Influencer Marketing During COVID-19: Adjusting to the #NewNormal

*This blog presents findings from a recent study we conducted in late March. The full report will be available in PDF form on our website soon including methodology, graphics and further insights. Stay tuned, and in the meantime visit our Data Tracker for up-to-date resources.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic will create lasting social and economic effects around the globe, impacting consumer behavior in significant and lasting ways.

As we’ve already seen, this pandemic evolves rapidly through different stages, and so too does consumer response and adaptation. In a time when consumers’ lives are being impacted in profound ways, marketers need to remain hyper-aware of how they think, feel and behave.

Listening is the first and most critical step in creating meaningful experiences that strike the right tone, provide genuine value, and foster meaningful connections.

Consumer State of Mind

Social platforms are experiencing record-levels of activity as users seek to vent their feelings and share useful ideas to better manage their lives, specifically around key phrases like #StayHome. On Twitter, conversations containing #StayHome have spiked since February 15th.

Hashtags like #StayHome are also digital hubs where content creators discuss their experiences and share useful tips on how to navigate the situation – and this is reflected across all social media platforms. For example, creators on Instagram have once again demonstrated their ability to sync with the cultural conversation as they continue to upload relevant content.

Social media activity is at an all-time high in some countries, and so too are consumer emotions. When breaking down Twitter discussion around #coronavirus, we see that negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger are predominant – understandable responses to sudden lifestyle shifts, health concerns, and ongoing economic woes. But consumers aren’t painting this situation in entirely black and white. When looking at online conversation we see a percentage of consumers discussing #coronavirus in neutral, even positive terms.

These findings mirror ones we gathered from our own survey conducted in late March. Participants reported a mix between high levels of negative emotions like Fear and Sadness and positive ones like Joy and Contentment.

Armed with greater access to information than ever before, it seems that consumers are determined to move forward as best they can in these troubling times.

COVID-19 – A Catalyst for Tech Use

@thatdadblog for Sealy

Consumers are actively seeking out solutions to help maintain a sense of normalcy. Many aspects of daily life have been disrupted, such as going to the gym, travelling to visit family, going to entertainment venues etc.

As we’ve seen before, digital technology is stepping in to fill those needs.

The already-growing trend of live streaming via services like Instagram Live is being super-charged as professionals from all industries look for safe ways to stay connected, from athletic trainers to business consultants to live performers.

Outside of live streaming, social media platforms are seeing a boost in activity as people try to stay plugged into their networks. A majority of participants (85%) report communicating with friends/family through video chat apps and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (76%) during this crisis. By their own estimates, Facebook Messenger alone has seen a 50% increase in certain countries.

Consumer Behavior  | Adapting to the “New Normal” 

As consumers increasingly depend on digital technology to facilitate everyday tasks, they are spending even more time plugged into their social networks. As a result, digital trends spread to an even wider audience and take on greater social significance.

When asked to select which activities have provided the greatest source of positive emotion, consumer choices closely mirror several key trends that have been quite popular on social media. For example, 74% reported physical exercise as a key activity.

Fitness influencer @kayla_itsines gives a free workout to quarantined followers

Unsurprisingly, Fitness and Health influencers were among the first creators to provide fun and useful tips to their audiences as quarantines began to roll out across the globe. Since then, the “healthy at home” trend has become a virtual movement, instilling people everywhere with a sense of confidence and well-being.

We also see interacting with others on social media (51%) as another key activity, along with other social-media driven trends such as learning new skills (40%), one of the main draws of the second most used search-engine in the world, YouTube.

Along with some much-needed interaction, social media creators are helping consumers make the most of their other interests.

And while only 17% reported online shopping as a key leisure activity, we expect that figure to rise as people across the globe adjust to life indoors.

ECommerce Provides Solutions to #SocialDistancers 

With the lingering possibility of up to three, four, even five month mandated isolation, the simple reality is people will need to purchase products across a range of verticals during this crisis. Weary of any activity that involves public spaces, consumers are again turning to digital technology for solutions.

While already growing in popularity in verticals such as fashion and beauty, Ecommerce has never presented itself as a more effective solution for key markets.

One such space is online grocery shopping. Entertainment is another, as 55% of survey participants report “consuming media” as a key leisure activity during this time. We anticipate long-term growth in these spaces, as these temporary changes in habit may end up becoming the default ways consumers shop.

Looking into the Future | Adding Value in the #NewNormal

Marketers must be prepared, not just to navigate this crisis, but for what the world will look like after. This will mean engaging a consumer base with completely different needs and opinions. Our transition back to many aspects of routine life will be a slow process. Even after mandated social distancing is over, we can anticipate lingering behavioral effects.

At the moment, consumers report high levels of concern over the prospect of performing everyday activities in the near future, such as traveling, shopping in retail stores and using public transit.

Brand Advice: Be Present, Be Relevant and Add Value

As consumers’ lifestyles have changed, brands have had to quickly adjust to marketing in a very fluid environment. Marketers working in all industries need solid principles to guide them as they navigate these rough waters.

We recommend that marketers follow three key guidelines when connecting with consumers during this time: 1) Be present 2) Be relevant 3) Add value

In short, now is not the time for brands to stay silent. Customers will remember which companies stood firm and communicated with compassion and empathy when things got rough. Not every brand will be considered essential at this moment, but every brand has a specific place in people’s lives during this time. It’s critical for marketers to regularly listen to consumers and determine how brands can connect to them in ways that add real value under these challenging circumstances – building brand equity and laying the foundation for the future.

