As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect regions around the world, the disruption it caused the fashion apparel and retail market is unprecedented — in scope and duration as well as its immediate impact. From a business perspective, the growth of online spending, shifting brand loyalty and the role of department stores presents additional challenges.
For fashion brand marketers, the current circumstances have put a spotlight on optimizing budgets. And this includes influencer and social media marketing. To help identify the challenges and opportunities facing fashion brands in the current business climate, DMR Group conducted two studies this year to analyze key marketing trends.
Researchers at the firm said it monitored sponsored content from February to May and then from June through August, and was based on the DMR Group panel, “including more than 25,000 selected social accounts that are relevant for the above-mentioned industries.” The company said in the report that the analysis “considered the required hashtags which are used to identify sponsored content including #ad, #ads, and #sponsored, to mention a few.”
The results were eye-opening.
Recovery is slower than expected
Enzo di Sarli, DMR Group President and Founder, revealed that Instagram sponsored posts for fashion, cosmetics, and other luxury brands went from 1,045 in February to 515 in May then back to 699 in August, with an average decline of 42 percent.
“Recovery started in June, after the lockdown, but the quantity is still far from the February level,” di Sarli said adding that engagement and reach also suffered, on average, “a decrease of 54 percent and 55 percent, respectively.”
“Again, even if, starting from June, we saw a generally positive trend and a peak in July thanks to some very effective collaborations, August results are far from February,” he added and noted that by sector from February to August, fashion “was the most affected industry, followed by watches and jewelry, and beauty.”
DMR Group also analyzed how paid social media changed in three key regions; the EMEA, the Americas, and APAC. The researchers found that EMEA was the most affected region in terms of the reduction of sponsored content. The average decrease in Instagram sponsored posts from February to August in this region was a decline of 51 percent, compared to the Americas (with a drop of 27 percent) and APAC (with a decrease of 34 percent).
When asked about the impetus behind conducting these studies, DMR Group researchers noted that when the pandemic first struck, brands faced several challenges — which included everything from the temporary closure of physical stores to the cancelation and postponement of trade shows and events. Companies also had to re-invent their communications to maintain the relationship with their customers when products’ promotion made no sense or at least looked insensitive. It was a trying time for many brands and retailers.
Conducting a strategic analysis can also help reveal the impact of brands engaged in multi-channel marketing. In the case of the research DMR Group did at the onset of the pandemic, the data demonstrated that, during uncertain times, brands preferred to communicate directly to their customers.
Influencer marketing can also be a crucial element of a multi-channel strategy. But di Sarli was quick to note that brands should not rely on influencers alone. “In another analysis of the COVID-19 impact on social media, we noticed that, in March, engagement of posts by ‘Influencers and Celebrities’ went down by 1.5 percent, while ‘Media and Journalists’ were the only category to register an average increase in engagement (of 5.9 percent),” di Sarli said.
So, while influencers can support sales, they’re less relevant for brand positioning and building a stable as well as creating an authentic relationship with customers,” di Sarli explained, adding that celebrity influencers, though, can be an exception to the rule. “Some celebrities can have the same impact as a brand.”
For example, the top author of IG sponsored posts from March to August was Cristiano Ronaldo, generating almost 14 million in engagement and more than 220.7million in reach — with just three posts.
Regarding DMR Group’s expertise in this area, the company has been working with fashion brands and retailers in analyzing the impact of their marketing and communications strategies for over two decades. And the company approaches marketing analysis as fundamental to the success of a brand. DMR Group helps fashion brands to consider the value these activities can generate in order to optimize their investments. For its part, DMR Group differentiates itself by offering a high level of service and customization. Each brand is a “universe unto itself,” di Sarli said.
The role of video
Looking ahead, DMR Group sees social media marketing continues to change and evolve. Videos are now more relevant in a brand’s social media strategy. Take IG Stories, for example. They are easy, impactful, and can complete the feed’s storytelling with temporary/live content. Today IG Stories are now essential to brands’ campaigns. Subsequently, DMR Group will now be monitoring IG Stories together with posts, allowing brands to view all that content in their customized, DMR platform.
“TikTok’s boom also demonstrates the relevance of videos over the last months,” di Sarli said. “It seems the must-go social media for Gen Z, so fashion and beauty brands couldn’t refuse this challenge. Many of them already have a TikTok account or made campaigns on it. Following our mission to support our customers competently, we now monitor TikTok, and results are available on our platform, together with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Weibo.”
DMR Group insights generated from the data is now being made available to the general public, and is used by industry stakeholders to have a better understanding of the impact of fashion and beauty marketing. This is especially important when there are market disruptions such as COVID-19. When the outbreak first emerged, the learning curve was steep for many fashion, luxury and beauty brands. They adapted, and, more importantly, reached deep into the core value of their brands to succeed.
During the pandemic, brands had to re-think their communications but, even with temporary experiments and formats, the ones that emerged went back to their uniqueness and what differentiates them in the market. “From virtual shopping experiences to digital fashion weeks, brand identity and core values made the difference,” di Sarli said. “So, maybe we’ll see a further evolution in tactics, thanks to digitalization, but brand equity will always be crucial for this industry.”