Interview with Agence 14 Septembre Managing Director Thomas Frébourg, and Head of Digital Vincent Roméo
What role do influence and consumer reviews play in the purchase journey within the home and decor sector?
Thomas: Influencers — those who don’t work as billboards — serve to legitimize the quality of a product, much more so than reviews by consumers who have redesigned their interior and have a following. There are big profiles who renovate their entire house, who are followed very closely, and who have a much greater impact.
Vincent: There’s also a refuge in brand awareness. Well-known brands can be a guarantor of quality and comfort. Claims like ‘Made in France’ are very strong arguments for consumer choice. Consumers turn to brands they trust because of their reputation, their history and the durability of their products. Working with influencers enables us to create content that’s interesting and engaging, but that injects their lives and interiors into it. It’s almost the interior of the home that influences more than they do: how they position a sofa, a table, a chair in their living space, with their children, their family. It’s real life and not a lifeless showroom. It’s a mix of influence and product placement.
We work in a world of attention to detail, materials, design, and production. We’re not in the business of sending a mascara to 850 influencers in a campaign because the price point is higher, and the impact on the interior is much higher. If we collaborate with an influencer and potentially gift them an expensive product, that means it’s going to be installed in their home and we’re going to imagine a lot more content with them. We invite them to events, to visit the factory, have them take photos and give us feedback. We to try to pull the thread so that we do a little less, but inevitably with a higher return in terms of quality.
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How do you measure the impact of these campaigns over the long term?
Vincent: Obviously, there is the impalpable part — like a billboard on the side of the road — that is particularly complicated because even I know I’m being influenced, but very rarely right away.
We’re talking more about standard KPIs like visibility, engagement rates, impressions. If there are links we can track them, but for a high-priced sofa, knowing when the sale was generated is complicated. If we are also managing the brand’s social networks, we look at content creation in terms of cross-posts, stories that we can share on the brand’s channels.
In terms of performance, it’s essential to have a strong relationship with the brand, because we can measure things from our side, but the brand can also share data like website or store traffic. On a qualitative aspect, we can also look at keyword mentions linked to a product, the use of the designer’s name, of the term ‘Made In France’: things which are essential for demonstrating quality.
Which platforms are best suited to influence for the home and deco sector?
Vincent: Instagram is obviously a major player for decorating trends and inspiration. YouTube or TikTok have also jumped on the band wagon. There are also specialized networks that have been developing for several years, like Houzz which specializes in interior design and has the particularity of connecting consumers with craftsmen and interior designers, and offers a wide range of other services.
Is TikTok, with its emphasis on entertainment, pertinent for home and deco brands?
The brands we work with are not yet truly invested in terms of a TikTok strategy. TikTok has certain codes — the ultra-young dancing thing — for video and thematic production with a dedicated editorial line. We manage networks with a fairly structured editorial line and content that we can easily feed. You still have to orchestrate things like Instagram or Pinterest. But TikTok is something apart, you don’t have the same content, it’s still complex for certain brands which are more high-end. And there are safe havens around Instagram that are reassuring.
Facebook and Instagram are increasingly difficult to develop without investing a lot of money for launching accounts and brands. It’s difficult to say we’ll invest everything on Instagram without doing some TikTok on the side. There are brands that are arriving on TikTok and influencers who are doing a lot of content, but you need to bring in the human touch to embody the brand, which brands aren’t able to do. And of course you have to have a large budget. For TikTok, potentially, you’d have to do one or two to three videos a week you want to be effective, which is pretty colossal.
For the time being, we’re going to be much more on Instagram, which is opening up formats like Reels, Stories, or Live, and which make it possible to enhance brand accessibility with more engaging formats.
Pinterest remains interesting for brands, even if it’s more of a giant mood board. It’s a platform of intentions, people go to Pinterest to look for a sofa. For decoration, design and textile brands, it’s interesting to be able to go on this platform.
