Pitfalls of influencer marketing in Russia and how to avoid them – ClickZ

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30-second summary:

  • As YouTube content is not restricted to the territories of single states we shall define “Russian market” as “Russian linguistic area”.
  • In this respect, defining “Russian consumer market” one can safely add 10 million of Belarus’ population, 18 million of Kazakhstan’s and 40 million of Ukraine’s population to 150 million population of Russia itself totaling nearly 220 million of potential users.
  • Pricing itself is a very sensitive issue. In this regard influencer marketing in Russia is still very much “The Wild East”. Rates, especially if creators are contacted by foreign brands directly or through marketplaces, come out of thin air.
  • An international cloud-based web development platform started their first efforts to generate awareness in Russia, using influencer marketing on YouTube as one of their major marketing strategies.
  • The company chose to partner up with mediacube — a YouTube MCN operating in the market since 2015. The primary aim of this partnership was to generate awareness of the website building service among 18-35 year olds — the service was the main product the company wanted to present to the Russian market.
  • Mediacube employed their internal data management platform to leverage YouTubers with best matching audiences. Mid-size YouTubers in different niches were picked for a test flight with an idea to later target niches performing best, leveraging “bigger names”.
  • So mediacube managers had to tackle this at all stages of content production. The working scheme was built fast: videos never went live until both sides were 100% happy with drafts. Yes, in some cases it required much patience, diplomacy and 24/7 involvement from mediacube, but it was crucial to get the expected results.

Russia has been a tidbit for global businesses for several decades. And, while traditional mass-market industries like FMCG, retail, automotive sector, or electronics have long been more or less successfully winning their customers in the market through traditional PR and advertising, for new emerging digital brands “conquering” Russian customers may turn out to be a pretty challenging venture. When a product or service is targeted at a young proactive audience, including Influencer Marketing into general marketing strategy to support product deployment in a new market is more than reasonable, to say the least.

If as a marketologist you define YouTube as the main platform to communicate product values to your potential customers, the course of action is seemingly easy: find relevant YouTubers, get in touch, go live.

In reality, however, it’s not as easy as it seems. There are issues and pitfalls, which need to be addressed to keep your brand out of trouble.

Content made in partnership with mediacube.

The Russian consumer market

Before moving on to “whys and hows” and learning how everything gets done on a living example of the mediacube company’s work we must define clearly the very notion of Russian consumer market as it should be perceived in the context of influencer marketing on YouTube.

Almost 30 years after the USSR break-up the Russian language is still the Lingua Franca almost in the whole region of post-Soviet states. It is either widely spoken or well understood in Kazakhstan, Belarus and (though it is a very sensitive issue) in Ukraine.

As YouTube content is not restricted to the territories of single states we shall define “Russian market” as “Russian linguistic area”.

In this respect, defining “Russian consumer market” one can safely add 10 million of Belarus’ population, 18 million of Kazakhstan’s and 40 million of Ukraine’s population to 150 million population of Russia itself totaling nearly 220 million of potential users.

If we take a look at a typical Russian-speaking YouTuber’s audience Geo breakdown, the average proportion will look like this:

  • Russia: 65-70%;
  • Ukraine: 12- 15%;
  • Kazakhstan: 6 – 8%;
  • Belarus: 5-7%.

Though, language is both: a friend and a foe. You may be lucky enough to get a quick response from a YouTuber you want to partner with, but further briefing an influencer is likely to remind you of the movie: Lost in Translation!

Bearing in mind that it is not only you who are choosing among content creators, but talents are also choosing among hundreds of offers in their mailboxes, effective communication throughout the whole cycle of interaction with influencers is of utmost importance.

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The pitfalls of influencer marketing pricing in Russia

Pricing and payments is also a big deal. In many cases influencers in Russia will insist on 100% upfront payment for a piece of sponsored content even before they get down to a script of their would be product integration.

This can be a significant issue for companies working on a “payment-after-delivery” basis with all their contractors. Another thing is that in many post-Soviet states taxation authorities pay serious attention to incomes received from abroad. Reporting this type of income is an extra pain in the neck for individuals and greatly impacts the prices creators charge.

