How COVID-19 Could Change Influencer Marketing Forever

We walked into 2020 with abundant excitement for what this new decade could bring – unemployment was at an all-time low, both small and large businesses were thriving, and social media marketing opportunities were booming. Instead, we were hit with a curve ball that would shake the world and turn our lives upside down in just the first three months of the year. As we work to navigate this new norm and try to get comfortable in uncertainty, one thing is certain: nothing will ever be quite the same.

This is especially true for brands, big and small, that are figuring out what their next moves are. These brands – and the people that run them – are asking themselves questions like:

  • What’s the right thing to do?
  • What do I need to adapt in my business to survive?
  • How can I be sensitive to my customers during this time?
  • Is it appropriate to continue marketing my product and/or service right now?
  • If I do continue, am I crafting the right message to reach customers effectively?

These questions bring a marketing trend under scrutiny that was projected to grow exponentially in 2020 – that trend is influencer marketing. From Kim Kardashian selling waist trainers to the masses, to your more localized Instagram personalities “selling their lifestyle”, consumers have come to rely on social media figures to guide what they buy and why. But now, with shifting priorities at the forefront of every consumer’s mind, the influencer marketing bubble that was presumed to be made of steel just two months ago is now more fragile than ever – and potentially about to pop. Influencer marketing will never quite be the same after COVID-19 – and here’s how.

Marketing necessities over novelties

During this unchartered time, we’re witnessing a major shift in priorities for both ourselves and the people around us. As budgets tighten, we are cancelling unnecessary subscription services, cooking at home more than ever before (or, err, making bread), pausing our gym memberships, and hoarding groceries (toilet paper). While it’s too early to know the full affect this pandemic will have on businesses and purchasing habits, it’s important for companies to ask themselves a key question: is my product a novelty or a necessity? The answer to that question should frame your influencer marketing as we move through the next few months. If you’re selling something that’s a novelty, it doesn’t mean that there’s no market for your product – it just means that reframing your messaging and communicating that shift to your influencers will be key.

For example, if your product is a gummy that makes hair thicker (a once huge trend in the influencer world), instead of focusing on messaging about beautiful hair for going out and having fun with friends, try promotions about making your hair healthier from the comfort of your home and self-care. This simple shift in messaging will make all the difference to your audience and won’t bring your brand under scrutiny by making it seem like you believe you’re selling a necessary product. Because truthfully, the only necessities in our lives right now are food, safety, and health – and your influencers should be tapped into that reality.

People might forgive, but they don’t forget

The harsh truth of the current media landscape is that every business is under a microscope for how they treat their employees, the safety precautions put in place to protect customers, and how they reframe marketing efforts amidst COVID-19 concerns. From the companies that have stepped up by completely shifting their business models to make masks for medical professionals, to the companies that have laid off a large percentage of their workforce, it’s important to remember that the world is watching and making decisions accordingly.

This is an important reality to consider when reviewing your marketing dollars for the year and refocusing your influencer efforts. Perhaps it’s appropriate to pause your influencer marketing for now while you focus on paying your employees? Or maybe it still makes sense to tap into your influencers, but instead you focus on how you’re adapting to the current landscape. Whatever your decision is, be thoughtful, try to think beyond the situation we’ve found ourselves in, and realize that your actions determine who will (and won’t) buy your product in the future. Why? Because value of a product matters, but values of a company matter even more.

Authentic messaging

Potentially the most important piece of this puzzle is the authenticity of your brand. Influencers have come under fire time and time again over the past few years for airing tone deaf marketing messages to their followers; this messaging has come in the form of selling products that we know influencers wouldn’t use without the paycheck attached to it, or raving about a product that could be detrimental to the health of their audience. The wave of authentic product positioning has been building for the past few years with campaigns like #AerieREAL that use unedited photos of women influencers for their marketing. The beauty of this simple shift is that people are able to see a piece of themselves in your marketing campaign, and this will undoubtedly become truer during and after a pandemic.

For example, if your product is an at-home healthy meal-prep kit, choose an accessible influencer (e.g., micro or nano influencers) that consumers can resonate with rather than a high-profile celebrity that undoubtedly has a professional live-in chef and won’t use that meal kit. That accessible influencer can talk about the stress of learning to cook and why this kit makes it simpler for them. While it shouldn’t have taken an international health scare to understand that people want to be spoken to in a real, authentic way by the brands they buy from, COVID-19 could be the thing that pushes the fake influencer marketing wave to break.

So, what’s next?

There’s no doubt that influencing will continue to be a massive channel for marketers after COVID-19, but a shift in execution for influencer marketing tactics is necessary. From choosing the right influencers as the face of your brand, to crafting appropriate messaging, remind yourself of what consumers need right now and will need more than ever when this is over: authenticity, truth, and empathy. If you’re curious about ways to reframe your influencer marketing efforts, get in touch – we provide influencer marketing assistance for many of our clients and would love to help you create an authentic, meaningful, influencer marketing strategy for your brand.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!