Why influencer marketing will win after COVID-19

Switch Digital CEO Lee Stephens
By Switch Digital CEO Lee Stephens | 9 April 2020

A major crisis like the COVID-19 shut down creates seismic and irreversible changes to the media landscape. This isn’t unique for the industry. The 2003 invasion of Iraq disrupted the world’s largest advertising industry, the US TV market, leading to the dominance of Fox News for decades to come. The “shock and awe” invasion and bombing of Bagdad also marked the end of the global dot.com recession as audiences shifted en-masse to the internet, marking the beginning of a slow decline in print media in the western world.

Now, in our own health and economic crisis, we are seeing traditional media companies and agencies scramble for survival in a COVID-19 world. Print is again in the cross-hairs with more than 100 newspapers, magazines and newspaper sections “suspended” in the last 4 weeks. TV, OOH and radio are all under pressure. The current global shut down is a catalyst for permanent change.

One of the unlikely winners post-isolation will be the global influencer community. In a few years these Fabulous Nobodies have evolved from an industry joke to a formidable marketing channel. A recent survey from Influence Central shows influencers are thriving as sources of news, advice and reassurance during the COVID crisis.

36% of influencers are seeing a significant increase in impressions and engagement within their Instagram audiences. The figure is almost identical for Facebook. While the survey is US based, influencers are a uniquely global community and the Australian figures would align.

Frighteningly, 70% of the influencers’ audiences are turning to them for guidance during the crisis. 73% of influencers surveyed have already extensively covered COVID-19, isolation and the new “stay-home” economy in numerous videos and posts to their communities.

As marketers, we should not underestimate the trust that is being built through the COVID isolation period between influencers and their communities. We are literally in their bedrooms, lounge rooms and kitchens. Our favourite influencers suddenly seem more authentic, sharing a common experience with millions of followers who look up to them. Whether paid or non-paid, 87% of influencer respondents are buying more online and talking about it with their communities daily.

The shift in influencer purchase intentions are staggering. 92% intend to switch to more online purchases of groceries and household essentials, 83% for Health and Beauty products and a whopping 54% for Clothing and Footwear. Whether they eventually change their behaviour it is not the point. They are posting their intentions on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and anywhere else they can form a base of followers.

Influencer marketing in its early stages was mired with poor execution, limited transparency and confusion over its role. Suddenly media agencies, PR agencies, modelling agencies and friends of a few celebrities are all “Influencer Agencies”. It’s no wonder marketers the world over can’t help but roll their collective eyes when the junior in the room suggests Influencer marketing.

There has been little or no incentive for investing in influencer marketing ahead of the curve for most marketers. The marketing landscape is now is unrecognisable from a few short weeks ago. Fortunately, many influencer analytics tools and platforms that predict individual influencer performance have been launched. These platforms have improved significantly over the last two years providing more reliable, consistent influencer marketing outcomes.

Beauty, well-being, food and beverage and the online gaming industries were early influencer adopters. Influencer marketing is now a central pillar to the growth and competitive differentiation of these industry operators.

Like them or hate them, influencers and their impact on brands, social beliefs and purchase choices are a new reality for us all.

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