The Covid-19 realities which support influence marketing and in-housing

The Covid-19 realities which support influence marketing and in-housing
Steven is a founding Partner and COO of Inpulsus. Steven brings proven tenure across consulting and agency services providing valuable perspective on how to create and grow digital business. Previously, Steven managed new markets in EMEA for Piano, a leading SaaS firm. He has also held leadership positions at iCrossing, a digital agency part of Hearst Corp., Method, Schematic (Wunderman Thompson, a unit of WPP) and the pioneering internet consultancy, Viant.

As we push forward into the winter of 2020, nearly six months since the appearance of COVID-19 in our lives, the impact of the pandemic on business marketing remains significant. Where “zoom” might have been the occasional reference to just another web conferencing tool, “zoom” is now a verb defining an entire ecosystem. So while some aspects of business are being challenged, many other aspects are seeing opportunity explode. In digital marketing, this is truly the case.

Given the significant restrictions on travel, entertainment and events, overall spend in digital media is in decline with over 69% of brands expecting they will decrease ad spend in 2020. But thanks to ecommerce, it’s not all doom and gloom. According to Digital Commerce 360, 58% of consumers said they expect to do more online shopping after the pandemic than they did before it and 80% of business buyers expect to do more purchasing online post-pandemic. And most recent quarterly reports from the large US retailers and their online storefronts support this trend as Walmart saw its e-commerce sales up 97% and Amazon recording more than 40% sales growth.

So with these inverse trendlines – overall spend down, but overall online engagement up – what should a marketer focus on? One reality worth considering is the movement to “in-house” some of the traditionally-held responsibilities of ad agencies within the client organization. While in-housing is not entirely new, it has been accelerated by the pandemic.

According to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and The Observatory International, 74% of in-house agencies were founded in just the last five years, with cost efficiencies (30%), better integration and better brand knowledge (59%) being the key drivers towards in-housing. There are many brands setting up their own teams to buy and traffic performance media, such as Paid Search [SEM] and be more hands-on with SEO, given direct access to their owned properties.

The wider rationale for in-housing does contain some discussion of cost and control, as evidenced by P&G’s recent toggling of digital media to the “off” position. For brands that turn inside, the better formula is: in-house + external partners. Each plays a role, best suited to their strengths. However, what’s become clear is that this in-housing reality means more to certain marketing channels than others. Which leads us to influence marketing (IM) – the capability to enable key influencers to market your brand for you – is a clear winner in this future formula.

With software continuing to “eat the world”, IM has greatly benefited from a new level of maturity across the technology platform landscape. What was an unknown segment only ten years ago (pre-Instagram and lovingly called, “word-of-mouth” marketing”), IM technology now powers enterprises across the Global 2000. The result?

IM programs no longer need to be outsourced: IM toolsets, such as Traackr, CreatorIQ and AspireIQ centralize the logistics of influencer selection and management and provide unified reporting as the “single source of truth” for a brand.

As both an earned and paid media model, the data generated by IM is best suited to being utilized by in-house stakeholders:

  • In B2C, IM acts like a media channel where influencer compensation can be toggled up/down as conversions dictate
  • For B2B, IM retains more of an earned framework, well aligned to a CRM and ABM mindset that can unlock customer relationships over longer buying cycles

And possibly the most important reality of a COVID-19 mindset that supports in-housing, is the emergence of authenticity as the silver bullet for all brands. Why?

Authenticity is best revealed through IM: The era of brands pushing their message to customers and expecting growing results is over. For the majority of potential customers, these same consumers would much prefer to follow the example set by those influencers that they respect, like and see reflecting their own values.

We cannot overlook this last factor. In a recent report by Takumi, 58% of 16 to 24-year olds and 56% of 25 to 34-year olds agree that influencers should use their platforms to discuss current affairs and everyday activism. As similarly reflected in the Edelman Trust Barometer, influence is built through authority and empathy, with industry experts and people like themselves rated as most credible, 60% and 59% respectively.

Again, the value of proximity to influencers and the data that the brand can unlock is critical to getting closer to the nirvana of authenticity. If marketing technology now lessens the previously messy mechanics of IM with improved interfaces for brand-resident teams, then the upside of in-housing IM makes perfect sense.

For this opportunity to achieve the next level of consumer engagement, brands and companies alike will need to shift from transactional IM to a more human-centered strategy that is integrated throughout the entire customer journey. Influence marketing, as a cross-functional mandate, will require collaboration that in-house teams will be best suited to undertake.

Editor’s note: Learn more about the Influence(r) Maturity Quotient at Inpulsus by visiting here.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

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