How influencer marketing unlocked brands’ untapped potential during the pandemic

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Recently, I have not been able to put down Sarah Frier’s book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram. In it, the award-winning reporter Sarah shares the inside, never-before-told tale of how Instagram defied the odds to become one of the most culturally defining apps of the decade. From the brand’s inception in 2010, to its acquisition by Facebook (an unsurprisingly tricky relationship), it includes the journey of what we know about the 21st century influencer. This got me thinking about the evolution of the paid influencer industry and how the pandemic has accelerated its importance in the marketing mix.

‘Influencing’ from home

Like every other industry worldwide, the pandemic meant that influencer marketing had to adapt. So, despite ‘Lockdown 1’ prompting panic among many content creators (would they be able to produce engaging, fresh content from home?) their concerns were proved wrong. The number of active social media users globally grew 10.5%, to almost four billion, thanks to the ‘stay at home’ directive. And with no access to friends, family, or the pub – and lots of furloughs – it is no surprise we turned to our devices and lived vicariously through our Instagram feed.

Like the rest of us, influencers had to adapt to being at home (although perhaps it’s not directly comparable to my ground floor flat in Brixton!). They had to work out how to create engaging and unique content within the confines of the pandemic – and there are only so many loaves of banana bread one person can bake…

And influencers have been created as a result of the pandemic. Take personal trainers, for example. Normally known only in their local gym by a small group of clients, we’ve seen them take to the internet with filmed workouts as a way to grow their businesses in the face of government restrictions. Joe Wicks, initially known for his ‘Lean in 15’ videos, became the face of pandemic fitness. And that’s not to mention the many beauty, food, gaming influencers and more that blew up online by creating content from home.

Simultaneously, consumer brands were facing challenges of their own. With a total absence of IRL experiences, brands needed to find a direct route into their consumers’ new normal. As a result, we saw the rise of more in-home experiences, with countless fresh food delivery services (I’m looking at you Gousto), live-streamed fitness programmes and alcohol masterclasses. Influencers led the conversation, set the trends and we lived vicariously through their daily content. Even Westminster recognised the opportunity and enlisted the help of influencers to promote the NHS Test and Trace app.

Whether influencers were originally used as a source of distraction, inspiration or aspiration, more brands have recognised a renewed value in influencer relationships. It’s one that many in the past have doubted, me included.

Embracing new technology

An exciting new client of ours – LIKEtoKNOW.it (LTK) – has been a pioneer in creator commerce for the last 10 years. As the e-commerce landscape has evolved, LTK’s approach to innovation has focused on developing best-in-class mobile features and browse capabilities to empower creators to sell better and more effectively. It also enables consumers to easily find and connect with the most relevant influencers, brands, trends, or products – to the tune of $9 billion in retail sales. For brands looking to grow their business through authentic and impactful influencers, LTK is the most successful influence tech platform in the world.

And there are new opportunities and technologies emerging daily for influencers, brands and consumers to explore and take advantage of. From live-streaming commerce to interactive shoppable shows, TikTok, Facebook and many other platforms are jumping on the opportunity to capture consumer attention through influencer commerce. And, research estimates show that social commerce and live shopping could present a $2 trillion market globally by 2024. So, watch this space!

A need for deeper understanding and new metrics

I recently attended a talk by Chester Robinson (Tailify) at The Drum’s Creative Transformation Festival. There, he discussed a new approach to influencer marketing: one that doesn’t focus purely on engagement rates or click-through data. Chester argued that these measurements reduce the value of influencers and we should, instead, approach partnerships in a way that “moves away from a centralised model of brand to consumer, to a centralised model of person to person”.

It’s this desire for a personal touch and genuine connection that allows influencers to build a community out of their followers and turn them into shoppers for a brand. According to Chester, four out of ten millennials claim their favourite influencer understands them better than their friends, which speaks volumes when it comes to trust.

With lockdown fuelling both macro trends across social media and niche community channels, it’s no wonder brands are working with influencers to leverage new, creative ways to engage with followers.

The last 18 months have taught us the versatility and power of influencers as a marketing channel. Beyond simple trust and reach targets, influencer marketing can now, more than ever, demonstrate its commercial muscle. Content creators are establishing themselves as a fundamental and standalone component in a brand’s marketing. And honestly? I’m on board.

  • Kathryn Venediger,
    Senior Account Exec