Since the coronavirus outbreak changed daily life, events have been canceled, ad spending is down and, in the worst cases, some businesses have already closed. Even with this disruption, brands are still clamoring for consumer attention, but it’s difficult to know how to talk to customers under the current circumstances. Leaning into influencer marketing through organic partnerships has helped.
“Brands with existing influencer partnerships have a degree of leverage and a safety net compared to those that don’t,” says Jordie Black, an influencer marketing expert with Zine.co. “As consumers look to influencers as a voice of authority, brands who leverage these relationships will win.”
With creative studios closing and social distancing requirements in place, brands are finding it increasingly difficult to create quality content using traditional methods, Black says. As such, she believes those who will succeed during this time will be the ones who leverage influencer partners with a deep connection to their audiences that stems from years of interaction. “Smart brands will use these partners to reach customers with content that truly resonates,” Black said.
Before the crisis, strong relationships with influencers has been at the core of evolving brand marketing strategies. Increased competition on platforms like Instagram and Facebook has strained advertising budgets. Shama Hyder, CEO and founder of B2B marketing agency Zen Media, says that her clients’ advertising costs increased by 23 percent on average last year, with the lion’s share of spend going to Facebook ads. Now, those who have invested in influencer marketing find themselves with a valuable asset as consumer communications have changed in light of Covid-19.
Today, retailers are considering how they’ll attract and convert customers by leveraging their existing influencer relationships in different ways.
Some retailers are looking to influencer partners to boost engagement with audiences while they stay home and comply with shelter-in-place laws. Outdoor brand Dakine, for example, launched a digital campaign called ‘Mind Surfing’, spotlighting how its influencer athlete partners are keeping busy at home and getting outdoors responsibly while doing things like cooking meals, making art or doing yoga. Since the brand began leveraging this content via brand-owned channels and the partner athletes’ profiles mid-March, it's already seen solid results: year-over-year engagement is up 6 percent, Instagram reach is up 1,707 percent, and website visits from social sources are up 26 percent.
Other brands are driving engagement through contests with influencer partners. Eco-friendly swimwear company Vitamin A historically spent approximately 15 percent of its total marketing budget on influencer partnerships but says it reports high returns. When Vitamin A partnered with Instagram influencer Halley Elefante (@TheSaltyBlonde) on a product-focused giveaway contest in December 2019, it was one of the brand's top three most engaging posts of the year. Amahlia Stevens, Vitamin A’s founder, attributes the success to Halley’s curation of featured products, which elevated it from a generic social media contest to a styling concept.
“This also drove traffic to our website where shoppers could see the full edit she curated, which drove additional sales,” says Stevens. Overall, Elefante’s content garnered more than 500,000 impressions across channels, boosted week-over-week sales of the swimsuit styles featured by 400 percent, and produced a 30 percent spike in daily website traffic on the two days following her post.
In light of current events around coronavirus, Vitamin A has adjusted its marketing spend to limit its outflow of cash and is now working on longer-term contracts with influencer partners rather than one-off paid posts. Despite those adjustments, the brand feels that building up an organic influencer strategy helped protect its business because it already has a strong online community that it can stay in touch with during this time.
Michael Gagliano, head of platform revenue at influencer marketing platform #Paid, explains that with many brands currently pausing their digital advertising, influencer partners give brands a window into organic communities that continue to drive conversation even when ads aren’t running. “While influencer partnerships likely haven’t insulated a brand's revenue across all categories, an online community built via influencer networks will help some brands make it out of this crisis alive,” he said.
Pura Vida approaches influencer-related initiatives through the lens of content creation rather than direct response, which is part of a shifted marketing strategy that began about a month before the coronavirus outbreak. “We wanted to find another way to market and build brand awareness outside of social media advertisements,” says Pura Vida’s co-founder Griffin Thall. As part of these content-oriented efforts, Pura Vida took 20 to 30 influencer partners on trips around the world for the sole purpose of gathering social media material, an approach that accounted for 1 percent of Pura Vida’s total annual marketing budget. Now that international travel has ground to a halt in recent weeks, the brand has stockpiled content from trips taken early in 2020 to get them through spring and summer.
Not all brands have extensive content stored up, however. James Nord, founder and CEO of influencer marketing platform Fohr, says that many companies have just one to two weeks of social content left in their banks. As a result, companies who have traditionally depended on their own shoots for material will now have to pivot to fill that gap — and influencers are a logical place to source that content.
Online womenswear retailer Verge Girl, based in Australia, is leaning on this approach. As its social media marketing costs have soared over the past three years, the company has proactively opted to work more closely with influencers to deliver a broad range of creative content for its website and social media.
“Setting up location shoots all around the world and managing models, photographers, makeup artists and catering is an expensive exercise, which is why we’ve been working more with influencers,” says Daniella Dionyssiou, managing director of Verge Girl. “Not only do they work as ambassadors for our brand to build exposure and trust, but they’re also strong content creators. And it’s far less expensive than organizing traditional photo shoots.”
The hands-off approach of leveraging external influencer content is also paying off now that group gatherings, including photoshoots, are no longer a viable option. Dionyssiou shared that aside from some slightly adjusted marketing spend and tweaks to its messaging, the brand has not seen the current crisis negatively impact its sales.
In some product categories, social media advertising has been problematic for different reasons. Equilibria sells CBD (cannabidiol) products, preferring to sidestep the complex issues of advertising CBD products on Facebook or Instagram in favor of working with ambassadors and influencers.
The company has built a strong network of female influencers over the past year, but the network has been assembled the hard way. Equilibria only partners with influencers who have used the product for more than 30 days and who have spoken to one of the company’s so-called ‘dosage specialists’ about optimizing their routines. In recent weeks, it has leaned into influencer partnerships even more and are dedicating funds to these efforts that had been earmarked for events, which are now canceled.
About half of its influencer engagements are paid, while half are organic, Equilibria notes. “We recognize that influencers are talented digital entrepreneurs who have choices in the brands they promote, which is why we believe in paid sponsorships in addition to partnering with them through affiliate commissions,” says Bonnie Knobloch, Equilibria’s head of business development.
Knobloch adds: “Consumers are smart: they want authentic reviews and real results. Many of our influencers open up about their mental or physical health battles and how CBD has helped them because of this authentic sharing, it’s beneficial to both our partners and their audiences.”
Chad Keller, co-founder of MarketerHire, says that influencers are a particularly valuable option right now for companies who have had to cut back their advertising budgets or reconsider marketing strategies in light of the rapidly changing retail environment. He notes that authenticity has to be at the core of these collaborations: “As quality content becomes more important, influencers offer brands a scalable path to relevant content production and act as brand representatives – especially in the current moment when marketers are finding it difficult to stay top-of-mind with consumers.”
There are drawbacks to consider. Ursula Ringham, head of global influencer marketing at SAP, says that with digital fatigue at an all-time high, branded content is only a misstep away from irrelevancy.
“You can’t just have a talking head hawking your products or services,” she says. “You want to collaborate with influencers who understand how to engage an audience and create an ‘edutainment’ experience. Influencers’ superpower is their credibility, so brands will need to empower them to tell their stories, but through their unique lenses.”
Original Source: Influencers’ currency has increased during Covid-19 crisis