Founder and CEO of Sway Group, an agency that specializes in influencer marketing, branded content, and digital advertising.
For a while it seemed like we were on the verge of seeing a road map back to U.S. consumer spending in a post-pandemic world — then, the Delta variant came along, bringing a fresh wave of uncertainty. In this ever-shifting landscape, once again marketers are left wondering what kinds of economic recovery obstacles may be coming and how the next normal will drive consumer behaviors.
Accurate retail forecasting seems all but impossible in this cultural moment, especially on a macro scale. Consumers continue to be affected by the pandemic in disproportionate ways, resulting in varying shopping needs and preferences that make one-size-fits-all messaging largely ineffective, or worse, insensitive.
What brands need right now is a better way to reach their target audiences — one that doesn’t rely on predicting where things are going but rather taps directly into the genuine sentiments and needs of the moment.
A Different Kind Of Marketing Approach With Influencers
In 2020, pandemic-related shutdowns boosted social media usage and online shopping trends as brick-and-mortar stores closed and physical events were canceled. Traditional advertising efforts were largely put on hold as budgets were upended and brands scrambled to pause existing campaigns or cancel them altogether.
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Meanwhile, many influencers were able to creatively fill production gaps for brands thanks to their in-home studio setups — but more importantly, influencers were able to quickly adjust their content and messaging to stay relevant to their audiences.
This ability to quickly shift gears along with changing consumer sentiment and interest is what really makes influencer marketing valuable. Creators who can refocus on germane topics can provide value/respite to followers, while offering brands an advantageous inroad for timely offerings.
Tapping Into Influencers’ Abilities To Connect With Consumers
Unsurprisingly, the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer shows record lows of consumer trust across the world. The pandemic and its associated “infodemic” have contributed to an erosion of trust in government, business and media that extends to superficial brand messaging.
In fact, only a little over a third of recently surveyed consumers say they trust brands — even though 81% say trust is a deciding factor in making purchase decisions. Another survey shows that only 38% of consumers are likely to trust recommendations from a brand on social platforms, but 61% are likely to trust recommendations from a friend, family member or influencer.
Influencers tend to be trusted more because they are perceived as authentic and relatable and/or they’ve built up credibility around a topic. Last year’s consumer shift toward transparency and trust content led to “everyday” creators whose influence should not be overlooked.
Influencers offer the personal, genuine, humanized environment that’s perfect for the right kind of brand messaging. While there’s no one all-purpose approach to influencer marketing, here’s how you can create the best campaigns:
• Make sure there’s an organic fit between the influencer and your brand.
• Match the influencer’s audience to your brand’s target audience.
• Keep content prompts flexible rather than providing rigid sales pitch language.
• Allow brand messaging to be shared in a way that’s in line with the influencer’s own brand.
• Ensure that content is authentic in nature, with genuine emotion shining through.
Driving Online Sales With Influencers
Brands that invest in the right creators have a wealth of opportunities to drive online purchases. In-platform shopping tools like Instagram’s Swipe Up and Facebook Shops provide a seamless e-commerce experience — from the top of the funnel to sale in one social media post.
We all saw how important e-commerce became in 2020 when total e-commerce sales increased 32.4% year over year, reaching $791.7 billion. Consumers learned to rely on online channels for purchasing, and many of these shopping habits are predicted to continue as in-store shopping trends ebb and flow.
With in-store demos potentially being limited again, influencers can provide the service of showing how a product looks and works — often in a far more targeted way because their own context matches their audience’s. Influencers can reveal how a product or service actually fits into their own lives and the authentic benefits they experience as a result.
One effective strategy for reaching target audiences at scale with influencer marketing is through paid media. Paid media is a way to amplify high-performing influencer content with the precise targeting tools available through social or programmatic advertising.
Credible product recommendations, endorsements and reviews shared by influencers provide valuable social proof. Brands can leverage that into driving sales action with a variety of tactics:
• Using platform social tools to offer in-app purchasing.
• Linking from influencer posts to brand-owned or retailer/distributor e-commerce landing pages.
• Using influencer content to create highly targeted paid media (social display ads offer the unique ability to show engagements in real time).
• Offering discounts, time-limited offers or other incentives that are specifically for their audiences.
While influencer marketing is often thought of as a top-of-funnel/awareness-based strategy, the right kind of campaign can influence every step of the customer journey on the way to purchase.
Planning For Tomorrow Today
Brands already went through the painful process of reworking their marketing in 2020. Though we all hoped for a one-way path back to normal, it’s clear there will be an ongoing need to build lasting connections without in-person interactions.
While much is unknown about how the rest of 2021 will unfold, we do know that influencer marketing is predicted to grow to approximately $13.8 billion this year. Simply put, that’s because when this strategy is handled correctly (we all know what bad influencer marketing looks like, right?), it works.
The first step toward getting started with influencer marketing is clearly defining your brand’s key performance indicators. Those goals become the bedrock from which all strategy develops, including finding the right influencers, executing on the right platform and crafting the right messaging.
From there, it’s all about connecting with the right partners to help spread the word. Whether you’re looking to drive sales, encourage action or simply boost brand buzz, influencer marketing offers a host of advantages during uncertain times.
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Author: Danielle Wiley, Forbes Councils Member