Is this the end of influencer marketing?
A question answered by industry experts
True to its identity, I'd love for the influencer marketing academy to be a community driven platform by the industry, for the industry. For this piece, I've drafted a few questions to provide the industry with in-depth information when it comes to hot-topics. In order to ensure well-rounded responses, we have one brand, one technology provider, and one agency that will be contributing.
Within their respective functions, they experience influencer marketing slightly differently on a day-to-day basis, which will hopefully provide us with some interesting POVs!
I’d like to open with a hypothetical, yet big elephant in the room kind of question: is this truly the end of influencer marketing as we know it?
We've all seen the myriad of articles around the "death of influencer marketing" these last few weeks, from VICE to the BBC, the topic of influencer marketing is trending upwards when we look at the below Google chart, with interest levels nearing its all-time high.
In many ways no, and in many ways yes! However, I think the change is only for the better. Content creators, way back before the word “influencer” was even a thing, grew in popularity because of the authentic and genuine connection they had with their audience. The entire relationship between creator and viewer was born out of authenticity, shared interests and trust and is the very foundation of the influencer industry. Overtime, this has been warped and skewed as more businesses have moved into the space, offering high-value brand partnerships at scale, with more thought given to “number of eyeballs” rather than authenticity. We now find ourselves in a time where authenticity, believability and trust are paramount to our culture, our brands and our advertising, and is absolutely critical when it comes to our influencer partnerships. We will now see influencer marketing shift back to its original values where authenticity between the creator and viewer is king, spawning some really impactful partnerships.
Hannah & Ana
I think this is a little 50/50, if I can be controversial. The fundamentals of influencer marketing best practices will remain - because collaboration and data driven identification will remain as, if not more so, important than before.
Secondly, it will be the 'end' of influencer marketing as some folk know it. For instance, we will see even more value coming from creators who really stand out after the current crisis. The shift to longer term brand partnerships will come about quicker than we expected.
My answer to that depends on what exactly is meant by “influencer marketing as we know it.” Is this the end of influencers working with brands to drive engagement? Not at all. Is this the end of influencers with large audiences getting lucrative brand deals that are based on follower count rather than fit and performance? Maybe! I think what we’re going to see is more brands looking for metrics that show a real return on investment, and we’re going to see more audiences turning to influencers who feel relatable and authentic. I think there will always be a market for those aspirational posts — who doesn’t love escapism, right? — but the campaigns that will actually boost brand affinity and sales will be more authentic, and will be based on real life needs and solutions.
Most advertising related industries are hurting as a direct result of the crisis (as per this report by the IAB) and influencer marketing is no exception. Higher-tier influencers that rely heavily on brand-partnerships as their main income are especially hurting. What is your advice for those full-time influencers that previously flourished developing aspirational content?
My advice is to remain authentic and true to yourself both as an individual and as a creator. Despite the current global crisis, people still have aspirations but their means have likely changed. If you’re a beauty creator and you would have previously created content based on luxury skincare products, can you now look at DIY luxury face mask tutorials? If you’re a travel vlogger can you create your dream holiday in your back garden? Gaming creators? What are some of the best free mods or indie titles? These type of videos allow for multiple sponsorship opportunities, never be afraid to approach a relevant brand with a relevant, authentic idea.
Hannah & Ana
My advice to all influencers across the board is to use this time to solidify existing relationships, as well as get in touch with brands you may have wanted to work with in the past but didn't get a chance to. I think some amazing new working relationships will come out of this! From a practical standpoint, everyone needs to be understanding of budget cuts and adapt accordingly. However, remaining authentic and true to yourself and your content is important. Try not to take deals out of desperation, instead, be creative in terms of potential brand partnerships with brands that may not have been on your radar before.
My advice is to really pay attention to what your audience is looking for, and pivot to meet those needs. In this cultural moment, tone-deaf marketing is not just going to fall flat, it can actively alienate audiences. That isn’t to say there’s no place for influencers who are known for their lifestyle content, but post topics should reflect the world we’re all living in right now. Can your content shift to provide value in a way that’s relevant to audiences who are living in lockdown? Can you offer ideas for relieving stress, boosting health, finding entertainment while in quarantine, or helping others? No one wants to be pitched a luxury vacation right now, but accessible ideas and products that make life a little easier are likely to be well-received.
With everyone being home, usage and viewership across the various platforms is sky-rocketing. Many influencers are seeing high engagement numbers. What is your advice for brands who want to make the most out of this uptick, but can’t necessarily invest heavily into advertising?
