How has influencer marketing radically changed in 2020?
In my continuing series of “State of Marketing 2020,” I run interviews on the changing landscape of 2020 with key leaders in different business and leadership areas. For influencer marketing, I tap Lindsay Fultz, SVP of Partnerships at Whalar and influencer marketing expert for over a decade.
Goldie Chan: You’ve been in influencer marketing for nearly a decade. You’re considered a veteran in the industry. After all this time, what gets you excited?
Lindsay Fultz: This industry is fast moving. So much has changed. From types of creators and redefining what the word “influence” actually means, platforms, features, how cultural trends are intertwined and what makes them go viral, ways content can be repurposed, algorithms, to accessible data and now influencer marketing during a global pandemic and influencer and brand activism during a long overdue social justice movement.
Some things that get me excited:
- Shoppable features that enable us to create strategies that tie ROI to particular influencers and activations. My company, Whalar is the only global partner to five social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok which not only means rich first party data but also access to all the cool private beta features like TikTok’s creator shopping program — The ability to tie video views from a specific influencer to actual purchases — that’s huge and something we’re very excited to pilot with a brand for a case study.
- Interactive survey features that can double as consumer surveys and coordinating influencer focus groups for brands. Since the pandemic, we’ve been doing a lot of this at Whalar.
- Live-streamed shopping which for 2020 is projected to be a $129B revenue stream in China. Instagram quietly rolled out their Live Shopping Feature in private beta a few weeks ago which I’m very excited to pilot with a brand. Whoever gets this right in the U.S will unlock a gold mine in Influencer Marketing for both creators and brands.
- Virtual events! Marc Jacobs recently leveraged Zoom for their new product launch and Fenty VR and livestreams for their virtual house party. Both were super interactive and attendees left with keepsakes and an incredible, unforgettable experience. And we’ve only just scratched the surface on the possible integrations.
- Leveraging influencers as your in-house production arm. Since the pandemic we’ve been getting a lot of briefs about partnering with creators behind the lens to create a library of branded assets from still and dynamic images to short and long form video content. This is quite exciting.
- Even though it’s all P2P, partnering with creators that hit a B2B audience. Keynote speakers, marketers, entrepreneurs, thought leaders — because they are practitioners and educators, they attract an audience composed of C-suite executives, decision makers, people that control large marketing budgets and people that aspire to be in those positions. They are regularly in front of large super targeted audiences that people pay to gain access to — albeit now virtually.
- Influencer and Brand Activism. This has been exciting to watch unfold and I think it’s a good thing! It’s been incredible seeing brands take a stance, and influencers unafraid to lose brand deals by taking a stance. It adds an extra layer to the influencer vetting process but it’s a very important layer when partnering influencers with brands — to make sure both brand and influencer viewpoints are aligned.
Chan: How has the pandemic and social justice movement changed influencer marketing?
Fultz: The murder of George Floyd rapidly moved brands from their previous hesitancy to say “Black Lives Matter” to almost unanimously stating it, which is a huge amount of progress made, as long as those statements are backed up with transparency and accountability – plans for actions to be taken with budgets attached to fight systemic racism. Now that brands have taken this public stand, influencers are feeling more comfortable and more supported to take that stand as well, whereas before the movement of 2020, they had concerns that appearing as an “activist” might prevent them from collaborating with some of the biggest brands who felt they needed to stay neutral so as not to alienate their “red state customers”.
Personally, what I love about Whalar is our prioritization of diversity and inclusion, both around casting influencers for campaigns as well as in our company makeup. We took an audit of our last twelve months of work in July and confirmed what we thought – see Slide 5 here. Our casting reflects an over-indexed representation compared to the US Census for all marginalized groups except for LatinX, which we are currently working on increasing. And within the company, we have majority female representation and leadership, with people of color representing 10% of our leadership team and 36% of our US staff.
It’s also worth noting that when we cast for diversity, we look at diversity from all angles – not just racial background, but geographic, levels of education, family history, gender identity, sexual preference, religious beliefs. The more diverse we are able to cast when partnering with a brand, the more authentic, impactful the content. When you focus on emotion over promotion, the storytelling hits a bit different. The content covers different pov’s and now all of a sudden the brand has a chance to be a catalyst of change and bring together subcultures that were formerly very isolated or all around neglected.
This is not just a moral imperative, it’s a business opportunity: underrepresented groups have time, attention, and money to give a brand when they’re communicated with authentically.
Chan: You talk a lot about ROI and approaching influencer marketing from an integrated approach. Can you elaborate on this?
Fultz: For the past year I’ve immersed myself in the DTC space where the main job to be done is sales. Influencer conversion campaigns require a completely different strategy and are casted very differently than brand awareness. The creators use the product(s) consistently and take their audience on a journey of discovery and benefits. The most valuable real estate is not in feed. The best performing content in regards to sales is unpolished and most of the time is shot with them simply talking into their phone. Purchase intent convo continues to happen in the DM’s with the creators providing a lot of customer service support to close the sale. They are an extension of your marketing team and are truly invested in the brand success. How the creators execute their job to be done on a conversion campaign creates an insane amount of UGC and a very enthusiastic brand base.
On the brand side, the DTC space is more nimble with a lot less red tape which makes it easier to incorporate an integrated approach which is important to hit KPI’s. Capturing 2nd, 3rd, 4th conversion opportunities by leveraging the influencer content across email, website, ecomm, custom landing pages, retargeting, paid media and PR is crucial for sales growth. *Note: this may require a different licensing agreement with the creators.
Influencer marketing doesn’t belong in its own silo. Because of Covid, budgets are being scrutinized.There is little room in marketing budgets for departments, agency partners and vendors to land grab — All play a key role in actually achieving the job to be done. Being transparent where the dollars are going and sharing the data they have access to are key components to success.
Chan: What is your favorite influencer campaign that you’ve run and why?
Fultz: Axe’s “Instagroom” year long rebranding campaign featuring 30 male creators. Creators casted were cool but somewhat quirky, awkward dudes who also happen to have swoon worthy hair to tackle male grooming and confidence. The creative brief gave them 3 basic guidelines 1) show and tell how quick and easy it is to style your hair every day 2) how it gives you confidence that lasts throughout your day 3) tie it back to your passion point – comedy, sports, music etc. That’s it. The content really showcased each of their distinct personalities and that resonated extremely well with their respective audiences. The influencer program was called a master class in influencer marketing from industry pubs which as you can imagine was a complete dream.
I’m also very proud of the launch of the world’s first influencer chatbot in partnerships with COVERGIRL, Automat and Kalani Hiliker because it was an attempt to tackle dark social and prove that those conversations can turn into conversions. I think influencers as KOL’s (Key Opinion Leaders), in messaging apps is going to be a trend. A trend that is going to become a huge revenue stream for retail. Been preaching this since 2016.
And most recently, at Whalar, my favorite is the MAC Cosmetics #MoodFlip Hashtag Challenge on TikTok which launched a few weeks ago and has amassed 4B views. We worked with a producer, Cael Dadian, to create an original song for the brand. It’s just super fun, catchy and completely on brand.
Influencer marketing is a complex system that is often instantaneously affected by changes in political or social trends. By thinking of overall marketing budgets, pulling a truly diverse set of influencers and keeping a sharp, dedicated eye on trends, influencer marketing can be extremely effective – even in 2020.