Pricing itself is a very sensitive issue. In this regard influencer marketing in Russia is still very much “The Wild East”. Rates, especially if creators are contacted by foreign brands directly or through marketplaces, come out of thin air.

Whereas negotiating prices is not a generally accepted norm unless there’s somebody around there with a previous experience of working with an influencer to say: “Come on! I know what you’re really worth!”

How to navigate the Russian influencer marketing landscape successfully

The case we consider one of the best examples to show all the pitfalls and ways to get around them started around a year ago.

An international cloud-based web development platform started their first efforts to generate awareness in Russia, using influencer marketing on YouTube as one of their major marketing strategies.

For that time, Russian YouTube landscape was a tabula rasa for them. It was clear at that point that their expertise in the market was not enough. They needed managed influencer services — a trustworthy partner with sufficient expertise to ensure achieving our objectives.

After weighing the pros and cons they chose a local YouTube multi-channel network as the best potential market entry point. The idea was quite simple but, as time showed, it led to success: a multi-channel network (MCN), unlike many agencies, is able to provide continuous communication with YouTube content creators, verified audience data, full-cycle document management and payment procedures.

The company chose to partner up with mediacube — a YouTube MCN operating in the market since 2015. The primary aim of this partnership was to generate awareness of the website building service among 18-35 year olds — the service was the main product the company wanted to present to the Russian market.

As the platform is a service sought after by audiences with a variety of interests, it was decided to reach out for as many as it was possible. The MCN had to analyze audiences very accurately, it was necessary to choose the right bloggers to work with, to learn everything that was possible about their viewers.

Mediacube employed their internal data management platform to leverage YouTubers with best matching audiences. Mid-size YouTubers in different niches were picked for a test flight with an idea to later target niches performing best, leveraging “bigger names”.

Next step was content. The development platform integrations needed to be as native as possible and therefore only those who really needed a professional website built fast were picked.

Moreover, as content and its format may be crucial for any advertising campaign, it was decided to develop special creative concepts for integrations ensuring maximum interaction with audiences and hence – maximum traffic generated to the websites creators  built on the advertised platform. 

Initial data had shown that several niches had been performing better for the platform so the campaign was scaled up to include top names in Tech, Entertainment, and PopSci, segments.

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As many creators had made series of creative integrations the gross coverage turned out to be really massive: over 58 million views. Nearly 1.5 million clicks were generated to the platform built influencers’ websites through direct links in video descriptions alone, making up 2.6% of the total views count. Given the fact that a click-through-rate exceeding 1.5% is considered excellent on YouTube, the above mentioned ratio is a fantastic result!

But at what price? Apparently mediacube have managed price negotiations very effectively due to their close contacts with Russian YouTubers as an MCN. As it was said in the beginning, one has to know what this or that blogger is worth. Neat negotiations resulted in the CPM way lower than average in Russia.

What about another issue that pops out when you have to deal with payments? Most Russian bloggers want their money in advance, and the company only pays influencers post facto. The solution came with flexibility with payments: mediacube paid those who demanded upfront payments from their own funds to avoid disruptions in workflow.

How about lost-in-translation kind of moments? Was it a problem to ensure content produced by influencers is brand safe and communicate brand values to audiences of a different cultural background? This area is a pretty delicate one.

Trying to constrict influencers’ creativity is a losing option, but at the same time any company would be very sensitive about brand safety issues. When you have communication policies, it is crucial to align all branded content with them.

So mediacube managers had to tackle this at all stages of content production. The working scheme was built fast: videos never went live until both sides were 100% happy with drafts. Yes, in some cases it required much patience, diplomacy and 24/7 involvement from mediacube, but it was crucial to get the expected results.

The case of the platform clearly demonstrates that tapping into Russia’s lucrative market via paid partnerships with YouTube influencers can be effective and successful. However, to mitigate all kinds of financial risks, avoid communication breakdowns and ensure brand safety the best strategy is to find a reliable local partner, knowing the ins and outs of the market.

Ivan Padrez is Head Of Business Development at mediacube’s Influencer Marketing Agency.

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