A Playbook for Holiday & 2021 Influencer Programs

If there was one word to summarize the pandemic for marketing and PR leaders, agility would likely be it. How quickly did you engage with a strategic brand response? How fast did you rework your messaging?

Holiday and 2021 planning will likely be the first times most brands fully reengage with influencer efforts. However, like everything else, the influencer game has changed. It’s critical to reexamine past approaches and throw out all pre-existing assumptions to ensure influencer programs are strategically built to meet today’s — and tomorrow’s — consumer.

This is a consumer who has likely changed drastically — one who is much more aware of how brands support diversity, equity and inclusion as well as social causes; one who is probably overwhelmed and numb to endless virtual consumer events and content; and also one who may be more open to new products and brands as traditional shopping has waned.

Here are four things to do as you begin planning:

Get to (re)know customers

The pandemic has fundamentally changed who we are as humans. We are no longer the consumers we were six months ago. Our priorities have changed — from how and where we spend our money, what we value and which brands we want to engage with. As a result, understanding emerging consumer trends and effectively building communication strategies around them is critical to engaging with your “new” customer. Brands who are winning are uncovering these insights and tapping into long-term trends by thoughtfully offering up engaging campaigns that meet their customers where they are.

As you take on Q4 planning, take a good look at consumer data to understand how behaviors have pivoted. Accenture, for example, identified 10 trends coming out of the pandemic that are shaping consumer behaviors for the foreseeable future. These include a continued focus on health and safety, the importance of local community, staying connected to one another and staying at home. With those in mind, find ways to connect campaigns back to what consumers care about most. For example, for health and safety, find ways to have influencer partners help share authentic messaging around steps your company is taking to keep its customers safe and secure (whether in-store or online). For staying at home, have partners help build campaigns around moments in and around the home and integrating your product or brand accordingly, like a holiday cooking challenge or girls’ night movie marathon. 

Takeaway question: When did you last review your customer data?

Reexamine partners

With the pandemic forcing everyone to stay home, many influencers and creators had to creatively reform their content strategies to stay relevant, especially in fashion, beauty and travel. Most effectively adapted, becoming “homefluencers.” If holiday is your brand’s first large influencer program since the peak of the pandemic, it’s critical to reexamine past partners and thoroughly examine new ones. Some might have an entirely new focus area given content shifts, and they may no longer be the best fit for your brand.

Additionally, with planned marketing campaigns essentially halting in Q2 as brands pivoted their messaging during the health crisis, sponsored influencer posts, events and paid partnerships dipped drastically, forcing content creators to rely less on brands for revenue and look for other sources of income. At the same time, new influencers have emerged — especially those with platforms relevant to current events such as the stay-at-home pandemic life, diversity & inclusion, etc.. As a result, this may have scaled down the pool of historic potential partners available and put new ones on the map, so make sure to take a close look at the landscape as you develop your campaign narrative.

Takeaway question: When did you last update your list of potential partners?

Amp up UGC and video

The pandemic clearly showed us one thing about content creation: that all consumers can do it. With more down time at home, individuals who didn’t necessarily consider themselves influencers began documenting and sharing at-home hobbies, activities and product finds with the world in a short-form video style (15 to 60 seconds) — from bread making to family dance-offs. While UGC is not new, it now presents richer opportunities than ever before with millions of new “influencers.”

Enter: the meteoric rise of TikTok. The platform currently dominates with engagement and is no longer considered just the “Gen Z app.” Its raw and highly engaging nature is part of what makes so attractive. Consider ways to leverage a cultural moment — or create your own — with TikTok, but be ready to stay flexible with the output. While brands can guide the direction of the campaign, TikTok partners run the show on the final creative. The highly personalized development process is what makes the platform and its super-users (super) successful.

Finally, we’d be remised if we didn’t mention Instagram Reels, which offers another emerging opportunity. Although the platforms are similar in nature, it’ll be easier to begin testing short-form content on Instagram because most brands are already there.

Takeaway questions: How can UGC naturally fit into your brand’s holiday campaign? Secondarily, are you ready to relinquish some of the creative control?

Tighten KPIs

Ensure your influencer program metrics are clearly defined and built to track ROI to help your business close the year out strong. Surface-level elements like engagement rates and consumer response are a given, but layer in the following ROI-centric considerations as well:

  • Can you offer partners unique (trackable) promo codes to entice purchases? Value remains a key driver for consumer spending.
  • Do you have the right Google Analytics goals set up to measure referral traffic and conversions?
  • Are you integrating trackable links into your campaign ask?
  • Is your campaign sequencing right? Should you launch an influencer campaign a few days before your larger brand campaign goes live to closely watch traffic and stagger momentum?

Takeaway question: When did you last reevaluate your measurement approach?

It’s safe to say that holiday 2020 and beyond will be unlike any other — culturally and from a marketing perspective. While we can’t say for sure what it’ll look like, we can take the time to go through these steps to ensure we have strong, measurable, customer-centric influencer programs and campaigns in place that resonate with our targets. Because let’s face it, as marketers isn’t that what’s on the top of all our holiday wish lists this year?

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