Dmytro Kornilov, CEO of FFFACE.ME shares his insights on developing practical and measurable projects in the metaverse for brands.
Virtual influencers have become a powerful force in the marketing industry. PRWeek lists brands as diverse as Prada, Alibaba and Samsung as some of the companies that have already launched their own virtual influencers. The biggest virtual influencers like Lu do Magalu, Miquela, Barbie and Any Malu have millions of followers. Based on my experience with virtual avatars, I’d like to give you some tips on how to get the most out of these new digital characters and help spread your brand’s message.
Understanding Virtual Influencers
Virtual influencers are graphic-designed characters that a team uses to act as an influencer on social media. They can be perceived in two ways:
• As a branded anthropomorphic presence on various social media platforms.
• As a brand mascot that can also be used for offline advertising as in-store, on-trade and off-trade promotion.
These virtual characters can represent and promote brands digitally, but due to their realistic appearance and behavior, they can also be perceived as something more real by the audiences.
Virtual Influencers Bringing Real Value
In the digital era, virtual influencers have the potential to captivate audiences with their uniqueness. Whether adored or disliked, I’ve seen how they evoke strong reactions, and this contributes to their organic promotion.
A survey conducted in 2023 found that 60.4% of marketing agencies, brands and other relevant professionals had used virtual influencers for marketing campaigns, which is not surprising given the popularity of these digital characters. Lu do Magalu, for example, is the most followed virtual influencer with a following of 14.6 million on Facebook, 6 million on Instagram, 2.6 million YouTube subscribers, and 1.3 million followers on both Twitter and TikTok at the time of writing this piece.
It’s not just about fashion or beauty products. Virtual influencers can review new gadgets, provide analytics about financial markets, make political statements and even speak about healthy nutrition. Moreover, since they don’t have physical body limitations and can instantly change locations, they are capable of more original creative approaches. Here are some examples of successful collaborations between brands and virtual influencers that demonstrate the power of this marketing approach:
• KFC’s virtual colonel generated over 150 million impressions within two weeks of the campaign.
• Ralph and Russo’s promotion of their haute couture FW 2020/2021 collection that featured virtual models was reported to result in a media impact value of $65.1 million with 19.4 million viewers.
• Within three years of launch, the studio Brud behind Lil Miquela, who took part in campaigns for brands such as Prada, Balmain and Calvin Klein, earned a valuation of $125 million.
As can be seen, virtual influencers have a high potential in creating brand awareness and driving conversions through meaningful engagement across various platforms and communication channels.
To illustrate a collaborative aspect of virtual influences, Lu, the earlier mentioned world’s largest virtual influencer, collaborated on a video clip with Brazil’s renowned singing artist, Anitta. My company’s virtual influencer, Astra, even took the stage at the 2021 Vogue Conference.
Making Virtual Feel Organic
To start taking advantage of virtual influencers, there are a few things I think businesses should keep in mind.
• Storytelling and personality are critical. Even digitally, people establish connections with personalities and explore how they act in different situations. You must craft a narrative and break it into episodes, integrating trends and cultural references. What people follow is the story and character behind the influencer. For example, the music band Gorillaz, a virtual band formed in 1998, started off in 2D, but they always had a captivating story that people wanted to learn more about. To leverage the full potential of this powerful tool, you should create a long-term plan to communicate with them during different seasons and occasions.
• Keep the lessons you’ve learned from traditional marketing. When contemplating collaborations with virtual influencers, brands should apply similar guidelines as they would for traditional influencers. It is crucial to ensure the influencer aligns with the brand’s existing communication platform and that the product integration aligns with the current influencer story.
• Your communication must look natural. Don’t just give products and take photos. You should create a backstory that shows how your brand’s product has aided the influencer’s pursuits. Let’s take the example of my company’s virtual influencer. Given technology’s integral role in Astra’s life, she recently partnered with Lenovo to promote their Legion laptop. Astra utilizes this laptop while pursuing her fashion design course at the renowned Lily Litkovskaya School in Ukraine. Moreover, Astra shared her experience by creating a tutorial video for CLO 3D, using this laptop.
Technical Aspects And Design
To create a virtual influencer and their content, there are quite a few foundational needs. These include a mockup suite, a head-mounted mobile phone holder and a smartphone (or another way to record video), a powerful PC, a studio for recording animations, a human model for movements, a photographer, 3D animators, copywriters and social media marketing specialist.
There are several pipelines for the development of each type of content. Still, most of them involve recording poses and animations with the help of a mockup suit and then applying them to a 3D model of a virtual influencer. Additionally, you can use AI to help create the overall story of the character and captions for particular posts.
In the near future, I believe that many brands will learn to recognize the importance of storytelling through virtual influencers. This involves understanding the younger generation’s affinity for virtual characters and acquiring the skills to collaborate effectively through this medium. With the younger generation having grown up with virtual characters and games soon becoming our primary consumers, I think it is evident that virtual influencers will play a significant role in the marketing world.
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