Influencers have been riding the wave of success ever since brands realised the worth of having a more relatable youth icon connect with audiences over the shared love of a brand. Not only has this translated to 86 per cent of total earned media value for the top 30 fashion brands, but has also catapulted to multi-faceted long-term partnerships where the influencer becomes the product collaborator.

Campaign for Camila Coelho Collection
                                                      Campaign for Camila Coelho Collection

In fact, micro influencers with their following in the thousands are gaining as much attention as the macro influencers whose fan base runs in millions. With active social media accounts and exotic content to offer, even the smaller influencers have been part of campaigns for the biggest brands from Versace and Dior to Estee Lauder and H&M. However, being stuck at home with no more events to attend or vacations oozing splendour to post about, most influencers from big to small, find themselves in a fix. After all, how many throwback pictures one can have to post!

Down in the doldrums

As the pandemic gripped the world, many brands, hit by plunging sales figures, have halted social media marketing campaigns that once enabled the lavish lifestyles of these Instagram stars. According to Shareablee, a marketing analytics company, sponsored content went down as much as 85 per cent on Instagram for the month of April.

“Now, during this time, budgets have been cut tremendously and I’ve had to cut my rates, but I’m lucky that I’m a storyteller and that has set me apart,” said Julie Sariñana, an Instagram influencer with a following of 5.5 million. “I think there’s still opportunity, but it’s about how hard you are willing to work.”

Julie Sarinana
                                                                            Julie Sarinana

The flak for the influencer culture started as many of them flaunted their sumptuous lives and complained about being stuck in huge mansions, insensitive to the thousands dying from the pandemic. It reached the pinnacle when the New York-based influencer Arielle Charnas shifted from her Manhattan home to the Hamptons despite testing positive. The incident had many wondering if audiences would see the flaw in elevating influencers to a standard where they lose touch with the ground reality.

However, it would be brash to say that this will likely be the end for influencer marketing. Just like others, this industry will too experience some permanent shifts.

In 2019, brands spent up to US $ 8.5 billion on influencers, according to MediaKix. Brands have been increasingly relying on Instagram to reach new customers which has led to a gargantuan rise in the number of influencers – 12 million, as claimed by Hpyr, a marketing platform. What’s more is that influencers charge ‘astronomical’ amounts for sponsorship deals. Meanwhile, brands are struggling to connect the money spent dressing influencers and flying them to exotic locations with real sales figures.

Changing to a new normal

It is needless to say that brands are on the lookout for cheaper and more effective ways of reaching out to new customers, as the influencer market has also become too cluttered. Farfetch, looking for a breath of fresh air outside the monotony of superficial influencer posts, has begun using marketing platforms like Zyper where fans produce their own, original content in exchange for free products or other rewards. A pretty sweet deal for authentic campaigns, plus it has the added advantage of engaging the audience optimally.

Marc Jacobs has changed up the approach to show off its employees’ outfits. Instead of outsourcing the concepts, the staff is well-versed in the brand’s DNA. A department store chain in China, InTime had its employees live stream on Taobao while all its 27 locations were closed. Reportedly, the store successfully sold over US $ 14,000 in 1 hour.

Email marketing is also huge with unsubscribe rates down and e-mail open rates up by 25 per cent, according to the marketing tech company BounceXRent the Runway too has recently started an upbeat e-mail newsletter, complete with book recommendations, poached eggs tutorials and inspirational quotes from Amy Poehler.

“We want to cultivate community with subscribers and have an opportunity to build a connection now,” said Gabby Etrog Cohen, Senior Vice President –Communications and Business Development, Rent the Runway. “That’s how we’re thinking about marketing right now: connection with a brand. It’s very different from being transactional.”

But it’s not only the brands that are looking for a way out. Many influencers have realised the need for a more stable income apart from their successful careers as Instagram icons, lest a pandemic strike again. They are starting to switch up their revenue strategies, focusing on long-term bets like direct-to-consumer businesses or alternates like their own brands or classes and consulting services.

                                                      Sephora’s campaign with store employees

Beca Alexander, Founder and President of influencer agency Socialyte, seconds the notion of many influencers not being able to make it out of this pandemic. “A lot of influencers were trying to mimic what was doing well for someone else, and they started to look the same. I don’t think a lot of them are going to come out of this. The world can’t handle millions of fashion influencers posting about stay-at-home smoothies,” said Beca.

As more and more relatable content is on the rise, shrinking marketing budgets and health concerns mean the days of extravagant spending on each post might be over. Some influencers are leaning into categories where sales — and sponsored posts — have surged, including fitness, wellness and home goods.

Tik Tok emerging as a new influencer platform
                                                       Tik Tok emerging as a new influencer platform

Some Insta-famous influencers are finding success on up-and-coming platforms like TikTok. Tezza Barton, a photographer with sponsored Instagram deals from Chloe, Dior and Mango now makes TikToks about photography and Amazon deals. Her follower count there is smaller, around 207,000, as opposed to 867,000 on Instagram — but brands are already reaching out.

That being said, the case for influencer marketing is stronger than the one against it. After turning what some considered a hobby into the most lucrative marketing strategy for brands the world over, influencer marketing has the mettle to endure the setbacks this pandemic has brought on. The creative genius that goes behind engaging millions is still at play with the biggest of influencers making use of this time to keep audience that is stuck at home with nothing to do but stare at the screen, enraptured each day.