Iona speaks at the Financial Services Forum – what did she say?

What is an influencer and can you trust them? Iona set out her robust views on the thorny but fascinating topic of influencer marketing (fresh from her hugely successful Experian partnership with the legendary Adebayo Akinfenwa) when she was invited to speak to the Financial Services Forum in the City recently. Simon Bain went along to watch…

“We have to think creatively and imaginatively to reach new audiences,” Iona said. Young people needed trustworthy voices and looked to their family, friends and other folks around them. “Word of mouth is still incredibly important and we sometimes overstate the influence of influencers.” When a pop star had endorsed an app, of her 16million followers just seven had clicked on the link, Iona said.

Iona also highlighted the problems faced by Freetrade, the investment app that has previously been banned from working with influencers due to a series of questionable partnerships. She suggested that brands might get better results from partnering with “microinfluencers who have smaller, more engaged audiences, who have developed genuine expertise and who have the charisma to reach out to audiences”.

Iona played a clip of her video campaign for Experian with ex-footballer Bayo, who she said had a genuine commitment to the cause of building financial resilience and who had, literally, “put me through my paces” on film. The campaign had reached over a million 18 to 25s thanks to “getting the ingredients right”.


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Mark Smith, media director at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, agreed that authenticity was vital. “The British consumer is particularly cynical, they can smell a financial services endorsement.”  Mark was showcasing the PLSA’s new ‘Give Your Pension some Attention’ campaign with larger than life grime artist Big Zuu. Challenged to produce a music track for the ad he did so in 24 hours, but equally impressively turned out to have a real passion for the cause based on his own financial journey from shifts at Nando’s to Bafta award-winning TV chef.

Mark said the unusual collaboration between the pensions and insurance industries had been marked by even more unusual quick decision-making and commissioning, with the social media and billboard campaign reaching five million people. Almost a fifth of people questioned recalled seeing the campaign, and of those more than 90% had taken some sort of action on their pension, which counted as a broad success.

Zoe Miranda, social media director at TeamSpirit agency, a leading partner with the financial services industry, said more people than ever were being exposed to more opinions and more content from lifestyle influencers. The challenges were to work out where a brand’s audience sat, what content it was consuming and across which different channels, and how to reach bigger audiences in a more authentic way.

Zoe said campaigns could help, and harness, creators like photographers, animators and musicians, as well as employees who could be inspired by non-traditional media to talk about their specialist skills. “It’s not just your brand pushing out a one-way message.”

David Cowan, director of the Financial Services Forum, commented that reputations could soon be tarnished by (hugely lucrative but) ill-judged associations – such as David Beckham’s with Qatar.

In a thoughtful panel and audience debate, Iona noted that as a financial journalist she would work only on awareness campaigns not product promotion, because integrity “means working only with those brands that get that”.

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