As Brands Prepare 2021 Marketing Campaigns, Tapping Authentic Content Will Be Critical to Succeed In A Post-Covid-19 World
To learn more about influencer marketing, how the industry has fared throughout the pandemic and the breakout trends to watch for heading into 2021, I spoke with Ryan Detert, the CEO of Influential, an artificial intelligence-based tech platform backed by the power of IBM Watson that continues to play an active role in the evolution of influencer marketing. Influential harnesses digital analytics to match influencers with top-name brands like McDonalds, Uber, NBA, Wells Fargo, etc., and is both an Oracle partner and a preferred Facebook Marketing, TikTok, and Triller partner.
Gary Drenik: What were the top influencer marketing verticals from 2020? How is Influential able to measure this, and what made each so captivating among consumers? Are there any that you predict will rise among the rest this year – or perhaps, fall behind?
Ryan Detert: Over the last four years, Fortune 1000 brands and small businesses have shifted focus towards activating micro-influencers, which are classified as influencers with followers ranging from 1,000 to 50,000. Implementing micro-influencers is an increasingly popular trend that has only accelerated through the pandemic. They have niche audiences that you can speak to with highly relevant content — unlike the multi-million influencers that are largely international, wide demographics and more expensive.
Home-grown content clearly dominated 2020, and verticals that either previously existed in that market or were able to successfully adapt to at-home life amid the pandemic fared the best — think cooking, fitness, beauty, lifestyle, and even unexpected sectors like houseplants. We are able to measure what verticals perform best, both online and offline, through a number of different partners. We track weekly sales measurement through IRI, foot traffic into stores through a number of geolocation partners, and we can even measure TV tune in through over 20M smart TVs in the US.
We also work with IBM to use AI to help brands identify influencers that best align with their brand values, and essentially match the perfect hometown heroes to any brand, based on demographics, psychographics, and contextual relevance. As brands continue to shift advertising tactics in this increasingly fluid landscape, the social targeting tool helps ensure that brands communicate with purpose to a highly engaged audience. Additionally, we also use our technology to vet for brand safety concerns from old posts or real-world actions like DUIs and felonies. Throughout the past year that has been tricky to navigate, we’re very grateful to have experienced significant growth and our business has increased by over 30% overall.
Through our close partnerships with social platforms like Triller, TikTok and Instagram Reels, we always have our finger on the pulse of what’s working and what’s not in the industry. As of late, we expect finance influencers and healthcare influencers (mental health experts, in particular) to shine in 2021.
Drenik: 2020 was the year of streaming, delivery, and virtual events. Do you think these habits have changed consumers for good?
Detert: While the Covid-19 vaccine is set to become widely available this year, it’s still going to take a significant amount of time before consumers are completely comfortable visiting brick-and-mortar locations, traveling and attending in-person events. 2020 certainly set the stage for a digital-first world — and now that we’ve completed almost a year of lockdown, there’s no doubt that we’ve successfully adjusted to this life and reliance on digital is only going to get stronger.
Results from a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey show us that the number of consumers who subscribe to paid streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Apple TV continues to grow, even when comparing rates from 2020 to 2021. That’s already pretty telling since we’ve completed just one month of 2021 to date.
As a whole, we’ve been forced to undergo immense digital transformation faster than ever before — our progress will not be reversed, even when the world begins to open back up. And when this happens, there will still be people who will hesitate returning to in-person life. That being said, I’m confident that streaming, delivery, and virtual events will continue to be preferred by many consumers in post-COVID-19 life.
Drenik: Overall, it seems as though 2021 is looking to be a much more positive year in terms of global health and the ability for “normal life” to resume once again. With the expected pickup in things like travel, social gatherings, and office life, how will brands need to pivot their existing strategies to adapt to these changes?
Detert: It’s challenging to predict how brands as a whole will need to pivot their existing strategies to adapt to “normal life.” Each vertical and brand is different — what works for one might not work for another. That said, we’re seeing a handful of influencers slowly resuming their participation in brand campaigns that involve safe travel.
To really understand how to navigate what’s next, brands will need to do a deep comparison of their performance pre-Covid-19 vs. now. As mentioned, digitalization will only continue to advance, and brands will need to ensure their digital strategies are equipped for the future.
Drenik: Were there key learnings from 2020 that will extend beyond pandemic lifestyles?
Detert: Recent Prosper Insights & Analytics data indicates that the number of consumers who indicated that social media influenced them to shop at a particular store more than doubled between 2019 and 2020. This is just one example of how crucial it is for brands to have a strong involvement with influencers, who curate most of the content available on social media.
Raw, short-form video will continue to reign, as Influential data shows that 56% of shared content is short-form, with these videos outperforming all other content by 11.5X engagement. Almost every major social media platform has jumped on the bandwagon and incorporated some variation of short-form video into their product offerings — most recently seen with YouTube Shorts.
Lastly, in-studio production is becoming less relevant, with consumers gravitating to content with a homegrown, self-produced vibe.
Drenik: Reflecting back to 2020, relatability and authenticity seemed to play a critical factor in an influencers’ success. Would you consider this as the “make-or-break” quality that determined an influencer’s ability to increase their following amid the pandemic? Do you envision consumers continuing to value this quality the most in the influencers they follow, or will it fall to the wayside?
Detert: There is definitely a correlation between influencers who master relatability and authenticity, and overall success — whether that success is defined by increased consumer engagement, better brand deals, or both. Within the influencer industry, I think it’s pretty well known that you must be able to elicit that “friend next door” persona in order to connect with followers.
The majority of consumers will continue to value relatability and authenticity the most when engaging with influencers.
Drenik: Will an influencer who made it big in 2020 through relatable, homegrown-style content be able to successfully pivot his/her strategy to coincide with post-Covid-19 life? Are there other specific influencer qualities that resonated the most with consumers in 2020 that will help others in the market through 2021?
Detert: I’d like to think that influencers who were able to make it big in 2020 are very likely to continue to find success in a post-Covid-19 world. They have a special skill that allowed them to connect with followers and become profitable in one of the most challenging times to date.
There’s industry chatter around the rise of “genuinfluencers,” those who are on a mission to fight misinformation and facilitate legitimate awareness around the key issues we’re dealing with as a society and more. I believe these types of influencers will continue to emerge this year. In general, I think we’ll see more and more influencers realizing that they can’t stay silent with their followers and will need to be open to publicly sharing their personal beliefs and opinions around sensitivities, as consumers increasingly value transparency in the content they consume.
Drenik: Thank you, Ryan, for taking the time to share your insights on all things influencers. I look forward to seeing how the industry continues to evolve as we transition into a post-COVID-19 world.
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