Why Brands Are Turning to Influencers During Covid-19
Social media influencers use perfectly styled images to generate sales for brands in almost every vertical. The images they post often depict an idealized version of reality, with beautiful people and beautiful backgrounds used to put the products they’re promoting in the best possible light. So what happens in a pandemic, when people across the globe are suffering and the majority of states are issuing stay-at-home orders to residents?
For many influencers and brands, now is the time to pivot.
Brands are on delicate ground as they look for ways to promote their non-essential products during the pandemic. Stay the course with existing marketing strategies, and it looks like the brand is ignoring a global health crisis. Push too strong with coronavirus-themed ads, and brands run the risk of being seen as capitalizing on the tragedy.
The solution that some brands have come up with is to put the ball in the influencer’s court.
Digital creators can respond to rapid changes in consumer culture more quickly than traditional ad agencies, and they have the potential to be very in tune with what their audiences are going through.
QVC is pioneering this strategy in real-time. The shopping channel recently inked a partnership with ShopStyle Collective, the influencer network of content creators, for a new type of campaign. In this new strategy, QVC is letting influencers take the lead on product assortment and content creation.
ShopStyle Collective General Manager Lindsay Jeruits says the project has been an incredible success, with QVC seeing triple-digit return on ad spend and an almost 400% higher engagement rate than the previous campaign average.
“For the most part, influencers are the only ‘production houses’ that are open right now to get new, custom content created, so there’s tremendous value for brands to focus on influencer marketing,” Jeruits says.
Amazon’s recent decision to slash commission rates for its affiliate program has generated plenty of headlines, and a number of influencers have seen sponsorship deals shut down since the crisis began. But Jeruits believes the industry itself is still very strong. Influencers are lean and quick to adapt, and Jeruits says conversion rates have actually increased across the board during the pandemic.
Savvy social media influencers are engaging with their followers in the kind of two-way conversations that brands could never have on their own. Influencers are able to ask questions and listen to the concerns of their followers, so they are better able to generate content that will resonate.
Just as before the pandemic, influencer marketing is also built on the trust that fans have in their favorite social media stars. Fans are still looking to influencers for an escape, even as they remain at home during the shutdown.
“[Influencers] can speak candidly about why they are continuing to promote; they have feedback leading them to produce the right kind of content and follower loyalty that is really coming through right now,” Jeruits says. “Influencers know the type of content that is going to perform best with their audiences and can tailor branded content to resonate with followers.”
In her role working with social media influencers, Jeruits has a unique vantage point in the space. She says that over the past month, brands and influencers who were able to pivot their strategies have experienced the greatest successes.
“On the brand side, investing in influencer marketing as opposed to cutting back on overall marketing budgets has resulted in high returns,” Jeruits says. “Influencers are able to communicate with consumers on a personal level during these uncertain times, and giving them more control over the creative for branded content has proven to be successful.”
As states begin to gradually ease restrictions and reopen some non-essential businesses, Jeruits predicts that brands may not return to their previous marketing strategies. It’s going to take some time before the retail industry returns to normal, and while things are settling down, brands will want to continue relying on influencers to develop branded content that resonates based on what their audiences are going through.
“Brands will be much more trusting with influencers in the branded content they’ll create, as they know what content and messaging will work best for their audience.” Jeruits says. “We are also beginning to see a reverse in highly produced photos to a more authentic trend. We think we’ll continue to see shifts happening that we saw start before Covid: the rise of the micro and nano influencers.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.