How Gen-Z and Covid are Re-shaping Influencer Marketing

In 2020 two factors have come forward to reshape both the influencer marketing industry and digital culture at large: the purchasing power of Gen-Z and the global pandemic. 

While Gen-Z has been a driving force behind the growing shifts in digital culture, the pandemic brought with it a global shutdown and self quarantine orders that saw consumers have to rethink everything from their personal interactions to how they shop. 

However, despite the dire circumstances, post covid society has seen a rapid acceleration of digital adoption, the global pandemic cementing the shifting digital trends first embodied by Gen-Z.

Together, these agents of change are moving brands, industry, and society into a new age of digital connectivity. Here are some takeaways: 

  • The average Gen-Zer spends 30% more time online than previous generations.
  • They also have increased purchasing power. 36% of household purchases are influenced by Gen-Zers.
  • Despite this, brand trust is down among Gen-Z, with only 43% percent of the group trusting established brands.
  • Content consumption as well as content creation has risen.
  • By 2022 82% of content will be video content.
  • Brands are taking advantage of user-generated content or UCG in order to fill the gaps in production and relate more to consumers.
  • 72% of U.S consumers want to see their values reflected by the brands and influencers they follow.
  • Live stream viewership grew by 99% over the previous year during the pandemic.
  • More brands are investing in personalized experiences to keep users engaged. 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product if the experience is personalised.
  • Traditional demographics are quickly becoming obsolete as identifiers, with consumers tending to form communities around shared values. 

How Gen-Z and Covid are Re-shaping Influencer Marketing:

The Impact On Consumers

More Time Spent Online 

Our lives have been growing steadily more digital for some time now. This trend has peaked in Gen-Z, the first generation of digital natives. 

With Gen-Z, more than any other generation, life is lived online. When it comes to time spent on social media, streaming movies and music, PRDaily reports that Gen-Z spends thirty percent more time on these endeavours than their predecessors. 

However, the advent of the global pandemic has been accompanied by record engagement numbers across social media and streaming services. 

According to a report by Statisita, the use of streaming services such as Netflix was up fifty-one percent globally. Meanwhile, the use of messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, and overall time spent on social media, also rose globally, by forty-five and forty-four percent respectively. 

Increase in Video Content Creation

With this increase in engagement and online activity, comes an increase in demand. 

According to Cisco, by 2022 eighty-two percent of all content will be video, and for good reason. 

Apps like TikTok and more recently, Instagram’s Reels extension, make it easy to create and score your own video content. 

And while both these apps have seen tremendous adoption from the likes of Gen-zers, the pandemic brought an increase in TikTok downloads, extending the app’s reach beyond just the millennial and Gen-Z crowd. 

UGC Is The Future 

The allure is easy to understand. TikTok and apps like it provide users with easy-to-use tools for editing and adding effects to their own videos. 

With content being consumed at an all-time high, social media users now have all the tools they need to create the kind of engaging content they want to see. 

With more time being spent at home due to the pandemic, users have more time to invest in creating content that resonates with their audience. 

And brands are taking notice. 

The Influencer As A Production Studio

In the opening months of the pandemic, with production and many staff members relegated to working from home, major brands began to put their influencer marketing campaigns on hold. 

However, as the lockdown orders stretched on, some brands began reaching out to influencers in order to use them as impromptu production studios. As a result, we’ve seen an influx of more personal or relatable content driven by the creators' connection with their followers.

For brands, leveraging this kind of relationship and the content produced will be incredibly important going forward. 

The Impact on Brands 

Gen-Z’s Purchasing Power 

Despite their relatively young age, according to Deloitte, Gen-Z already represents one-third of the global economy. But what exemplifies their purchasing power is the influence they wield. 

A report by NRF shows that 36% of household purchases are influenced by Gen-Zers. Given the numbers, it’s no stretch to assume that Gen-Z’s values are quickly impacting and shifting those of previous generations.

And as Covid keeps families in close proximity to one another, this shift in values is already having an impact on brands. 

A Bigger Focus on Authenticity... 

That’s because, in our post-Covid world, the key to connecting with consumers is authenticity. 

Trust has always been an important factor in marketing. However, what has changed over the years is the criteria for earning that trust. With Gen Z, authenticity is key. 

Authenticity has become a bit of a buzzword over the past couple of years, but with digital natives its importance belies a natural scepticism. A report by CNBC states that only 43 percent of Gen-Zers trust long-established brands. 

In light of this scrutiny, brands won’t be able to rest on their laurels or past accolades when trying to market to them. Instead, they’ll need to focus on their actions. 

Social Responsibility is a Must

As a demographic Gen-zers are generally passionate about the values they hold. 

But what’s really changing the landscape of influencer marketing is that today’s consumers are looking for these values to be reflected by the brands they shop and the influencers they follow. 

According to a study by BBMG and GlobeScan, a majority of Gen-Z feel that businesses should serve the interests of society. That means, going forward, what a brand stands for, will be just as important as the image they promote or what they sell.

Greater Accountability

But it’s not just Gen-Z holding brands and influencers accountable for their actions. In the climate created by the global pandemic, missteps are costly and backlash immediately.. 

With people spending more time on social media, viewing live streams, etc, life under covid has afforded many of us a peek into the lives of others. 

Influencers Daniel Bernstein and Namoi Davis were both on the receiving end backlashes during the global pandemic. Source: Instagram 

Celebrities quarantining in lavish mansions, influencers shirking quarantine guidelines to take impromptu road trips, these actions have come across as tone-deaf. And they’ve come at the expense of social capital. 