Finding your Place in Turbulent Times

Every brand should be thinking about serving the consumer at this time. For some brands that means simply continuing to provide safe access to the essential products and services they provide – for others, it means getting creative to find different kinds of solutions.

Companies that sell essential products like consumer packaged goods or medical supplies should be mindful of how they’re communicating in these difficult times. We recommend that brands communicate with a strong sense of empathy and reassurance, using channels like social media to regularly let their consumers know they are on top of key issues such as operations and logistics.

Estee Lauder listens for how their consumers are using their products during this time.

If you’re not an essential brand, your products might still be top of mind for many consumers. Human beings are multifaceted and we have different needs. The key is to figure out  how your brand fits into people’s lifestyles at this moment.

Companies that sell non-essential goods should develop strategies starting

with active and ongoing listening of their consumers’ needs and how they fit into people’s new routines under isolation and #socialdistancing.

For example, consumers are finding relief in small acts of self-care with beauty products and other goods meant to pamper and uplift the spirit. Beauty products are still incredibly relevant at this time due to the growing “Self-Care” movement on social media. Some brands like Estẻe Lauder are already seeing great success tapping into these movements by activating key communications channels like beauty influencers to spread the word.

Think Long Term, Act Now

People are hungry for connection, information and entertainment. No matter what product or service you offer, there are ways your company can provide value to customers at this time. With an increase of media consumption, satisfying people’s need for fresh content is one of the most effective ways of joining the cultural conversation. This can include:

  • Sharing tips for working out at home
  • Cheap and easy recipes
  • Ways to invest and manage finances
  • DIY activities for kids

If your brand can identify organic ways to provide something consumers are actively seeking at this time, those consumers will emerge from this situation with positive sentiment about you. This effort might not be immediately reflected in sales, but will reap dividends in brand equity and customer loyalty.

Be Bold and Lead the Way: Adopting a “Challenger” Mindset

Right now companies must stay relentlessly focused on listening to their consumers while remaining flexible with their marketing strategies.

One example of businesses that are well-known for their ability to stay open to consumer feedback, adapt and innovate are challenger brands – companies like Peloton, Glossier and Warby Parker that have mobilized groups of loyal and engaged customers to challenge legacy companies in as little as a few years.

We can analyze what has made these brands so effective to identify guidelines for how to best navigate our current challenges with COVID-19.

Some qualities of challenger brands that are especially useful during times of crisis are:

  • They’re ambitious, with a strong sense of values and purpose
  • They’re unafraid to challenge the norm and be bold
  • They listen to customer concerns/feedback
  • They’re focused on brand storytelling

Leveraging the Power of Influencers

As we’ve seen, the most important action brands can take at this time is obsessively listen to their customers and remain flexible with their marketing strategies. It’s a point that bears repeating because of how strong of an impact it can have on business – especially in a challenging and unpredictable environment.

In the wake of numerous challenges due to COVID-19, influencer marketing has emerged as an effective way to attain global reach with relevant, engaging content. Influencers are proven leaders in their respective communities, and when you partner with the right creators, they’re the perfect vehicles to reflect the passion and culture of your brand.

Not only is influencer marketing seeing greater consumption at a time when we’re seeing many advertising budgets go on pause, but influencers hold some of the most important currencies when public worry is at an all-time high: authenticity and trust. 

In fact, we’re seeing creators continue to post with the same verve and passion as ever, because making content is their creative outlet – and their communities are turning to them more than ever for entertainment, to get informed, and to lift their spirits. Influencers have become such entrenched parts of our lives that even the United Nations issued a worldwide creative brief to any social media creator that wants to help spread useful information and support their communities. As they put it in their own words, “You have the power to change the world.”

@dudewithsign, in partnership with WHO

Influencer marketing was already a rising force in advertising, and the COVID-19 crisis will further solidify it as a vital and necessary practice, as the most influential people on social media are being called upon to use their voice to spread real, important and authentic content.

Where Did Influencers Get Started? That’s Right – Their Bedrooms 

Social media influencers wrote the rule book when it comes to crafting compelling content while staying resourceful and nimble, forging new genres right from the comfort of their own bedrooms. They were the first to prove that in today’s digital-first world, it’s all about the personal connection between creator and audience.

While some creators polish their work with the same level of production value as traditional media, others are finding equal success with raw, in-the moment content that doesn’t require large budgets or lengthy turnaround times. In fact, Instagram Stories became the platform’s most successful product because of how relatable and compelling they can be!

By getting creative with the tools they have, influencers can produce some of the most impactful content available today. They’ve mastered the art of providing value, making sure that each piece of content exhibits these key factors: they’re educational, entertaining and inspiring.

While some marketers are struggling to produce relevant, up-to-date content due to the restrictions of social distancing, influencers are proving once again that brands don’t have to compromise between speed, quality and value.

The Most Human Companies Will Rise 

Right now it’s easy to feel like the entire world – not just marketing – has been flipped upside down. But it’s precisely in these troubled times when brands need to dig deeper, find their voices and connect with audiences via authentic messages of compassion and empathy. In short, the most human companies are the ones who will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. Brands must use this time to establish and maintain long-lasting connections with their customers, using brand storytelling to spread a sense of leadership and purpose.

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We encourage you to visit our new tracker that’s designed to help marketers stay on top of the current conversation around coronavirus, and provide resources on how to navigate influencer marketing during this unprecedented situation.

Our webpage tracks live data from different platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to provide real-time insights into how the social media sphere is responding to COVID-19.

 

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