differences in the influencer marketing landscape
  • Consumer behaviour towards virtual influencers in different parts of the world
  • Near future of our channel

Episode summary

Intro to the show. (0:00)

How did you get into the influencer marketing sector? (2:45)

Understanding the human element of societal bonds. (8:53)

The fragmentation of the influencer marketing industry. (16:17)

Regulation of virtual influencer marketing. (22:34)

The shift from bolt-on to integrated channel. (28:06)

Speakpipe Influencer Marketing Lab

Esme Rice Biography

Esme Rice has worked in the influencer marketing space since 2016 and is currently the Worldwide Influencer Practice Lead at Mindshare. 

Esme’s industry interest and expertise centre on educating brands about influencer marketing opportunities along with shifting mindsets to embrace those opportunities, 

Esme also works to help unpack and understand the social behaviours that drive the industry as a whole.

Useful links

Transcript of interview with Esme Rice

NOTE: This transcript has been created using AI technology. It would benefit from subediting and almost definitely contains some errors.

Scott Guthrie  

Welcome to the podcast.

Esme Rice  02:45

Thank you very much for having me, Scott. It's lovely to be here.

Scott Guthrie  02:48

Well, it's a delight to have you on Finally, I'm very excited about the next half an hour or so see where the conversation goes. But to kick off, this is your seventh year working in the influencer marketing sector. Give me a whistlestop tour of your career progression. How did you get into the sector? What roles have you had to date?

Esme Rice  03:10

I started off at social chain as a content creator then went off to do some internships at Saatchi and Saatchi in the such I then went back to university to finish my dissertation on influencer marketing, which at the time a dissertation on micro influences and are they or are they not effective was kind of a height of influencer education in academia.

Scott Guthrie  03:35

Did you have to push harfd to explain what the hell it was you were doing with?

Esme Rice  03:39

Absolutely. I got told not to do it. I got told it was a waste and not to do it. But

Scott Guthrie  03:44

why not to do it because it was a fad. And it was going to fizzle out or watch too frothy?

Esme Rice  03:49

Yeah, that bubble was going to burst. That was that was the phrase wasn't it back then the bubble is gonna burst. It's the Wild West? No. But I ended up going back and interviewing. I interviewed several people for my dissertation. Because then when I finished my dissertation, I went back to those people and said, Hello, I know you now can I please have a job? That's how I ended up going to Goat and staying with Goat for about two and a half years from when we were about 25 people to about 120 and launched in Singapore.

Scott Guthrie  04:20

Last week. Very exciting. You mentioned briefly Saatchi and Social Chain. After the goat agency, where did you go next?

Esme Rice  04:29

I then went to be the marketing director at Tailifi for the next two and a half years. And then about a year and a bit ago, I joined Mindshare.

Scott Guthrie  04:39

Well, it seems like the blink of an eye as an outsider looking in but I'm sure it hasn't felt that way for you. You're now the worldwide influencer Practice Lead at mine chair. It's a bit of a mouthful, but what does your role actually entail?

Esme Rice  04:56

Yeah, so it doesn't quite roll off the tongue. It's because We're trying to like pack two anything's in there. Yeah. Basically, the role entails best practice and global perspective for mindshare, and for our clients. And we use that to guide our strategy, agency selection, the operational approaches and influencer activation for all of our clients. The role basically sits within the invention team, which I like to say is the team that just does all the cool stuff. So we do web we do. VR, like web three, we do VR AR partnerships, and of course, influencer work.

Scott Guthrie  05:31

How big is the team? Did you say?

Esme Rice  05:33

So the invention team has about eight of us. As I mentioned earlier, I'm actively hiring for two more people in my team, so we're working towards it. And then in terms of the whole of mindshare, I think we're up to about 9000. Now, or something

Scott Guthrie  05:46

slightly off topic here. But you're doing recruiting at the moment? Is it easy recruiting? Is it a buoyant market? Is it hard to find the right sort of person?

Esme Rice  05:55

Do you know what I have been blown away by some of the talent and the people that have been coming out? There's been amazing fostering of talent and capabilities over the last kind of five years, which is kind of the length of experience I'm kind of looking for at the moment, you know, five plus. And I think we see that coming across in the applicants that we've had. And now it's actually really interesting, where we're trying to specify all the different roles that there are within influence marketing and being very specific with Okay, no, I mean, Strategy Manager in this sense, or I mean, influencer activation in this sense, where we're creating really nuanced roles, which is actually really cool to see. Well, it shows

Scott Guthrie  06:32

you that shows the maturation of the industry, doesn't it if we're sort of really looking into the sophistication of different roles. So that's a good thing I should imagine.