And in some cases, literal capital.

The Power of The Purse

According to Kantar, sixty-eight percent of U.S consumers expect brands to be clear about their values. And when those values don’t align their own, today’s consumers won’t hesitate to cut ties. 

Brand boycotts, such as the one recently launched against Goya Foods, have become a popular tool for consumers to reinforce their values. 

By leveraging their relationships with brands and vocally withdrawing their support, consumers have the ability to impact just where their favorite companies stand on important issues.

A Changing Landscape

A More Consumer-centric World 

This consumer leverage is important because it marks a shift in the power dynamic. Before the advent of the digital age, marketing and advertising was predominantly a top-down industry. However, due to the rise of social media, it has become a dialogue.

Moreso, consumers are now the ones who are directing the conversations as evidenced by the examples above. Brands, if they want to thrive in the post-Covid world, need to meet them where they are. 

Empathetic Advertising 

In the current climate, listening to consumers is incredibly important. And what they are saying is clear. 

A report by Kantar shows that 74% of consumers feel that brands should not exploit the current state of the world and engage in self-promotion or push a product. Instead what consumers are looking for is empathy. 

Empathetic advertising is advertising that takes into consideration the context and circumstances of consumers. Nike is a great example of this. 

An example of Nike’s play for the world campaign

Their advertisements during the beginnings of the global pandemic eschewed product placement to focus on a message of solidarity and social responsibility. 

Furthermore, the mantra of “Play Inside, Play for the World.” not only emphasizes the shared circumstances of the greater collective, but also perfectly incorporates the message of empowerment that has historically defined the company.

The Migration of Brand Experience 

In this consumer-centric landscape, consumers find themselves with more control over when, where and how they experience a brand. 

Always online, today’s digital natives are pros at switching through apps and feeds on the fly, parsing through a large amount of information in a short amount of time to find the message that resonates most. 

And that message is increasingly personalized. 

Personalized Interactions

According to a study by Epsilon, eighty percent of consumers are more likely to purchase a product or service that provides personalized experiences.

But just what constitutes a personalized experience? 

Personalized interactions can run the gamut, from music or product recommendations, to interactive user experiences that allow consumers to tailor how they shop or view a particular website. 

Furthermore, brands can leverage the data collected to enhance the consumers experience over time, saving preferences, past purchases, etc to achieve a deeper level of personalization. 

Live Streams Growing Audience   

The increase in overall online time and lack of in-person options has meant that, during the pandemic, digital experiences have had to become more robust. During these times, Live streaming has emerged at the forefront of experiential content.

Back in may Stream Elements reported that live streaming grew by forty-five percent over the course of a month. From the previous year, the industry showed ninety-nine percent growth. 

And while that growth wasn’t evenly distributed, with Twitch seeing the biggest increase, it does help paint a picture of how the pandemic has changed the ways in which consumers interact. 

Both with content and each other. 

More Diverse Experiential Content

At the same time that we have seen power migrate from brands to consumers, we have seen the physical aspects of our lives migrate online. 

Experiential content is content that, beyond providing a relatable message, provides an experience to consumers that surpasses what we’ve come to expect from our digital spaces. 

Diverse experiences such as live stream shopping, where users tune in from anywhere in the world to shop products while seeing them modelled and asking questions of the host, fall under this banner.

So to do extensions of existing services, such as Netflix’s “party” feature. 

The Power of Shared Experience

One Size Does Not Fit All 

The post-Covid world is one of shifting values and two-way conversations, a place where demographics are beginning to be superseded by collective behaviours. 

Going forward, brands should understand that these values can differ as much between members of the same generation as they can between generations. 

In short one size does not fit all 

The Rise of Value-Based Communities

Value-based communities are groups of consumers who eschew categorization in traditional demographics such as age location and gender, and are instead united by shared values and behaviours. 

These values can easily cross generations. For example, teachers and gamers are two groups where demographics can vary wildly but behaviour and values are more consistent. 

More importantly, rather than being bonded by factors outside of their control, members of Value-based communities connections are more personal because they revolve around choice and shared experience. 

Going Forward

Going forward, the brands and influencers that will do well in the new normal will be those who can bring something relatable to the shared experiences and values that drive these communities. 

But what does this look like in action? Well, for starters, brands should be looking to put a greater emphasis on storytelling rather than product placement. And the stories being told need to relate in some way to the values held by the community they are targeting. 

Creating a better online experience is also crucial. It’s more than just a simple case of meeting consumers where they are at, but taking into consideration the circumstances many consumers are dealing with through the pandemic. 

Lastly, brands should be looking to not only reflect the values of their target audience, but to empower those values through actionable items. Brands that offer discounts or buy backs to support sustainability or who donate to social causes give their customers the opportunity to make a difference while taking a stance. 

This kind of empowerment turns customers from passive recipients of a brand’s message, into an active part of the process, turning influence into a dialogue. And it is this kind of empowerment that will define the industry in the years to come. 


Maira Genovese is the Founder of MG Empower, a leading global influencer marketing agency. She built her career in Marketing & Digital, working on some of the world’s most-loved brands such as American Express, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Value Retail. Since starting her own business MG Empower in 2015, she has counselled leading consumer brands including TikTok, Chopard, Ford, Porsche, Bumble, Biossance, StarzPlay and SnapChat.

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