Lessons from the cutting edge of influence with Remarkables Group MD Natalie Giddings
Natalie Giddings, owner and managing director of The Remarkables Group, has been in the influencer game since its beginnings. A career built on a passionate thirst for knowledge and an attitude of ‘getting things done’ – and somehow she makes it look easy. By Michelle Keomany
This article originally appeared in The Trust Issue, our June/July 2018 issue of Marketing magazine.
Natalie Giddings is as immensely bright as she is bubbly. She speaks to you like you’re having coffee and cake on a Sunday afternoon. For someone in the thick of social media marketing, she doesn’t even use one word of jargon or industry-speak. In just 10 short years, Giddings has held pivotal roles in Australia’s social media marketing industry. She was one of the first to begin specialising within social media, first as a strategist at Think Tank Social, before founding Pollen Marketing, her own boutique specialist agency. She went on to work with Australia’s largest brands at Mediabrands where she was first exposed to The Remarkables Group, the strategic influencer agency of which she is now owner and managing director.
Giddings is at the forefront of deciphering the science that goes into influencer marketing. She talks about the diverse mix of influencer types – from storytellers to experts, authorities, role models and everyday people. She describes them as “People we aspire to be or people we relate to.”
“But above all they are sharing from their own genuine experience. It’s a beautiful blend of online reviews marketing and peer-to-peer marketing. Because you get to know these influencers so intimately that when they come across something they like, they’ll say it and when they come across something they don’t like, they’ll say it.”
At the core of effective influencer marketing is understanding your consumer barrier or brand message.
The process the agency utilises is extremely involved, from conception to deployment. The Remarkables Group has a unique approach, guiding brands through the initial phase of developing an influencer strategy using a six- or 12-month program. During this time, it will develop an initial strategy, then research and analyse a potential talent pool of influencers using a six-step process, as well as vetting audiences and managing negotiations before a rigorous on boarding. So, if you thought all that goes into an influencer campaign was sitting on a beach drinking skinny tea and using teeth-whitener, you’re very much mistaken.
“The amount of nos we got when we were working with talent was huge,” she recalls. “Combined, maybe $400 to $500 thousand of work was turned down. They’re not cash-grabbers – the genuine ones – the professional ones will only work with brands that they can genuinely endorse or love.” The Remarkables has been active since 2012 and is currently navigating the rapid shifts that the industry is experiencing. Giddings says that this is well within her comfort zone and speaks to her desire to always be on the cutting edge of something – a theme that has followed her through her entire career.
Giddings’ career actually started later than most. After having children young, she started a telemarketing job from home while she looked after her three kids. Her new marketing manager saw something in her, offering her a marketing coordinator role and encouraged her to do the Business Marketing course at RMIT University. She never looked back. She was 26 when she started the degree, fitting it around full-time work and raising her children. “I remember repeatedly overhearing many of the other people in the course say how overwhelmed they were, struggling to keep up with the workload because they were so ‘busy’ and ‘tired’… This made absolutely no sense at all to me. Was I magically bending time? No, it was that time had a different meaning or value to me. I couldn’t afford to spare one moment of any day. I cultivated every moment for a purpose.”
It’s this sense of purpose and simply ‘getting things done’ that has guided Giddings through everything she has set her mind to. Maximising the potential of what she has around her has been pivotal from the beginning. “Setting smart priorities was essential,” she says. “Getting things to completion actually before deadline was my way of life because there were always last-minute changes or surprises. And when surprises arose, if I hadn’t allowed for it, there were three little people waiting for me at home who wouldn’t comprehend a deadline.”
In 2007 Giddings began working in an IT environment, providing the structure she needed to learn the fundamentals of online marketing and understanding how everything was interconnected. “They were very serious about having a decent online presence, that led me to research best practices in web copy, sitemaps and SEO (search engine optimisation). Plus, working with Microsoft, VMware and Cisco, they were big on events, so understanding email marketing became critical for driving registrations. I created an early version of a sales funnel, which then led to social media and content marketing. I needed a solid email marketing practice and I had to self-learn that.”
Nothing seems to faze Giddings, if there is something she doesn’t know, she simply researches it and teaches herself. Understanding great communication underpins everything she has achieved. “When people come to me and ask what they should study, [they say] ‘I’ve done my marketing degree, but what do I need to improve on?’ They always want to do digital marketing, but I always say, ‘Go and do a really great copywriting course.’ Because if you can understand the essence of things, you can communicate to people and therefore audiences, rather than getting stuck on the technical side. You can learn that by doing. Learning to communicate is a conscious effort.”
One of Giddings’ guest lecturers at RMIT was Sam Mutimer, founder of Thinktank Social, one of the first dedicated social media businesses in Australia. “She was dynamite, my jaw was dropping the entire time she spoke,” recalls Giddings. “I went and introduced myself and we got along like a house on fire.”