Esme Rice  06:43

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We we've come we've come so far.

Scott Guthrie  06:48

From what he said at the beginning of being the Wild West. We kind of were inching our way towards respectability, I think. Now, I know you have some views on behavioural science and human element to influencer marketing. How inherently different is influencer marketing compared with other marketing channels?

Esme Rice  07:11

I think that influence marketing is a completely different channel. And this kind of come back from what my role is, which is that kind of shifting mindset to consider influencer marketing and understand influencer marketing as this unique media channel is this unique channel as much more of a human based approach. And it really, I mean, it goes back to that dissertation that I wrote, and it's definitely fueled by the work from Taylor fire working alongside Alan grey there who's a really interesting behavioural science. There's looking at the science of influence in the psychology of it all. But

Scott Guthrie  07:43

yeah, just just on a quick sidenote, Alan was my guest on the podcast back in episode 42. And there's a great piece of work that I know you work with Alan on the psychologist guide to influence over 40 ways to boost your influence online. It's a great, I'm not just saying it, because you're saying it's a great it's a good one, partly because you're but mainly because it's a great, it's a great piece of work and, and not unique, but really rare to look at it from that behavioural science point of view.

Esme Rice  08:12

Absolutely, absolutely. completely unique, like in terms of thinking about it from that perspective. It was a great piece to work on with him and really understand how like we think about influencer, instead of thinking about as influence marketing, thinking about it in the way that we interact with it every day. You know, whenever I asked people about why do they like influencer marketing, they always talk about oh, well, I'm always on my phone, I'm always on Instagram. And what I'm thinking about when I say I really like influence marketing is I really like influence. I really like society, not as it as an expression of marketing, but as an expression of how we communicate and discuss things with each other and share information. So it's

Scott Guthrie  08:52

the human element of societal bonds that you're looking into.

Esme Rice  08:57

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when we think about the first types of influence, we're really thinking about the first bonds of society and how we, how we communicate with each other, and how we build relationships. There's a danger over there, there's a really good, you know, foraging opportunity over there. That is how we told each other information and how we influenced for the success and the survival of our of our species. I can't think that it's too much of a stretch to understand how in our current information, data age that is still happening now, but just in a completely different format. So

Scott Guthrie  09:28

it's the channels are changing, but the essence of or the aim, certainly in the essence of influence, haven't changed. It's what's exciting at the moment in terms of behavioural science,

Esme Rice  09:40

in terms of the science of information sharing and how that's happening. What we saw when communication, you know, I say if I'm saying someone has a really good spot over there to get this piece of food, we take that piece of information, previously that was limited to word of mouth, and how we told each other that when we started to come into the era of written word. That ability to write down information started becoming centralised to those who could read or to social good, right? And powers that be started controlling who could read who could write, whether, for example, we look at whether the Bible was translated from original language to a more accessible language. And that accessibility of information through our information sharing as we've kind of evolved as a society has continued to be monopolised. However, in the era of information in the time of the internet, we started decentralising the ability to share information and communicate with each other through social media formats. And that's why when the internet came about influencer and influencer marketing was an inevitable side effect of this evolution of society as information sharing, because we could finally unpack and just talk freely without the information that we absorb and the information that we share, being controlled by those monopolies.

Scott Guthrie  11:06

There's a great democratisation of the media of communication as well. Exactly. I should even buy web two. And as we move out of web two, and you mentioned decentralisation, one of the critics of web two was that centralization wasn't that most social media is owned by just a handful of companies. And that's that's the great promise of web three to fully federalize and decentralise it well this is getting a bit deep now let's talk about a lighter but interesting topics.

As practitioners, we are often in danger, I think of thinking about influencer marketing only through the lens of Anglo Saxon or North American or UK sort of thought of the gaze. So let's talk for a moment or two about the global differences that you've seen in influencer marketing. How does this practice change across markets and countries? And why do you think that's the was the case?

Esme Rice  14:42

Yeah, there's definitely sorry getting a bit deeper. I am one of those people that just goes awful.

