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Interview with Bel France Head of Communications and Influencer Marketing, Malaika Coco

Purveyor of internationally renowned cheese brands The Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel, French cheese manufacturer Group Bel’s rich, 150-year history of innovative marketing has helped propel the company to its leading market position. And while a lot has changed over the decades, some things have not: in today’s rapidly developing influencer marketing environment, Group Bel continues to innovate as it seeks to target younger consumers with its iconic brands. In this interview with Kolsquare, Bel France Head of Communications and Influencer Marketing Malaika Coco discusses the key pillars of the company’s influence strategy, including its emphasis on developing long-term, professional relationships with KOLs and extensive recourse to data at every step of the process.

Picture of Malaika Coco

Can you outline the influence strategy at Bel France?

I have defined a long-term influence strategy at Bel which relies more on creating real relationships with influencers rather than just selecting them for a one-shot campaign.

We work, and co-construct content, with influencers along a common thread over the medium- and long-term. The richness of maintaining real ties [with influencers] is that we can capitalize on them to maximize the impact of classic campaigns at key moments during the year, while also operating outside the constraints of the business calendar to build community loyalty.

That’s also why we are internalizing and creating our own community of ambassadors. We continue to work in a classic manner with agencies — especially in some countries where we can activate several types of influencers — but we also have recurring influencers who work with us in a coherent manner. For (children’s cheese brand) Kiri, we started with a pool of micro influencer parents from which we’ve built a core of ambassadors. When we activate them for new products, for example, we already know their content impacts their community and has a strong prescriptive power.

Which criteria do you use when selecting KOLs?

Kolsquare has been very effective for us in the selection process, whether for [KOLs] we use through agencies or those we internalize, and for the follow-up to campaigns and content. Using comparable KPIs, we defined a structured reference grid that encompasses the credibility score, through to analysis of each profile’s community.

The challenge is to constitute a pool of coherent influencers who are relevant to our brands and objectives. If the objective is more about consideration, prescription, reassurance, we will play to the micros. But you still need to see the impact and that’s why it’s important to structure the KPIs. It is also necessary to maintain an optimal balance between the different profile sizes.

How do you measure campaign results and ROI?

Having an ROI-first approach is a strategy that has really accelerated in the market. I’ve developed a set of in-house KPIs to guide both our internal and agency activities so we can have quantifiable and comparable results. It used to be that each agency had its own methodology for calculating fees, KPIs and objectives. Often agencies would calculate reach on Stories by aggregating all views on each slide. We decided to calculate reach on the first slide only. It involved a lot of discussions with the agencies since the number of views inevitably decreases, but it has harmonized the methodology for calculating results.

We use Kolsquare to calculate EMV which is an important KPI in the context of inflation and [rising influencer costs]. My brands demand that we quantify the impact and the ROI of what we spend on influence. The challenge is to use the KPIs as campaign objectives at the beginning, and at the end in order to judge whether it was ROI-ist or not. Engagement rate is also important because it allows us to define the level of prescription each influencer has. It is not so much about reach, because in the end people can see content but remain passive.

To what extent do KOLs understand the business objectives?

They understand it completely because, with the maturing market, even the youngest KOLs surround themselves with agents, artistic directors, legal advisers. We have ambassadors who are very receptive to this. If we tell them a concept will not add enough value, they listen. There’s also a better balance; because they are more professional, brands allow them more freedom. Whereas influence in France used to be about product placement, the structuration of the market is leading to real creation, staging and quality content. Sometimes I am blown away by the content they create, how it aligns with the brief but also incorporates their creative ideas.

Influencers are also more selective in the choice of their partners. We notice that upstream; they ask us a lot of questions about the products, where they come from, the ingredients, the process. They ask about the dairy farmers and our relationships with them. I think it’s very healthy, very positive, because once they say yes, they are completely on board.

What is your approach to the different platforms?

Before Covid, the pillars were the Meta platforms: Facebook and Instagram. Facebook was the transgenerational platform for various targets and Instagram was a younger, more digital target.

Gen Z has become a target for Babybel — which teenagers eat as a healthy snack — and  for Apéricube. Apéricube used to be more family-orientated but it has a playful identity and positioning around that meant Gen Z became a strategic target. In this context, we began diversifying platforms we’re on. On Snapchat we developed Marvel superhero filters for Babybel and we’ve also developed activations around gaming; we’re present on Twitch with Apéricube .

We noticed a great visual food trend developing on TikTok and started to see that our brands were there despite us not having any official presence. We realized we could create experiences on TikTok that we couldn’t do on Instagram or Facebook. To celebrate the centenary of The Laughing Cow, we developed a 360° activation which included a TikTok challenge. It was a hit! Altogether, we had 1.7bn views.

Previously, I would have said that TikTok was only for awareness but […] there is a lot more culinary content than there used to be so we can work on consideration. Bearing in mind that it is a young and very connected target.

Looking ahead, which are the key trends you see in KOL marketing?

The question of responsible influence is developing on several levels. The rules are getting tougher, as is the legislation, both to avoid excesses — of which there have unfortunately been some in the past — and also to protect content creators. I also think the concept of responsible influence will extend to other industry practices such as gifting, its carbon footprint and the waste it produces.

Companies rationalizing KPI methodology and working more towards tracking and measuring influence is a major axis that will only become stronger, because we don’t have limited resources and we need to see the return on investment.

The trend to social commerce is very interesting. It’s a sign that conversion is going to be facilitated more. The functionalities of the platforms are evolving to allow direct purchase of products highlighted in influencer content. There are more links between the physical and the social. Influence is becoming responsible, ROI-focused and therefore very business oriented. It’s very palpable and that’s why the technical developments of the platforms will be very important.

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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