How retailers can tap into the growing power of influencers

Retailers across the globe have been pulling advertising from Facebook (and Instagram) . The social media platform is under heavy criticism for its failure to tackle hate speech. Retailers have taken a stand – along with about 1,000 other brands and agencies – in protest and have withdrawn from advertising. While ethically it may be the right thing to do, this approach provides a real challenge for retailers as they need to find a scalable alternative to paid ad spend on the platform.

The timing of Covid-19 has compounded the problem facing marketer, as other routes to market have become less feasible under lockdown. Glossy television ads feel dated during the pandemic and are also difficult to film under social distancing restrictions. Additionally although people are returning to streets and shopping centres, there is still far less footfall for outdoor advertising. This is particularly the case in previously high volume areas like City centres with continuing nervousness about travelling. 

In the light of these challenges, retailers are searching for ways to reach audiences of potential customers at scale. Sponsoring video content created by influencers is an increasingly attractive proposition. As one of marketing’s newest disciplines many retailers are trialling it for the first time.  As well as the unviability of other methods, there are several particular reasons this form of marketing has become more appealing. 

Online video surges during the pandemic

As British people have spent more time at home, millions have turned to online video for entertainment and education. According to GlobalWebIndex, 38% of people are now watching more online video as a result of Covid-19. Online video’s strength is its ability to respond and react to changing landscapes and it has provided people with a sense of genuine connection during social distancing. Joe Wicks has become a household name and many others have seen their audiences and engagement rise dramatically.

TikTok has offered escapism and light relief and has seen a 27% increase in engagement during the pandemic. YouTube immediately become the platform of choice for relevant news, information and education. Website visitors surged during lockdown, up 15% overall, a large rise for a mature medium. Viewership is still up in the long run, with categories like gaming, people & blogs, home & DIY, food and fitness seeing long-term gains in viewership, showing our desire to be entertained, follow people with authentic stories and for self-improvement.

Integrated advertising in engaging content

Retailers can have their brands and products seamlessly integrated within a creator’s content in an organic and non-disruptive way. Unlike with Facebook, retailers will know exactly what content they are appearing with as they have pre-selected the influencers. 

While influencer marketing has been seen as something of the ‘wild west’ in the past, tracking e-commerce success is very easy. Unique URLs and discount codes mean sales can be monitored effectively. For those more interested in brand awareness or driving in store visits these influencers offer powerful engagement and reach. Viewers watch with the sound on and for an average of 4 minutes per video on YouTube.

Also the increasing sophistication of targeting means it is easier to see which messaging and genres convert customers and build awareness. The ability to combine different micro-influencers and scale their reach is also crucial. This can be more cost-efficient than working with one big name.

But for retailers looking to work with these influencers what are the top considerations for those attempting it for the first time?

1. A data-focused approach is key  - Just like with platforms like Facebook, brands need to be clear about who they’re trying to reach and what the key KPI is. If the aim is to raise brand awareness, views or impressions will be key. If it is purchase consideration, then click through rates and email sign ups should be measured. If it is sales, the focus should be on building custom landing pages and issuing each influencer discount codes.

  1. Have one clear  Call To Action -  Retailers are great at having a clear message in other advertising formats, whether an offer-led promotion or promoting values like sustainability. The same needs to apply for how they work with influencers. Often brands want the influencer to overwhelm their audience with information. This creates confusion and means nothing sticks. If what is offered is one clear next step, retailers can inspire action. 
  2. Trial with several creators – If they are trialing a new marketing strategy, retailers shouldn’t just depend on one influencer – they could always be an outlier. It is vital to engage with at least three different influencers from different verticals. It is possible to then judge which approach is most successful. A campaign leveraging multiple micro-influencers could well be more effective.
  3. Be clear with deliverables and expectations - Influencers are often in high demand from brands and agencies. Many will be booked up months in advance. It is crucial to be early, clear and upfront about which content and assets are expected, timelines and dates, reporting and budgets. Everyone knows how difficult it is to retrospectively alter contracts!
  4. Be flexible with how your brand is integrated – Content creators’ audiences engage with them because they enjoy their style of content. This offers a real ‘holy grail’ for brands partnering with them. However the huge benefit that can be gained from product placement can only be accrued if it appears authentically. Brands seeking to dictate the content will alienate the influencer and reduce the chance for success. Working with the right partners can ensure retailers communicate their message in an effective way.

Retailers that follow the trend and use content creators can see a favourable return on investment. With other advertising less viable, it is the ideal moment to engage the power of influence.

Jennifer Quigley-Jones, CEO and founder YouTube specialist influencer marketing agency Digital Voices

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