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Influencer marketing in Germany: opportunities abound for brands with an ROI-first approach

Accelerated by the COVID crisis, Germany’s KOL marketing environment is undergoing significant change as brands increasingly realize the power of the medium to drive not just awareness, but sales.

German flag flying with transparent graphics in the foreground
German flag flying with transparent graphics in the foreground

Compared to markets such as France, the US or the UK, KOL marketing in Germany lags in maturity, with fewer KOLs overall, a lower level of professionalization in terms of KOL self-management, and a continuing hesitation on the part of brands to bring the activity in-house.

Germany is home to 47,040 KOLs with more than 5,000 followers on Instagram, compared to 57,314 in France, 67,801 in Spain, and 92,167 in the UK, according to Kolsquare data. On YouTube, there are 10,259 KOLs with more than 5,000 followers in Germany, compared to 11,819 in France and 15,656 in the UK.
Despite this, the country is rife with examples of mega KOLs such as rappers Capital Bra and Shirin David leveraging their notoriety to launch successful products and brands. Such success stories are an indicator that parts of the market, at least, have picked up on the growing power of influencers for driving conversion.

Key takeaways

  • Fewer KOLs, but micros have strong community relationships and drive healthy ROI.
  • Influx of brands to KOL marketing during COVID contributed to a doubling of prices over two years.
  • German market players have yet to fully adopt a data-driven approach to KOL marketing.
  • Instagram continues to dominate as the favored platform for KOL marketing due to its strength in social connections.
  • Demand for authentic, responsible content rising.

As in other markets, the outbreak of the COVID pandemic delivered a wave of new businesses to the industry, in the sudden realization that KOL marketing was a channel that would enable them to stay relevant with customers while other channels were closed.

A lot of people came from the outside into the influencer marketing world because of COVID and just basically threw budget at influencers that they couldn’t otherwise spend on their offline marketing activities,” comments influencer marketing consultant Jenny Song Schmidt. “The impact of that is something the industry has definitely felt from 2020 onwards. And the way that was felt was through the rising costs, the rising CPMs.”

The ensuing months were notable for a lack of understanding and transparency around how influencer marketing works, the difference between concepts such as gross reach and net reach, and why it can be more effective to prioritize engagement over follower count, says Song Schmidt.

There was a lack of education and transparency during that time which is still ongoing,” comments Song Schmidt, who together with influencer marketing agency Emmerich Relations founder, Sarah Emmerich, has launched the Influencer Marketing Masterclass to educate industry players on the need for data-driven strategies for KOL marketing.

There are definitely clients [in Germany] that do use tools, and that use Kolsquare or have heard about checking insights regularly, but it’s still one of those things that will have to develop over the next couple of years,” comments Song Schmidt, adding that many marketers have yet to appreciate the value of engagement versus total followers when choosing KOLs, for example.

That general understanding of followers being a vanity metric [is not there yet], it’s a number I don’t even look at any more, I’d rather look at net reach and purpose,” says Song Schmidt.

Impact of rising prices

The influx of brands turning to influencer marketing in Germany has contributed to an exponential rise in costs, with CMP having nearly doubled over the past two years from €15 to €28, according to observers and Kolsquare analysis.

As a result, brands and agencies are now beginning to demand quantifiable performance results of campaigns. Influencer marketing agency The Influencer CEO Laeticia Marie Ecklé says German brands are increasingly focused on leads and conversions over awareness.

Clients are asking more about the real outcome of the campaign and does it really make sense to spend so much money. [This is] because the prices are going higher and higher because there are more talents, more demands, more requests,” comments Ecklé.

That’s the way it’s going, it’s crazy how many [requests] there are at the moment. As an agency we have to explain why the prices are what they are, and what the outcome will be. So it’s getting more difficult.”

Stronger engagement

One of the benefits of a less mature marketplace is that generating strong ROI from smaller creators is perhaps easier in Germany than elsewhere. Influencer marketing agency Gocomo Operations Team Lead Benedikt David Baecker says KOLs with follower counts of 10,000 to 300,000 have stronger relationships with their communities and are able to drive higher ROI.