Scott Guthrie  14:47

I just don't want to just you and me my mum listening to this otherwise, let's try broadening it out

Esme Rice  14:53

I guess it's this kind of goes back to the global part of my role, which has been something really fascinating to come across and expand upon because my experience has been, you know, I've been based in London my whole life. So it's because kind of come across as this western perspective. And I think that with the power and the ability that we have within Western markets, that's kind of been a dominating force in how we communicate and talk about influence and how we talk about the industry. But I think, absolutely, now I'm in this role, I have this whole new appreciation for the global and Eastern APAC and lack opportunities and understanding of influencer and how it was like if we thought about like Singapore a few years ago, I think Andrew MP was saying, like it was was behind London. And now people are saying it's kind of a head because they're thinking about virtual influences. And it's the same in Latin, like they're really appreciating virtual influences, and they will trust them versus in the West. We're thinking about we want real, authentic influencers, and it's just such a interesting space to move away from a Western perspective and really appreciate all views. Well, let's

Scott Guthrie  16:06

press pause there for a second. There's been so you've mentioned virtual influences, but let's just decouple that from influencer marketing as a whole, putting virtual influencers to a side, we'll come back to those. Do you think that influencer marketing as an industry is still lead from North America? And you said that Singapore used to feel like it was sort of a year behind writing was behind? And now it's a foreigner? Is that through virtual influences or just the industry is now? Not fragmenting, but it's becoming more regional specific?

Esme Rice  16:40

Yeah, no, exactly. That is like that regional a specific specific, I think previously, we will all working together as this global capability to wash and discuss why influencer and now it's become a point where local markets, local regions are understanding the needs and requirements of their local consumers. And instead of, you know, we need to influence marketing, or why do we need to do influence marketing? It's how do we do influence marketing? And what influence marketing do we do that's appropriate for our market? And that's where we see that fragmentation of into more regionally relevant and differing approaches to the industry,

Scott Guthrie  17:21

not only to virtual influences? Are you for them? Or are you against the Manos bit fatuous, but wearing your hat of Global Practice? Does the way that brands work with virtual influences change from region to region?

Esme Rice  17:35

Yeah, I think definitely the global context. And the context of how you're working with any brand or any campaign is going to impact the influences that you select for that. And absolutely, the local and regional attitudes and engagement and belief in those types of influences will then sway whether you work with them or not. We're seeing great work in that and was getting great work and AIPAC with them. It seems like North America UK is Europe's not as engaged in virtual influences. I kind of move away from saying that I'm for or against anything anymore, because, first of all, everyone will someone always have something to teach me about that thing that I'll be able to then adjust my perspective, virtual influences have a specific ability to show up in spaces. For example, for some V tubers, they provide a fantastic opportunity for influencers, or creators with a disability to show up in in virtual spaces and remove barriers to entry. So I think that there is a space for everyone in this world, and we can appreciate and understand how they can fit into all different types of campaigns and strategies.

Scott Guthrie  18:52

You may remember that earlier in the year leave I made that misstep when it announced it was building an army of virtual influences. The comms coming out of Levi at the time suggested that the initiative was undertaken to embrace diversity, but whether or not it was a comms issue or a strategic issue. The initiative was ultimately deemed a misstep, at least in the digital column inches of mainstream media. What does that mean for virtual influencers in terms of authenticity, and the way different regions consider virtual influences and authenticity?

Esme Rice  19:33

I think what it comes down to is the relationship that you are able to build with the Creator. I mean, in terms of our social context that we sit in, what our friends and what our close circles and what our communities and people share our language, discuss and talk about what become more accepted and more normalised within our world. So definitely that's going to have an impact. And we are seeing that impact of virtual influencers being more accepted, more influential, and that kind of snowballing within those regions and areas, I think in terms of authenticity, they're just building my relationships in a different way. My previous kind of issue, and I've spoken about this before was, you know, a virtual influencer, doing a campaign where they're doing something for like hair care, and they're showing off their shiny hair. That for me, I'm like, I'm like, but that isn't your you know. So those kinds of things. However, there are absolutely other opportunities where virtual influences I was like, super relevant to show up and advocate for a brand. So in terms of authenticity, it's about ensuring that the fit is appropriate for the brand for the messaging.

Scott Guthrie  20:47

Lastly, on virtual influencers, we've talked about the democratisation of media, and with it the birth of influencer marketing. Is there a danger though around virtual influences and regulation? Does that concern you in your role at mindshare?