Eyeballs are going up, that’s for sure, but that makes cutting though content and generating meaningful engagement even more challenging, regardless of platform. Influencer marketing is all about relationships and this is a great time to start building them! There have been some incredible examples of brands reaching out to creators with highly personalised products which make a great introduction and can generate impactful, organic content. Imagine your company makes desk organisers, now imagine sending a totally personalised product to an organiser/stationary hack creator with a high Instagram following, with the product painted in the colours prevalent on their Instagram grid, engraved with their name and with a hand written note tucked inside, saying you wanted to make sure their desk was as well organised as possible since they’re going to spend more time at home. This approach can provide some excellent organic content, and get the relationship off to a fantastic start, particularly with emerging and growing creators.
Hannah & Ana
Don't be shy...get in touch with content creators you wanted to work with but didn't think you could in the past. This is the time to do that and forge new ROI relationships for years to come.
Start by partnering with the right influencers: the so-called ‘micro influencers’ who have smaller (but more engaged) audiences are often the better bet in terms of both cost and performance. Another idea for making the most of your budget is to use social boosting, either with additional influencers or by platform ads. Platform ads can be relatively inexpensive, while offering deep-dive targeting that lets you pinpoint your target demographic. Finally, consider extending your influencer investment by securing content usage rights: that amazing influencer content can be re-used on brand-owned channels and marketing materials.
There has been a lot of emphasis on influencers (Arielle Charnas) and brands (Everlane) not making a great impression during the crisis. This is being countered by fantastic influencer initiatives including The United Nations calling on content creators to make a positive impact. and spread awareness surrounding COVID-19. Which brands are standing out to you personally, during the crisis, from an influencer marketing perspective?
I love what KFC Gaming
are doing with influencer
outreach, I think they’re being really tactical and creative, whilst keeping costs low. For me, however. the most impressive initiatives have been from the creators themselves. It’s been amazing to see so many groups of creators use their platforms and voices to communicate critical messages of “stay home” right from the very start of lockdown - particularly to younger audiences.
Hannah & Ana
Other than Nike acting pretty quickly and hitting the mark with their message, I don't think that any brand is particularly standing out or even looking to stand out right now. What's been amazing in all this is that literally every single business is doing something to help the world, and that is the most important thing. Not how much one brand is donating, but the fact that they are all recognising what's important is key. Secondly, brands and even the governments now asking influencers to participate in charity or Pro Bono campaigns. Which is awesome because this is what influencer marketing is all about - providing a highly engaging connection with the world, speaking to people who choose to be there and listen!
I love the brands that are taking what they have to offer and making it available free of charge to those who need it. Peloton is a great example of this. They have made their app free for 90 days to anyone who wants to try it right now. This is an amazing resource for those stuck at home, and as a marketer, I appreciate that it will almost certainly create brand loyalists who stick around and begin paying the monthly fee even after this pandemic has passed.
Recessions are often a breeding ground for innovation and shifts when it comes to market dynamics, which changes are you envisioning for influencer marketing in the short-term?
A lot of creators are producing amazing virtual collaborations currently, with some even launching dedicated colab channels during lock-down (look at the E-Boys channel
if you’re a fan of the UK commentary Community - note, this content is a bit out there!) channels and virtual collaborations like this produce a really unique opportunity for brands to communicate via multiple creators, whilst being relevant. Particularly if you’re focusing on socially constructive messaging as part of your brand story. Equally, we will see a lot more innovative content ideas and movements driven by the creators themselves, so it’s absolutely critical to keep your finger on the pulse to see what great content is being produced and what makes sense for your brand to get involved with.
Hannah & Ana
I think we're going to see a lot of exciting new business ventures coming from digital creators. Brands who don't realise that will be missing out.
I think we’re going to see more campaigns based around authentic audience needs, rather than the desire to emulate what an influencer is wearing or doing. This is a time for organic partnerships that honor today’s challenges: fabric brands partnering with crafters to showcase mask-making instructions, home improvement stores working with DIY enthusiasts to share home-based projects, recipe bloggers showcasing grocery-stretching meal creations that incorporate food brands, and so on.
Brand/influencer partnerships that give the perception of capitalizing on a crisis run the risk of being vilified by the public and the media. Those who can provide tactful, empathetic, and mindful marketing programs right now will not only be well-received, they’re likely to be remembered for having done the right thing.
As brands and influencers alike work to embrace new communications principles, everyone needs to to constantly reassess campaigns and creative content. News and marketing dynamics are in a state of flux, it’s important to remember that works today may not work tomorrow.