Mutimer understood Giddings’ skill set – which at that point had been self-taught in digital marketing – and invited her to be Thinktank’s first social media strategist, making her the first social media strategist at the first social media dedicated business in Australia. She talks about what it was like to be self-taught and at the forefront of something that was about to explode, yet was at that point relatively unknown. “Social media was still just below the surface, there was no blueprint or template on how to do social media well,” she says. It was here that Giddings started to realise the value in being a specialist and having the confidence to focus on a key area. “Specialising always paid off in a sense of work and success. There are insights that can only be discovered by working, managing and reviewing those programs first hand – something that’s carried through my entire career. There are insights discovered by actively working day-to-day on real life campaigns rather than being a non-specialist.” Giddings has an remarkable ability to understand each small detail without losing sight of the bigger picture.
After Thinktank Social, she ran her own boutique agency, Pollen Marketing, where she employed other mothers. “When starting my first digital marketing agency, I didn’t deliberately set out to work with mums predominantly. I was just interested in working with the best people as special projects arose. Eventually my core team of experts were based around the world. We had such a great rhythm – even across time zones – of just getting it done.” Thanks to her exposure to the IT industry, Giddings’ mind was opened to the possibility of smarter ways of working, including VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), cloud computing and virtual desktop solutions. She talks about being a WeWork-based team and if the team members don’t have a client meeting in the office, they don’t have to be in. “We have G Suite, Xero, Slack, Basecamp and Dropbox. The flexibility this mindset and these systems create allows for much more of the type of concentration you need when working on strategy, for example. Plus, you get to work with and attract brilliant people.” She makes everything sound so easy. Does she have any advice for mums looking to get back into the workforce?
“When you are interviewing, businesses are very much looking for your soft skills. For me this is your proven self-learning, communication abilities, personal habits, emotional empathy and time management, among other traits.”
It was when she was at Mediabrands that she experienced the power of influencers and could see how pivotal they were becoming in the marketing mix. Giddings was approached by The Remarkables to help it pivot from talent representation to become a strategic adviser and influencer marketing management specialist. “We pioneered the influencer representation model way back in May 2012 and ran that model for four and a half years. As the influencer marketing space took off, we could see brands making the same mistakes – mistakes that we knew were avoidable. The decision to move into the strategy space was a really clear one. We couldn’t be providing the best advice when we had vested interest in the talent.” And, of course, Giddings couldn’t say no to this unique challenge and opportunity.
Despite influencers being the hot new topic, Giddings points out that in some ways nothing has changed, “People have always loved storytelling and being entertained, knowing the latest news and connecting with other people. It’s just our ‘sources’ that have evolved.” So, why are influencers so effective? Giddings explains that it starts with the trust capital they have built from sharing their lives.
“Our third-party research study in January 2017, which included five quantitative and 1200 audience members, said that 35 percent purchased a new product in the last 12 months recommended by an influencer.
“Many influencers have tipped over into being as large, if not larger, than more traditional advertising platforms,” she adds. “That combination is powerful. Vogue Australia – the largest read women’s beauty and fashion magazine – has a 55,000 monthly circulation. Australia-based YouTubers such as Nikkia Joy and Rachel-Lee have cracked over half a million subscribers each.” From the audience’s perspective, they actually seek out product recommendations from trusted sources. “Our audience engagement study from 2016 showed that 78 percent of audiences love it when an influencer they follow recommends a product. Indeed, they look forward to it. Plus, the number one reason for following an influencer is ‘it feels like catching up with a friend’.” Giddings says that even her children refer to YouTubers they like as their friends.
Like any shiny new thing, everyone is having a go at influencer marketing. In 2017 alone there were an estimated 14.5 million sponsored posts on Instagram. So what are some of the common mistakes that Giddings sees and how can marketers overcome the incoming saturation of the market? The first error is using content that is repurposed instead of custom-made for each channel and audience, or content that is unrelated to the brand’s messaging. She also says that there’s a lack of understanding of what true branded content is and that achieving the right balance is an art. And, of course, it’s all about the data, data, data. It’s common to misunderstand what real results are and get caught up in vanity metrics. Brands really need to better educate themselves on interpreting the results and drawing insights. “What they often find when it’s done properly is: maybe they don’t need to be publishing as often as they are or maybe they don’t need to be on as many channels. Maybe they can just focus on the one that is getting the most traction,” Giddings says.
“Navigate the sea of sameness,” is her sage advice, while also recommending that you don’t get stuck in the old school PR model of sending out a package.
“You’re better off spending a lot of time with one influencer, so they can carve and co-create a genuine story for your brand, than being in that sea where every post looks the same.” Giddings is a refreshing and incredibly switched-on voice, who is continually breaking new ground in social media marketing and bringing audiences and brands closer together.
Michelle Keomany is a content strategist at Publicis.Sapient France.