Esme Rice  21:04

I think any type of regulation is always something that we want to be tapped into, and have an understanding of and be kind of informing and working with people on to make sure that we're at the kind of forefront of that, in terms of virtual regulation. I guess for me, that comes down into our vetting and an understanding of who we're working for, like we've seen examples in the past of virtual influencers who are presenting online as having a certain skin colour and then the team behind that virtual influencer, not having or not sharing that same skin colour and saying words that would are completely inappropriate. So that is where we have very strict and very clear vetting, and understanding rules. And that's, I think, something that us as practitioners put into our own regulation. And then in terms of industry regulation, virtual influencers will kind of continue to evolve and continue to react to those regulations that put in touch and as we said, a few years ago, influence marketing, kind of wild west, and now we're sitting in completely different space. And there's no reason that we you know, as new things, virtual influencers isn't even that new but like, as new things are popping up across our industry, that regulation will be put in place, we will work together to ensure the safety of everyone that we can all make like a proper social space that is inclusive and is safe. In

Scott Guthrie  22:34

the UK, we will increasingly look at virtual influences and the content they appear in through the lens of body image and image manipulation. I know that Dr. Luke Evans MP has introduced a private member's bill, along with the body image pledge a voluntary commitment not to digitally alter body proportions in any advertising, promotions or content. It's unclear, though, to me at least, where or if virtual influences fit within this bill and pledge. There are of course, other corners of the world which have sought to regulate virtual influences India's ad regulator, the Advertising Standards Council of India, became the first national ad watchdog to mention dealing with virtual influences within its disclosure guidelines back in 2021. The guidelines note that disclosure must be made in a manner that is well understood by an average consumer a virtual influence that must additionally disclose to consumers that they are not interacting with a human being this disclosure must be upfront and prominent. So I think at the moment, we're probably just on the right side of the uncanny valley. But the next iteration of virtual influence, or certainly the iteration after the next iteration will become increasingly hard to discern whether the character we're viewing is human or a synthetic human.

Esme Rice  24:10

There was an AI advert released, there was a beer advert, like for

Scott Guthrie  24:16

the pizza one wasn't there. And then, and then there was a beer one

Esme Rice  24:19

watching that, you know, you speak about the uncanny valley, that is the absolute like kind of where you're like, Oh, that's okay. Oh, okay. No, that's really weird. Like, okay, something's completely off. And we see like virtual influences and avatars, and then this whole idea of AI generated images, as I think this whole other thing, especially taking people's likeness and creating content and creating videos off the back of that. I think that's absolutely something that we really need to regulate and get ahead of my concern is all the kind of thoughts I've had around this as we've seen certain industry leaders within the AI space asking people not to continue development For like, put on pause for six months, and let them put in some regulation. And my thought on that is, if we look at how, for example, the US regulation conversations are going and the questions that are being asked, the understanding of even social media regulation is still lacking some understanding. So I would like to see how in six months, proper regulation of AI generated images to be shared across social is being regulated and how we can properly look towards that. I think there's some great work being done by brands, you know, dove, of course, really doing some incredible work there, around filters and around AI generated images to make sure that what we see online, whatever we can control, as practitioners, whatever we put out there online, there is an element of trust to it.

Scott Guthrie  25:50

Let's just take a moment as mayor to sort of look back into look forward as that part of the of the show was kind of moving into the final furlong. But you have been in the industry, I suppose. 2015 Probably when you're doing your dissertation 2016 When you were there, when you're there working? We've talked about a little bit at the beginning about it been the Wild West. But what changes, if any, have you seen in influencer marketing since you've been working in this space?

Esme Rice  26:19

I think one thing that I can personally really pick up on of how of how it's changed is when I first got into it, those first company I was getting in touch with in the first conversations that I was having was influencer agencies kind of evolving under this own branch. They weren't being taken into the big agencies weren't really doing specifically influencer stuff, it was still in conversations of why you should be doing influencer stuff versus these influencer agencies. They're establishing and creating their own way. And it felt like when I was first doing it, that PR agencies were giving it a go, then eventually, media agencies kind of started picking up again. And over time now it's become an integral place where it's really earned its spot. And I think it's just so interesting that influencers an industry kind of had to evolve as its own thing, and then get adopted in versus become a practice that was supported from the start within these larger agencies or within these larger brands. And we saw that kind of with first movers, small brands that were winning early on, you know, you glossier is and that everyone always refers back to but for me, it's been really exciting to follow that journey of the evolution of influencer marketing agencies in these really firing when we were at go. We were at weeks Europe's fastest growing agency, not social agency agency overall, being part of that and then bringing it into the big media space and seeing how it all fits in. I think that's been really interesting to see the space change in that

