How are influencers and brands treating this holiday season differently?
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Brand marketers and consumers alike are entering a confusing holiday season, one like never before. What has always been a spend-obsessed time of year is now facing pinched consumer wallets in some cases -- and in other, stored up discretionary income and a desire to reward family members with a big Christmas during an incredibly tough year.
Among the factors entering this year’s season include brands’ desire to recoup lost revenue during the fourth quarter and retailers turning their backs on the typical one-day shopping rush instead leaning into the lengthened timeline, to account for the increase in expected shipping needs among other concerns.
We spoke with influencers about what they are anticipating over the next uncertain weeks through the end of the year. Here’s what we learned.
Brands are playing the “COVID card”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, brands across the board quickly pulled budgets. But as we enter the end of the year, they are singing a new tune, now spilling unspent marketing dollars before January hits. And some are still relying on the “COVID card” to explain lessened contract fees for the same desired level of influencer content.
“[Brands] are still asking for everything if not more than they have in the past,” said Brock Keen of 996 Road Trip. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I have a business background and I know the money is there.” He added that brands are trying to “play the COVID card to flex this a little bit more.”
All-in-all, it’s weakening the trust that influencers place in brand partners.
A new symbiotic relationship between influencers and local businesses
Influencers are experiencing an unexpected uptick in inbound requests from local businesses. They reported feeling more open to working with local businesses on smaller opportunities than they may have during a typical holiday season. Further, influencers are more willing to stretch themselves to do more for their brand partners that are planning charitable efforts this season. The opposite is true for big brands with deep pockets and influencers are less likely to want to support their marketing efforts this season.
Audrey Kuether of Oh So Lovely Blog said that supporting local businesses is bringing the community of Kansas City together. “Everyone in Kansas City is rallying behind all the local businesses which has been kind of cool,” she said. “We are trying to put our money back into our own city and not as much into Amazon’s pockets,” adding that the shift is something that grew in the past couple of months starting with the shutdown.
“The small, local brands are looking for any way to get out there,” said Keen. “I’d love to work with all of these brands, but authenticity is a big thing for me. So I have tried to use smaller brands in little promotions, tiny plugs to help get things off the ground for them.”
The focus on locality is bigger than just shopping behavior. Local has taken on a new importance for the US consumer, resulting in increased local travel, local interest, pride of place and more.
Revenge spending is set to spike on luxury purchases
The influencers reported seeing interest from their social communities in larger luxury purchases this holiday season. Against all odds -- given circumstances surrounding the pandemic -- each recalled instances in their social followings where consumers have increased interest in higher-end purchases, citing that consumers are seeking opportunities to treat themselves this holiday season, largely around purchases that encourage quality time.
Laura Nielsen of LoLo's Desserts has noticed her following going for high ticket cooking items like the infamous KitchenAid mixer. Normally an item that tops registry lists or qualifies as a major purchase, Nielsen reported that her following is more inclined to treat themselves to one this year.
Keen cited increased interest in high-end camping supplies among his audience of campers and adventurers. Some examples include titanium mugs, premium outdoor chairs and even an outdoor pizza oven totaling near $600. He added that his audience is purchasing luxury outdoor items even if they aren’t planning a trip, just to enhance the backdrop of their yards for their families.
“People aren’t really afraid to spend money right now,” said Kuether. “People are not really slowing down that much on their spending.”
Content is trending towards comfort, ease and familiarity
With uncertainty surrounding getting together for holiday activities and events this year, influencers are focused on creating content that reminds us all of holiday traditions that bring a feeling of warmth and fond memories.
“I am focused more on traditions, even if it is just your immediate family,” said Nielsen. She added that her social community is filled with parents looking for activities appropriate for children and aims to meet their needs by posting similar types of recipes and projects that encourage quality time at home.
Influencers are preparing for content that will meet many US households where they will be on the holidays this year: home alone or with immediate family. “I don’t know what we are going to be able to do for the holidays as far as getting together with our family,” said Kuether. “But no matter what, I always decorate our house because I want it to feel special.” Audrey added that her focus on handmade and affordable DIY ideas is a way to speak to a wide range of followers given the different circumstances many will find themselves in this season.
Lastly, to the brands seeking influencer relationships, don’t sleep on Instagram polls that track valuable consumer trends. As influencers navigate the tricky new landscape, they are turning to Polls more than ever to understand what their audiences want to see on their social feeds. Brands can benefit by incorporating Polls into their influencer partnership contracts and gain a better understanding of the audiences they are aiming to reach. Influencers are uniquely positioned to capture vital consumer insights and are constantly checking the pulse of their social communities to customize content for what's relevant now, a moving target in these uncertain times.
Kathleen Al-Marhoon is head of Bailey Lauerman Public Relations representing local and national brands.