Thomas Walters is the CEO & Co-Founder of Billion Dollar Boy (BDB) – a global creative influencer marketing agency that delivers end-to-end campaign management for top brands.

I recently caught up with Thomas to chat about the evolution of influencer marketing, the key components of any successful campaign, and the trends to watch out for.

thom walters

What, in your opinion, are the key pillars of a successful influencer marketing strategy – and how has this evolved in the past few years?

Successful influencer marketing strategies require strategy, creative, strong expertise and knowledge of the space. Of course, the right talent casting, the right approach to co-creation and a strong eye for good quality, effective content are all key to ensuring a campaign will authentically resonate with target audiences.

When we started back in 2014, it was all about Facebook video, Vine and Snapchat. Now it is all about TikTok and Instagram, depending on the client. Influencer marketing is now a lot more scientific and measurable. There is a much more sophisticated approach and understanding of ROI across the board, however, it is worth noting there are still many brands who are unfamiliar with influencer marketing so it is down to us to educate the industry. We specialise in and view influencer marketing as a discipline, not an add-on – our mission is to bring this perspective into all of our agency offerings, proving the real value of influencer marketing.

How has Covid impacted strategy both internally and for Billion Dollar Boy’s clients?

Covid-19 accelerated the influencer marketing industry. When people could no longer shoot TVC or any other content with a crew during lockdown, brands called on influencers who had the ability to create quality content – often in fast turnaround times – from the comfort of their own homes. This saw their demand and capabilities increase during the pandemic.

Not only that, but consumers’ social media usage increased by 45% and remained the same throughout the pandemic. Now we have almost made it through the other side, social media usage is still at higher levels than it was previously.

This enabled BDB to think about its route into more holistic advertising campaigns – blending strategy, creative, and the execution – whether across wider social and digital channels, or other media like digital OOH, experiential, and advocacy.

In terms of clients, we approached the brands we work with at the start of the pandemic with three simple steps to keep in mind: pivot, engage and plan. We helped many brands at a time when they had to quickly rethink their campaigns, messaging and strategy, and plan for a new reality. We worked with brands on a variety of reactive influencer campaigns. Luckily, we were able to work with sectors that were less impacted, like food and drink, online clothing retailers, and homeware.

Can you name a brand or client that has impressed you in the past year – and what has been the key to their success?

Quaker is a client that’s impressed me. …They have successfully utilised influencer content not just organically, but across the marketing mix, helping the brand become more relevant and reach more audiences.

Last year, we ran a reactive “Go Forridge” campaign when people were stuck at home to encourage the nation to consume oats in new ways, with imaginative recipes that heroised the mighty oat.

BDB enlisted a group of celebrity and mid-tier influencers to take part in a ‘pass the baton’ style #GoForridgeChallenge  – creating inspirational oat recipes with Quaker Oats and the items they had in the cupboard. Quality, on-brand influencer content went live on influencers’ channels and extended far beyond social, appearing not only on social media but in the branded digital recipe book; in paid assets, and organic brand usage across multi-formats. The campaign was so effective in highlighting the utility and versatility of Quaker Oats that the brand had its highest sales penetration in 10 years.

What trends will impact the influencer industry in the next 12 months?

In the next 12 months, we will see even more heightened conversations around sustainability and the environment that no brand can ignore. There is a low tolerance for greenwashing and brands need to listen to consumers. 

Over the next 12 months and beyond, there will be continued growth of conversation around representation and diversity and inclusion.

At the moment, social media platforms are vying for creators’ attention – they are all trying to be the best place for content creators and I expect the ‘battle of the platforms’ will continue.

Finally, my hope is that we will see an increasing trend of brands acting like influencers – pivoting away from old models where our industry feels that just because they’ve created something, consumers should want to see it. Instead, there will be a real focus on storytelling and creating content that consumers actually want to watch, like, share and talk about.

What has been the biggest achievement in your role so far?

When Billion Dollar Boy was founded in 2014, we were a team of just four people. Fast-forward to 2021, and one of the biggest achievements has been building an independent global business that is now 100 people strong and has a fantastic reputation in the industry for producing top-quality work. We’ve delivered 42,000+ pieces of content, activated campaigns across 48 countries, and there are 30 different languages spoken in our offices.

Earlier this year, BDB was named in the Financial Times’ 1000: Fastest-Growing Companies in Europe, which is an impressive achievement for the team – and we are still growing!