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Influencers Are Evolving to Build Trust. Brands Can, Too.
May 25, 2020
Shortly after the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world, 78% of consumers said that they expected brands to help them in their daily lives. We see now that brands have a real responsibility to step up and wield their platforms and influence for good, and consumers are listening; they’ll remember who has helped and who has not during this time. This has elevated the importance of brand trust, with consumers turning to brands for support and stability.
As brands feel the pressure to support consumers and gain their trust, they might look toward influencers for help and inspiration. In fact, influencers themselves have changed the way they interact with their audiences, aiming to comfort their audiences through shared social activities, content that offers a distraction or by simply relating to everyday struggles. Brands should follow suit.
By connecting brands and influencers together over the years, I’ve had a front-row seat in witnessing how influencer marketing has evolved. In 2020 alone, it’s been fascinating to see how influencers themselves have revised their own strategies to build trust in their own audiences, whether it be leveraging their wide audience base to raise money for medical research or simply finding moments to connect more directly through livestreams.
We’re at a crossroads where the role that brands and influencers play in consumers’ lives is quickly being redefined—and to get a sense of where trust comes into play, we should first take a look at a situation where values have already shifted and gone into flux: youth culture.
Looking at the Future with Gen Z
The renewed need for purpose and reconsidering the brand role isn’t just a product of the pandemic. Rather, many of the changes we’re seeing now have been put in motion for some time by the hands of Generation Z, and the pandemic is merely accelerating those changes. Gen Z now represents a third of the global economy, and as digital natives they’re using that influence to reshape culture as we know it.
An example of the generation’s shifting values is authenticity—a key characteristic in building trust. For millennials and the generations before them, being authentic meant being real, resulting in “Instagram vs. Reality” memes and cautioning against the overly-curated digital self. For Gen Z, authenticity isn’t about being unfiltered, but is instead focused on being true to oneself. This has driven young consumers to rally around brands and personalities that exemplify the causes they care most about, aiding in how they build a sense of self.
Now is the time for brands to truly listen to their bases by tapping into the digital communities that Gen Z has built. Take the online beauty and cosmetics community as an example, which has reframed the “haul” video format—in which content creators show off recent purchases—to fight back against excess. At a time when buying new products is difficult or impractical for consumers facing recession, there’s an opportunity to build trust and relatability by offering new ways to provide value.
How the Influencer Role is Changing
Influencers have long connected with consumers and built community around interests, hobbies and causes. Now, they’re helping their audiences make sense of a new normal. For example, Nike tapped into its network of trainers to lead weekly livestreamed workouts—a space for fitness fans to not only exercise, but connect with one another through YouTube’s live chat, too.
As consumers become more accustomed to influencer and user-generated content in their everyday lives, we’ll see greater openness for “scrappier” content—content that better resembles the way everyday users communicate with one another, warts and all. At IMA, our data has always shown that consumers prefer relatable content over the hyper-glossy, expertly-curated presence that influencers are often stereotyped as producing. Now, there’s an opportunity for brands to embrace a new definition of authenticity and better relate to consumers.
During this time, I believe we’re going to see a Darwinian phenomenon where the truly authentic brands and influencers will thrive—which means that both must put effort into ensuring their partnerships are effective and trusted. On the brand side, this means verifying whether a particular influencer is the right fit for the brand and its story. Cultivate long-term relationships with those who embody the brand ethos, building trust and relatability through human to human connection. And there’s been no better time for it than now.