Faced with the challenges of the pandemic, retailers had to adapt – and fast.
With face-to face interaction limited, how could brands reach out to consumers and build deeper, meaningful connections?
The answer? Influencer marketing.
Brands and influencers have worked together to deliver for their audiences, finding new ways to work around pandemic restrictions, and new avenues for content creation that forges meaningful relationships.
As a result, both parties have not only survived but thrived.
Creators have become core to business marketing strategies. And this is showing no sign of slowing: influencer market size is set to grow by $4.1 billion in 2021, according to Influencer Marketing Hub.
There are a number of reasons influencer marketing has proven so pivotal during the pandemic.
The personal connection
Restrictions on in-person interactions have meant that retailers have had to be resourceful in order to reach out to consumers.
Investment in the online space has been crucial as it has quickly become the primary channel to communicate with their audience.
This is where influencers have come into play.
Without the in-store experience of trying on clothes, brands have partnered with influencers to help bridge this gap and provide the human touch customers have been missing.
These partnerships will only become more common, even with restrictions now lifting and physical retail returning to some kind of normality. Marketers understand influencers’ unique ability to create real relationships with followers and at a scale, too.
This is because influencers don’t simply replace the in-store experience like for like.
They enhance it, by offering inspiration: showing the fit, styling and functionality of products, bringing them to life in an authentic way, in an authentic setting.
Influencers are not just representatives for brands, but sellers themselves.
And this will create further opportunity.
New virtual storefronts
The online marketplace is a crowded and endless one.
And so, with limitless options available at the click of a button, consumers were looking to influencers for instant guidance during successive national lockdowns.
They could provide their followers with trusted recommendations based on their experience that helped items stand out.
Influencers began to focus on curating their own virtual shop fronts where customers could find a fully bespoke shopping experience that’s accessible from the comfort of their own home - tried and tested by an expert they had an affinity with.
It’s a shift we’ve witnessed first-hand. Our LTK shopping app - recently rebranded from LIKEtoKNOW.it - saw triple digit growth in 2020 as influencers looked to sell more directly through a dedicated sales channel with high-intent shoppers.
As ‘influence’ has grown, brands have also invested: 40% more was spent on LTK collaborations last year. And they’re getting results – we supported Amazon Fashion in growing its total sales by 244% in 2020.
Those results say it all. Yes, online shopping can be overwhelming but by packaging products with approval from a familiar face, customers will respond positively.
Embracing innovation like never before
Even with physical stores reopening as lockdown restrictions ease, customers are expected to continue to gravitate towards the online space.
According to BRC, over two fifths (43%) of UK consumers expect to shop more online over the next one to two years for items they would have previously bought in-store.
New innovative technologies are also improving the virtual shopping experience, such as streamable ‘live shopping’ channels.
A study by Chinese online marketplace AliExpress revealed that 70% of European shoppers are interested in experimenting with new live streaming experiences.
Again, influencers can add the relatable, accessible entry point for consumers engaging in these new digital experiences, providing guidance and personalised recommendations.
Consumers will become more accustomed to getting the full shopping experience from the comfort and safety of their homes, meaning brand partnerships with influencers will become even more important.
And on the LTK app, in the UK, we are seeing orders growing at a rate of 440% more than in 2020.
Long term collaboration
Pre-Covid, it was common for brands to engage with influencers for one-off collaborations.
A big change we have seen over the last year is a move towards more long-term relationships with influencers.
According to Influencer Marketing Hub, 56% of brands are now using the same influencers across different campaigns. Larger brands will typically work with a roster of influencers depending on the target market or product they are trying to promote.
Amazon Fashion have adopted an ‘always-on’ approach to their influencer collaborations. Working with a choiceful selection of sales-driven influencers backed by informed data that matches them to their brand category and price point, which has led to ROI in excess of 5 and increased engagement.
By investing in long-term, continuous relationships, brands are ensuring that creator partners are educated on the customer journey and fully understand marketing objectives from the outset.
And “always-on” relationships also give them a better understanding of which social channels deliver the most conversion and sales, as brands can benefit from constant access to performance metrics.
Long term relationships ultimately create brand ambassadors who are accustomed to business priorities and messaging. This will lead to deeper relationships with target audiences and greater impact.
A new age for influencer marketing
An uncertain period has sparked a revolution in influencer marketing.
And the momentum built over the pandemic is unlikely to slow even as restrictions ease.
The past year has shown the potential of influencers. Their success means they must now be recognised as a fundamental part of brand marketing strategy.
As retailers build long term, always-on collaborations with influencers, more opportunities will be unlocked. This is only the beginning.
Brands now have no choice but to sit up and take notice of the power of Creator Commerce.
Robin Ward, Director Brand Partnerships Europe, LTK