When I have a sales campaign in Germany […] we have a higher return on investment. In an extreme case, we had ten times more sales than what I paid for, which is astonishing,” comments Baecker.

When I did campaigns like that in the UK, in the Nordics or when I worked with a brand in the US, it was way harder to find that one sales rep among influencers that is really pushing through. I think that is because their markets are more mature than Germany, and people are saturated with influencer offerings.”

Instagram still strong

Despite its meteoric rise in popularity, especially amongst Gen Z users, TikTok has yet to take off in Germany as a strong channel for KOL marketing. Although highly entertaining, the platform’s lack of social interaction compared to Instagram makes it harder for creators on TikTok to create strong communities and to authentically drive product and brand purchase intent.

80% of our clients still want to stick with Instagram. TikTok is becoming more present, but people think of it like an entertainment platform, not to really have a serious conversation with the community,” comments Ecklé. “It’s also hard to understand the reach, and [whether] a video is going to go viral or not. It’s very difficult to make any kind of analysis and that’s really scary for some brands.”

But the impact of Instagram’s well-documented algorithm tinkering is being felt in the industry. Notably, the platform is pushing more recommended content into feeds; Song Schmidt says changes to Instagram are particularly apparent in lower views on Stories.

Instagram is a bit of a mess right now. Stories are what drives sales and if you’re looking to utilize influencer marketing in a performance driven way, you can’t get around Instagram Stories. There has been a lot of fluctuation,” she says.

Some brands and agencies are trying to deal with it by implementing different paragraphs in contracts, saying that if there is a fluctuation beyond a certain point it needs to be compensated. But it’s very tough to do because the influencer says it’s not their fault, it’s the algorithm.”

Diversification and responsibility

The evolution of Germany’s KOL marketing landscape has delivered significant diversification of organizations and business sectors operating within the channel. From a previous focus on fashion and beauty, there is increased awareness that influencer marketing can be used for any number of purposes, comments Ecklé.

Also more obvious in influencer content in Germany is the consumer pressure on brands to behave responsibly. The growing popularity of BeReal is an indicator of audiences seeking greater authenticity from social media influence.

“People want to have more real content. I’ve had clients ask for no facial touch ups or photoshop, they want the raw files. This shows a trend that is going towards more normal content, and not content that is overworked,” comments Ecklé.

Baecker notes that the popularity of female rappers like Shirin David and Katja Krasavice is due in part to their playing to codes of “hyper femininity […] that in Germany is perceived as female empowerment to a lot of women”.

Toughen up

Looking ahead, KOL marketing in Germany is set to get tougher as more brands enter not only enter the fray, but look to data as the means by which to plan, operate and analyze campaign success. Fewer KOLs in the market means competition for those with strong communities will rise, as will prices brands are willing to pay for quality content.

“Collecting data like reach, impressions, clicks, clicks on tags, engagements; it is becoming not a trend, but a necessity. Brands have understood. They have been fooled in the past. They’ve invested in the wrong horses and never really understood why,” comments Baecker.

The outtake? Defining a data-driven strategy for KOL marketing in Germany is paramount, and should be done in parallel with developing and maintaining strong, long-term relationships with high-performing KOLs to ensure you can weather the storm of competition that is on the horizon.  

About Kolsquare

Kolsquare is Europe’s leading Influencer Marketing platform, a data-driven solution that allows brands to scale their KOL Marketing strategies and implement authentic partnerships with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). Kolsquare’s technology enables marketing professionals to easily identify the best Content Creators profiles by filtering their content and audience, and to build and manage their campaigns from A to Z, including measuring results and benchmarking performance against competitors. Kolsquare has built the largest community of influencer marketing experts in the world, and offers hundreds of customers (Coca-Cola, Netflix, Sony Music, Publicis, Sézane, Sephora, El Corte Inglés, Lacoste, …) the latest Big Data, AI and Machine Learning technologies to drive inspiring partnerships, tapping into an exhaustive network covering 100% of  KOLs with more than 5,000 followers in 180 countries on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. As a Benefit Company, Kolsquare has been pioneering Responsible Influence by championing transparency, ethical practices, and meaningful collaborations to inspire change.

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