The COVID-19 pandemic forced myriad retail stores to shut down, thereby signaling an unprecedented disruption of commerce. Needless to mention, stock markets are roiling, and the economy is crippling. Brands, retailers and the FMCG industry are staring at a multitude of unnerving challenges ranging from demand-supply dynamics to workforce uncertainty. With people increasingly staying at home, consumer shopping behavior has undergone a sea change. This is also coupled with a change in consumer attitudes. Hence, it becomes crucial for companies to view consumers as individuals, not as customer segments.
A crisis like this is the best time to proactively comprehend the shifts in consumer behavior and engage with consumers in novel ways (virtually). One such technique that has been the buzzword for quite some time now is ‘Influencer Marketing’. Fundamentally, it is a subset of social media marketing. Wikipedia defines it as “a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placement from influencers, people and organizations who have a purported expert level of knowledge or social influence in their field”.
Almost a decade ago, this arena was limited to only celebrities and a handful of dedicated bloggers. As we’ve seen influencers rise, the market is booming at a rapid pace, now than ever before. There is much more to Influencer Marketing than just looking at the popularity of the influencer, offering him money to say nice things about the brand and awaiting quick results. This scattershot approach usually yields predictably erratic results. Savvy marketers should look for ways to salvage their investment in going digital.
Following are some of the ways in which firms can revamp their marketing efforts to sail through this adversity using Influencer Marketing:
#1: Anticipate consumer needs and adapt
Brands need to look for opportunities to serve in times of need and innovate. The influencer ecosystem may be transforming, but this could be an opportunity to adapt to the ‘new normal’. With no cure in near sight for COVID-19, lockdowns and quarantine have become the need of the hour. Social media usage has increased multifold, particularly that of apps like Instagram and TikTok. We now see influencers making their presence felt in the public sector by partnering with government organizations to spread the word about Corona virus safety and the importance of social distancing. This also stems from the fact when compared to company spokespeople, influencers appear much more neutral and appealing while pitching for a product. A good example of the same would be the leading sports management and marketing firm, IOS Sports & Entertainment, that has launched its digital wing ‘Ínflurate’ to capitalize on this opportunity by catering to the surge in demand for social influencers in the market as it aims to be the one stop solution for brands who are investing in digital campaigns.”
#2: Go digital and experiment with formats
It is harder than ever to get digital content right. Influencers are people who’ve put in substantial amount of time and effort in building their own brand. As the time spent on mobile devices grows exponentially, organizations must devise strategies to cater to their customers’ needs with finite resources amidst social distancing constraints. This can be done by getting influencers to collaborate digitally with intended target audience. Technology and data must be leveraged to not only be present in the digital space, but also experiment with new ideas. These could be in the form of innovative platforms, content, format, etc. Analysis of trending online conversations will help the brand identify contents and formats that resonate well with the consumers. By interacting constructively on social pages of influencers, the brand gains early as well as easy access to their followers. This adds credibility to the brand and enhances its visibility.
#3: Re-assess marketing expenditures
Social distancing and lockdowns can easily become hotbeds for loneliness, stress and boredom. In such a scenario, first step of organizations and brands should be to assess what they have currently running or in the pipeline. This calls for a thorough audit to gauge the appropriateness of influencer campaign visuals, imagery as well as taglines. As e-commerce sales soar to match the rates of a ‘Black Friday’ or ‘Cyber Monday’, brands must re-allocate budgets to advertising campaigns accordingly. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are platforms where consumers are currently most active. Hence, the approach to finding influencers should be organic, for instance subscription to a platform or working with an agency. Also, here needs to be a foolproof strategy, plan of action and pre-allocated budget in place to facilitate background research and execution methodologies.
#4: Become a purpose-led brand
As luxury shopping takes a backseat and grocery shelves for popular items sit empty, consumers’ brand preferences are bound to erode. The current pandemic makes going beyond their preferred brands exigent for consumers. Post crisis, these people could emerge with entirely new brand preferences or lower overall brand loyalty. Times like these are when the work put in by the company to create brand value can be incredibly valuable. The best influencer marketing works because it relies on both social and content marketing tools, where the brand capitalizes on the credibility and genuine authority already established in the minds of the target group.
As social distancing, online shopping and remote work become the bellwether of consumer behavior during the ongoing crisis, nobody can predict what’s next in the global pandemic and when it will end. Marketers always find it taxing to change habits. But crisis situations like these acts as the stimulus that nudge consumers to alter their routines. Influencers are here to stay, but the world of Influencer Marketing has transformed a great deal in a short time. The onus now lies on the brands and brand managers as to how can they find a place for Influencer Marketing to fit into these new routines. Great brands forge strong brand equity when they handle situations such as these tactfully. Perhaps, that’s what differentiates a great brand from a good brand!
Author: Rashmi Singh
Rashmi is an MBA candidate at TAPMI, Manipal. A Computer Science Engineer by qualification, she has worked in the IT industry for around two years. She is a Marketing and Strategy enthusiast and a passionate public speaker. A true Delhiite at heart, she describes herself as a bibliophile, clinomaniac and a big-time foodie!