In France, LinkedIn is quite interesting in terms of organic development. By leaning on engagement values, employer brand values and values around products, we can do something pretty effective. We may not be reaching the general public, but you reach the decision-makers. More and more people are switching over to LinkedIn, and can be addressed on these messages. But posts need to go into detail about values and commitments, so it’s a different impact.
What’s your criteria for choosing influencers?
Thomas: We try to have a team of influencers who reach different communities. We’ll take a few in decoration, someone who’s into fashion, or someone else in a different niche. Each can bring a slightly different prism to the table and a different community on board. If you reach the same people eight times through decorating, it’s pretty difficult. You might have six people reaching the same audience, so we try to have a mom or family, a young couple, athletes, depending on the themes and the brand. We can collaborate with people in fashion to talk about textiles and texture. We’re reaching different emotions and allowing people to see the product within a universe that might be more lifestyle, more premium.
How are questions of ethics and environmental responsibility developing within the sector?
Vincent: There’s a divide between mass-market influence where there isn’t that sensitivity at all, and an influence that’s much more about giving meaning to what’s being said and to the products being presented. It was the same with traditional media: now it’s about influencers who have a story to tell and are much more connected to audiences within this ecosystem rather than being pure billboards for products. Today’s influencers also are subject to regulations that are in the process of being passed into law.
Thomas: We have a responsibility to pay close attention to responsible communication, to know how to enhance the value of products through the way they’re made, why they’re used. We’ve conducted training with our teams in responsible communication, and in how to communicate correctly so we’re not accused of green washing. It’s essential to our mission as communicators.
Vincent: We also have brands who ask us for committed influencers, influencers who are sensitive to the messages and who can talk about these issues. So, if the person is fine with decorating, but is offering the latest home carpet and then doing her make-up, that’s not going to work. If she wants to visit factories to see how they treat and recycle the materials, there’s a real message to be conveyed, which means that she or he has to be able to do it and have a community who is sensitive to these issues.
The aim is, through their expertise, to be able to say: this brand is starting to have a more responsible approach, and is innovating in certain products to have less impact on the environment. And in doing so, they educate themselves and their community. More and more, our brands are asking us for these elements of engagement, which also go towards creating longer relationships with our influencers. We’re getting much more into medium- to long-term partnerships of six months or a year, with several pieces of content, events, etc.
What do you see as the challenges and opportunities for the sector in the coming year? Is it a sector that will be impacted by the inflationary environment?
Thomas: Brands are necessarily obliged to be careful. Where before we might have thought we’d go bit harder on influencers, they’re going to think a bit more, wait to see the impact, maybe reduce the number [of influencers]. In our field, the media that used to be very paper-based is moving into digital and will also offer content; they’re also coming in to the influencers’ turf. There’s a real rethink going on. Brands are a little more cautious, and have smaller budgets.
Right now, we’re in an inflationary phase, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen next year or the year after. What we’re trying to defend is to integrate influencer activations at the heart of a global strategy. It’s not just that we send out four products and see what happens. We’ll do very specific collaborations with influencers who we send to the factory to do a report. Then we’ll do an interview with them and other things in the showroom that will give us some grist for the mill for PR, perhaps for the newsletter and potentially also the brand’s Instagram account. We’re really into recycling and the circular economy of content.
Vincent: There are several levels of influencers. There are influencers who are capable, who advocate the subject, and it’s their life. These are often big community drivers and can be interesting to experiment with. There are influencers or content creators who have an interest in bringing a particular prism to the table. We’ll mobilize them almost as a service provider. There are influencers who are experts in their field and that’s where we’re going to collaborate a lot. People like architects who have large Instagram accounts; for the brand it will be much more interesting to position the sofa with the architect than with an influencer who has a beautiful house. It could also be a sommelier, or a color expert. The field of influence is very broad and within it we can include those influencers for whom it’s their job and others for whom their talent makes them influential. That’s where it gets really interesting because it’s more legitimate to collaborate with an architect, to have their professional opinion of the project.
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