Co-written by Gary Lipovetsky, co-CEO at Valeria Inc. and Rachel Wexler, COO at Valeria Inc.

In a time of extraordinary economic upheaval, the world is witnessing a shift in consumer behaviour it’s never encountered before. For several months, we stayed locked up indoors, scared of a mysterious virus we’re only now beginning to understand. But as much as the COVID-19 pandemic is a story about disease — it’s also an epic saga that chronicles the massive change taking place in human perception.

So what does this change mean for influencer marketing? 

Tipping the scales

This renaissance has meant consumers are stepping back — asking themselves what is truly important in life. That sentiment is forcing influencers and advertisers to rethink their approach, too. And this includes re-examining future partnerships. When it comes to the influencer-advertiser dichotomy, the industry is seeing a shift in power. And lucky for us, it’s tipping in favour of the influencer. For years, we’ve been reading articles on what companies are looking for in their paid advocates. Not much has been written on what influencers want to see from their advertising partners, until now. As global brands struggle to find a place in this changing economy, even the biggest companies are being forced to think smaller. Thus influencers with niche followings and humbler beginnings are suddenly gaining the upper hand. Once a collaboration is pitched, it’s these unique digital creators who are now the discerning ones. 

Longevity vs. one-time hits

While on-brand relevance is key, influencers are looking beyond surface commonalities. And advertisers are understanding that a recognisable brand name is no longer enough to attract the Internet’s top talent. They must bring more to the table. Ultimately, profits can only flourish when advertisers start thinking long-termThe goal is to build out a robust partnership that goes beyond a one-time collaboration. While this is financially beneficial for the talent, it’s also the best way for brands to maximise their ROI. People want to be inspired by a partnership that symbolises stability, consistency and unflinching devotion from either side. By introducing a strategy that primes the audience to build this trust over longer periods, advertisers will see better conversion rates. They’ll get a trove of opportunities to weave their brand into the psyche of their intended consumers. After all, we’ve seen time and time again that one-off alliances (although successful) lack the brand-building, story-telling benefits only long-term collaborations will yield. The use of trustworthy, likeable advocates to promote products is nothing new. So there’s no reason why that strategy would change now. But to better understand the evolution of sponsored content, we need to take a step back. In the 1700s, it’s said the Pope and even the Queen would endorse medicines for the ‘common people’. So you could say they were among history’s first ‘influencers’. But look at the 1930s, and Coca-Cola’s successful campaign to rally weary Americans after the Great Depression. The company re-created a loveable image of Santa Claus to delight audiences, persuading them to drink more Coke. Fast forward to 2010: Who could forget the Old Spice guy? A 30-second ad featuring former NFL star, Isaiah Mustafa, went viral before the Super Bowl. Not only did company sales surge — their YouTube channel got more than 40M views. Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus and the Old Spice guy were ‘influencers’ in their own right. But in the past decade, we’ve witnessed a phenomenon that has turned influencers into what they are today. Online content creators have carved out a corner for themselves, gaining massive followers for their expertise on all sorts of subjects. To the point where celebrity endorsements are somewhat irrelevant. The success of modern-day influencer marketing stems from the idea that consumers will conform to those who they believe have good judgment. So when choosing partners, it only makes sense that digital creators would work extra hard to protect this coveted notion. 

When money and values intersect

So what happens when an influencer’s values converge with their desire for profits? At this intersection is where you’ll discover the quest for authenticity. Authenticity comes from intuition. Profits are black-and-white — numbers on a paper. But that gut feeling? It’s primal and unforgiving. Advertisers might believe there’s no room for such abstract principles. But for influencers, intuition is the foundation to all success stories. So what can brands do to tap into a talent’s pursuit for authenticity? For starters, never come forward with the promise of a long-term partnership to get a discounted rate on a one-off collaboration. Some advertisers will do this, then blame the data analysis for why they don’t want to proceed further. This approach may work for influencers just starting out. But for well-known talent who are booked with fully-paying sponsors, this tactic won’t cut it. Instead, the advertiser will appear sneaky and inauthentic. Of course, there’s always the benefit of building new relationships. But an influencer will never do this at the cost of production. 

Trust goes both ways

Until recently, influencers were the ones scrambling to prove to advertisers that they are trustworthy. But trust is a two-way street. And advertisers must work diligently to earn that level of confidence from their hired advocates, too. Influencers are looking for a product or value system they’d be more than proud to represent. Thus companies accused of racism, for example, must first correct themselves from within. Without this kind of soul-searching beforehand, there can be no trust. And when an influencer has little confidence in the brand they’re paid to represent, there can be no future. These long-term partnerships can be a gamble. Digital creators can minimise risk though by looking beyond a company’s motto, and deciphering what truly lies within. Influencers can only prosper when they unapologetically raise the bar. After all, they can afford to be harsh — because the power continues to tip in their favour.

Rachel Wexler – Chief Operating Officer at VALERIA INC.

Rachel Wexler joined VALERIA INC as COO in January of this year. Wexler has almost a decade of experience in brand development, building high growth environments, and marketing management, with a background in the tech industry. Rachel’s current focus is on new business initiatives and sustaining the growth and quality of Valeria’s Inc.’s content production and sponsor relations.

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