Even by the standards of an already remarkable period, the final quarter of 2020 promises to be an extraordinary one. Physical retail is still heavily compromised by Covid-19 in most countries, so consumers are depending heavily on online channels to accompany them right through the customer journey, from the first germ of an idea to checkout and delivery. Research already shows they are shopping earlier and thinking harder, and even those who decide to shop in person are likely to be making their lists before they hit the stores. 

For influencers, all this adds up to a golden opportunity to do what they do best, influence. For the brands that deploy them, there are some standard rules to follow, as well as one or two 2020-specific ones.

Offer escapism, but do it with tact

More than ever, shoppers want experiences, entertainment and relief, so use influencers who can embody those qualities while capturing the right tone. This has been a bruising year, and complicating the big holiday merchandising push is the fact that many don’t have the option of spending away from their problems. So look for uplift, escapism and cheer – use Instagram, use Tik Tok, go where the fun is – but bear in mind that financial pressures are part of the problem, so deals and sales are even more appreciated than usual, and tact and empathy are also at a premium.

Give your influencers the freedom to be themselves

Brands love influencers because they are authentic and compelling in an age of wandering attention spans and ad indifference. Ideally, you will already have found some that work for you, taking in a spread of sizes and styles. As ever, the successful brands will be those that work closely with their influencers. Let them know the important targets and priorities, but then let them influence, because that’s what influencers do. Their creativity and unpredictability is what makes them such a useful tool, so brief them well, then trust them to do their thing.

It’s about performance, not just branding

Influencers operate best within the broader mix of partnership marketing, along with traditional affiliates, media houses, technologies and others. Different types of partners drive different types of results: influencers, along with affiliates and ambassadors, can help you reach your specific target audience in their moment of need. Remember, too, that influencers aren’t simply a branding play. There are real sales to be claimed by those who can leverage influencer marketing as a performance channel, with the strategy and the KPIs that implies, and 2020 looks likely to be the year that point is proven beyond any doubt.

Get the right balance for your business

As Impact’s recent thought leadership paper with Forrester showed, different industries rightly adopt different partnership structures. Retail businesses used the smallest number of partnerships of all industries in our study, but of all the possible partners, they erred towards influencers, using about 18 influencer partnerships each. Travel was another big user of influencer partnerships, with 25 partnerships on average. Build the influencer portfolio that works for your industry and your business.

Plan for next year, and the year after that

Realistically, by this point in the year, the partnerships we already have are the ones that are going to provide the focus of our Q4 push. But it is worth remembering that the most effective partnership programmes are those that are built for the long term, so think ahead. Our recent Forrester research found that firms with the highest-maturity partnership programmes generate a greater share of their revenue from the partnership channel, drive faster revenue growth within the partnership channel and at the overall company level, and are more likely to exceed stakeholder expectations than companies with less mature partnership programmes. Add to that the fact that long-term, mutually trusting influencer relationships invariably outperform hastily assembled, ad-hoc strategies, and there’s no end of incentive to keep working diligently towards a mature strategy.

Treat your influencers well this Christmas

Influencers are media owners and publishers in their own right, but they are also typically ordinary people, which means they operate under slightly different pressures than many of your other, more corporate partners. Use a platform that is capable, not just of calculating the value they provide, but also paying them promptly for their efforts. After all, it’s Christmas.