Maria Sipka is Co-Founder and EVP Brand Strategy for Linqia, an end-to-end influencer marketing solution.
Originally an upper-funnel, PR tactic, influencer marketing experienced a considerable evolution in the past few years leading to leveraging of influencers across the funnel. Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has further transformed influencer marketing, and it’s opening up an opportunity for marketers to bring influencers into the creative conversation earlier.
With photoshoots canceled and travels restricted in the earliest days of the pandemic, marketers could still turn to influencers for generated content needed to effectively engage with their targeted audiences. Not only did the influencers bring agility and greater authenticity to these programs, but they could also provide insights into what they believed would resonate with their audiences. Thanks to their web of connections, influencers have much more to offer marketers beyond a tactic and can be a strategic piece in designing successful campaigns.
As we move into 2021, here are three new ways to consider leveraging influencers beyond just the role of content creator.
1. Learn From Influencers
Influencers can bring insights to the table that might inform broader marketing initiatives and make them more effective. We all know the rapid rise of at-home baking was one outcome of our shared experience with the pandemic, with which we’re all too familiar at this point. But while we watched the news or perused websites with tips for making the best bread at home, one barbecue brand found through observations of their influencers that their networks were barbecuing as a workweek activity, instead of an exclusively weekend one. This insight helped to retool the messaging in their next campaign.
Historically, marketers have relied on months-long focus groups and market research. Unfortunately, in a time like 2020, that lengthy process could result in immediately outdated intelligence. As early as March 2020, 51% of 215 marketing leaders surveyed by Gartner noted they turn to social listening platforms to keep up with consumers’ changing desires. While many marketers were already doing social listening in some form, the Covid-19 pandemic simultaneously triggered greater interest and willingness to act based on the data obtained.
Now, you can think of influencers as the new focus group or a way to get interactive social listening insights. Before starting your campaign, you can tap into influencers to learn what messages will resonate with a specific audience or the best timing based on previous content. This invaluable information can be accessed by connecting with influencers not as content creators but as experts.
2. Include Influencers As Part Of Your Pivot
When Covid-19 hit, our team created councils for brands to connect more intimately with influencers to discuss pivoting messages and calls to action. An example of that is a client for which our goal was originally to drive sales. Almost immediately after the pandemic arrived, however, the brand needed to shift from driving in-store sales, to providing new, fun recipes to make at home using cupboard staples — eliminating the need for another trip to the store.
Think of influencer marketing as your flexible media form. If you need to pivot or test new messaging, you can do that almost instantly compared with more traditional media channels.
3. Testing Narratives
Beyond playing a role in shifts needed due to outside circumstances, influencers can also provide insights around which messaging will resonate to drive the goals of a given campaign. You can focus on a brand and test narratives to see what might produce the desired outcome. For example, you might want to test what story would result in the addition of products to the cart. You might do this by testing the results from an influencer advocating the long-term benefits of a product versus an influencer focusing the narrative on the immediate need for the product. One narrative might achieve the goal over the other — or you may find both are effective.
One other example came from our company, where we tested different narratives for a pet food brand. We found that do-it-yourself recipe ideas featuring the dog treat achieved 20% stronger carting rates over other narratives.
You can build in different narrative paths to test and learn at the beginning of your influencer campaign — before implementing your paid media channels at scale.
The Future Of Influencer Marketing
These ways of leveraging influencers can lead to a significant change in how marketers map out campaigns. Influencers are no longer limited to activating as just one channel of a campaign once it has begun — they can be leveraged to design the campaign. Their interactions with brands take on a new form as their involvement begins early in the campaign window. By putting influencers at the start of campaign developments, brands can see near real-time intelligence, and as such, campaigns can be more flexible, drive deeper resonance and deliver better results.
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