Scott Guthrie  28:03

way. Well, it's been really interesting, isn't it? You're talking I suppose, about the shift within our industry from a siloed bolt on into an integrator channel. The goat agency, obviously being acquired earlier this year by WPP and WPP. The acquisition of village marketing last year, demonstrates to the market and to investors within the market that influencer marketing has been sufficiently de risked the risk in terms of large scale investment and holding agencies holding companies getting getting in on the act. And now it marks the start of constant consolidation that demonstrates back to your point Azmi about influencer marketing shifting from the peripheries towards the centre of the marketing mix, to reuse your phrase, we've earned our spot. So to recap, influencer marketing is professionalising. It is growing, it is becoming more integrated. But what makes what makes for our sector

Esme Rice  29:14

as much as we've now quite often now been integrated, I'm afraid I think that now it's going to kind of fraction off and there's going to be as we understand more and people as a general society now understand influencer marketing they appreciate understand that it's a thing they don't need so much education on on that. Now we can start educating on the nuance and the different pieces of influencer and we can start breaking it down from introducing it as a term as an industry to bring in the different areas the different nuances of that industry and people start understanding more about specifically influences vibe That forms are influences, who are social sellers? Or who are TikTok is and how that integrates and works within our society as those kinds of each nuanced branches.

Scott Guthrie  30:13

So are you suggesting that there will be sort of smaller, but more sophisticated or tailored agencies that just work with TikTok creators, for example, or just work with fit influencers or or health creators? Is that what you're saying? Or am I missing the point?

Esme Rice  30:32

No, I'm not sure. It'd be like agency specific, because I think that I don't think we've even got that point in terms of agency land, and more thinking about our understanding and our practices of, you know, move. A few years ago, we saw the move away from thinking about influencers in terms of micro macro celebrity now kind of people developing their understanding of the different communities, different types of influences that are available, and just a general understanding of influence, and the different nuances that exist within it becoming more developed within our society and within our agencies. I don't necessarily think that'll reflect down into, or whether it should reflect down into TikTok specific agencies. I've never thought that agencies that kind of go towards one particular like influencer, and then go towards one particular niche have been particularly, you know, strong or effective, because I think that there's a beauty in discovering new communities, constantly through through online digital conversations.

Scott Guthrie  31:34

Oh, great. Thank you. Anything else in the future of influencer marketing?

Esme Rice  31:40

I think that I mean, as we say, with the jobs and with the people that I have been lucky enough to be speaking to this week, ability and skills of people to understand influencer will develop, we see more and more people who have a personal interest in it, who are bringing it into their jobs. We're no longer just like a load of specialists kind of existing within the space, although you know, specialist still exists, we see people that just have a personal passion and a driving influence within their own understanding. And that's because our social understanding law understanding of it as a society is developed further, the talent is developing. I think a little while ago, we saw them that developing understanding of society, reflecting into people thinking that they will no longer trust adverts or trust activations or trust influences when they give their recommendations. But realistically, I believe we've seen kind of the opposite of that people wanting those kinds of disclosures towards influencer work. So

Scott Guthrie  32:47

scrolling back, momentarily, you said that we wouldn't see so much specialisation? I don't know if I've got that right or not. Because I was thinking that we're moving from generalists to specialised services with influencer marketing.

Esme Rice  32:59

Yes. So just influence just specialists within influence marketing. I think that people who had a passion or an interest in influencer marketing it kind of became their entire existence or their entire identity. We kind of created this space this, this bubble, and I kind of feel like, I now come across many more people who influenced there's just one arrow in their quiver. Versus I think, maybe four or five years ago, the people that I was meeting at events or speaking to, were definitely like influencer specialists. If you were in influencer, then you were someone who was kind of that was your dedicated, dedicated role or understanding. Now I'm seeing people within commerce teams who are they are in a commerce role, but they have a real interest in influencer and a real understanding and knowledge of that. So it's that more diversified understanding of influencer within the different skill sets versus just having a bunch of people who are completely dedicated to influencers, their core role.

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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