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By Freya Hansen, Business Consultant at BJSS
Business Insider (December 2019) reported that brands would be spending up to $15bn on influencer marketing by 2022. This figure was up from $8bn in 2019, however, no one could have predicted the impact of COVID-19. Although some influencer groups, such as those who focus on fitness and cooking, have been doing well in the current climate, travel and retail influencers are struggling (Marketplace). Influencers are now having to come up with innovative content to keep their followers engaged, such as DIY beauty treatments and Instagram live streams; but are struggling to turn social media engagement into sales for their partnership brands.
We believe both brands and influencers should be focusing their efforts on 3 key areas: content authenticity, intelligent tracking, and future partnership strategy. In this article, we’ll review each of these through the lens of BJSS’ 3 phased response to Covid-19 – Recover, Regroup, Renew.
A 2019 International Journal of Advertising study found that a key reason for the success of influencers is the fact that consumers view them as more relatable compared to celebrities, and so perceive their recommendations as more trustworthy. This notion is supported by a TAKUMI study which revealed that 37% of consumers aged 16-44 said they would trust a YouTube influencer more than a celebrity. The most successful influencer campaigns are those that feel authentic to consumers and make them believe that the influencer would use the product even if they were not being paid to.
At a time like this - authenticity is even more important - and it is imperative that influencers acknowledge the current pandemic and political climate when posting. They need to understand who their followers are and what they need, gathering social media data to inform content planning. This is equally as important for brands. As brands start to regroup and place focus on macro-influencers who can provide a strong ROI (Vogue Business), they must understand what content and therefore influencers their customer base aligns with.
Both brands and influencers should conduct sentiment analysis to identify partnerships that will feel authentic to the consumer. Brands should consider how influencers they work with responded to COVID-19; did they post any ill-informed content or promote controversial products, such as Jeffree Star’s “Cremated” palette? Influencers are often seen as an extension of the brand and its values so should be selected carefully, looking beyond traditional KPIs of likes and shares.
The State of Influencer Marketing 2019 report found that 26% of professionals from fashion, luxury and cosmetics industries struggle to successfully identify and track KPIs for influencer marketing campaigns. When planning influencer campaigns, it is important to first question what success looks like to your brand. Many are now moving away from traditional KPIs and considering metrics such as the impact on brand perception, to gain a more rounded view of marketing effectiveness.
Once KPIs have been identified, brands should utilise business intelligence tools to track them in real-time. For example, many brands provide influencers with unique promotion codes. These should be tracked to gain insights such as who is providing the highest click rate, or sales conversion. This will help brands to understand which influencers resonate most with their customers and are therefore worth the investment. Being able to track the success of campaigns is particularly important considering recent case studies, such as Forbes' exposé on Kylie Jenner, which have shown that a large following does not always equal strong sales and potentially a demotion from ‘billionaire’ status!
Brands should also gather data on who follows their best performing influencers, building an understanding of that demographic and what content/products speak well to them. The data should then be used to help inform future partnerships and marketing strategy.
As the world slowly starts to get back to ‘normal’ and brands transition into the renewal phase, they will need to consider how to manage influencer partnerships going forward. Below are several questions brands should answer when planning post-COVID and could be answered through a bespoke marketing strategy:
Now we are seeing influencers being engaged through Zoom such as Bare Minerals who partnered with beauty guru Katie Jane Hughes to walk through the new products with other influencers. This approach was praised by the community as being engaging, but also allowing a more diverse range of influencers from all over the world to attend.
Consumers are also now placing increased pressure on brands to ensure they work with a diverse range of influencers. Black influencers have spoken out about often feeling like a “token” on trips and campaigns (Glossy), with key figures such as Jackie Aina pushing brands to truly embrace diversity rather than seeing it as a box-ticking exercise.
Brands should consider the size of influencer they want to engage with; macro or micro? This will depend on the aim of the campaign – macro-influencers such as NikkieTutorials (14m Instagram followers) can promote your products to a much larger, blanket audience, however, micro-influencers often provide exposure to more of a niche, targeted audience.
In the current operating environment of ‘Regroup’, brands must work to prepare themselves for a post-COVID world. This is the prime time to define strategies that will allow for an easy transition to the ‘new normal’, such as exploring ways to work with a more diverse range of influencers and harnessing social media data and business intelligence tools to identify which campaigns provide the strongest ROI. In the meantime, content authenticity should remain a focal point, ensuring campaigns are executed appropriately to maintain the credibility of both the brand and influencers involved.