COVID-19 is a testing time for families on many levels. With over 80% of kids in the UK now at home, many parents have had to become full-time teachers, entertainers, cooks, cleaners, and carers – that’s on top of any pre-existing work and professional commitments. In this unprecedented situation, parents are now haphazardly juggling everything. If we ever felt before that we weren’t good enough parents, we are certainly feeling the pressure now. As a result – myself included – many parents are engaging with online content via social media platforms, not only to help save our sanity but also to find community, seek advice and guidance, useful tools and navigate our new normal. It is not surprising to see that traffic from kids’ apps and services has doubled in volume in the UK in the last three weeks; parents need support. 

A shift in the media landscape

Talent-produced content, in particular, has become the destination for parents for information, inspiration, community and light-hearted entertainment as a much-needed relief from the unnerving situation. With increased pressure put on them, parents are turning to individual creators and opinion leaders they know and trust for guidance on how to keep their kids healthy, eating well and fit – you only have to look at the millions of kids taking PE with Joe Wicks on YouTube every weekday to understand the enormity of this. So what does this shift in the media landscape mean for brands marketing to parents and how can they appropriately and sensitively be part of the opportunity? 

Talent-produced content

As a result of isolation and quarantined life, brands are facing an inability to create quality advertising and marketing content in the way they usually would – with budgets cut, no access to studios or production teams, they’re at a loss and many are in the midst of re-planning and re-strategising. This may lead to an increased emphasis on talent-produced content and marketing solutions, in other words, “influencer marketing”, and the reasons for this are twofold.Firstly, digital-first talent are highly skilled in producing quality content from home, at speed and cost-effectively, ensuring content is relevant in real-time – having done this for years, they know exactly how to create branded content that authentically and directly speaks to an online audience. No other media channel has such an advantage.Secondly, digital-first talent have a captive, hyper-engaged, home-based audience at their fingers tips, are seen as a trusted voice and in these difficult times, can strike the right tone. By listening to their audience and understanding what they want to see and hear, they can find a balance between being sensitive to the situation and being inspirational, informative or entertaining. 

Parenting influencers’ responsibility

Parenting talent have both of these capabilities, but they also have a huge responsibility. They need to ensure they are being considerate, mindful and helpful – but ultimately now more than ever they must provide their audience with the content, advice and support they want. Therefore, for parenting brands it is important to humanise their content and messaging through these authentic voices who have the ability to understand what will resonate with their loyal audience. According to Louise Pentland, the UK’s largest parenting talent and part of Gleam Futures’ roster: “I didn’t make a plan or strategise how I would best adapt my content to the new needs of my audience. I’ve grown and nurtured this audience for over a decade and I’ve learned they don’t want a strategy, they want a human, a personal connection.”Brands who do not adopt this approach will find themselves in muddy water. Branded content that ignores or is insensitive to COVID-19 can be subject to receiving negative sentiment or backlash from the online audience. Brands must be mindful of creating content that is appropriate and tasteful – using insight from a digital-first talent’s audience will enable them to create content that parents want and address their hopes, fears, and needs. “I’m not sugar coating the new way of life, but talking about finding our feet, finding our new normal and offering a little bit of positivity in what is for many, a scary time,” said Pentland.

Building trust through purpose-led content

Amongst the online parenting community, there has been a rise in content containing advice and tips, meal planning and home organisation. Parents are hungry for content and activities, especially around education. Never has parenting been more about winging it. When the time is right, there is a positive gap here to be filled by brands through talent in a way that acts as an appendage to their content and the lives of their audience during a difficult time. This is not the time for hard sales or product messages, this is a time to build trust, provide value and demonstrate usefulness – building an audience and customer base that will last long-term. Branded parenting content should be steered toward purpose-led messaging in a way that drives conversation, rather than looking to own it. Many educational resources such as Twinkl and PhonicsPlay are offering temporary free subscriptions to their sites. Parents are applauding their kindness on social. These brands are seen as generous lifesavers due to their show of solidarity during this difficult time.

Genuine brand engagement and activation

This dialogue between brands, talent and their audiences has become more important than ever, and we will start to see collaborations in the truest sense of the word to help brands connect on a deeper level, finding common ground that can be shaped appropriately in order to produce genuine engagement and brand activation. Whether the content sits on the talent’s channel or the brand channel, parenting brands should consider making the partnership even more efficient and effective by amplifying the talent-produced content to a wider parenting audience through paid, as well as re-editing the content for other platforms such as TV.Digital-first talent have a unique ability to communicate directly with their audience and effectively ‘crowd source’ content and formats  – parenting brands should lean into this and build strategies that resonate. For example, talent-led Instagram Lives and Stories have dramatically increased in recent weeks as audiences – particularly parents – seek out real-time connections and community. An uplift in the performance of live content on social media is a common trend at the moment as audiences look for connection within the parenting community. Brands should jump on this trend and cater their content to go live where possible and be part of this community spirit. Whilst it may feel risky for some, partnering with brand-safe, experienced talent will ensure communication stays on message.  

Partnerships with digital-first parenting talent

Talent-led marketing during such uncertain times is not a one size fits all approach though. Each talent will have unique insights into their audience’s general feelings and at what points are best to engage. The COVID-19 crisis is exposing social media at its best; a place for parents to find positive, fun, useful and uniting content. Brands and talent have a collective responsibility to maintain this and keep it thriving, whilst engaging appropriately in line with what their audiences and customers really want. The tone, format, and timing have to be right. Brands need to adjust their strategies to drive long-term results through building trust, community and relationships but through partnerships with digital-first talent, brands are effectively getting market research, production, endorsement and distribution in one easy fix and at pace. 

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