Brand marketers are understandably anxious about the way forward. After an initial freeze in ad spending to evaluate how to handle the current crisis, many want to again reach out to customers and prospects. The question is, how?Obviously, simply returning to the strategies that worked weeks ago won’t fly. The new reality dictates a new approach, a sensitivity to what consumers — and many brands — are going through. Some sectors have been massively affected and won’t quickly return to normalcy. Others are seeing huge spikes in demand. Media budgets and the approaches to spending them are, likewise, fluctuating. “Even the [companies] who are not changing marketing spend are changing their marketing mix a lot,” notes technology and media investor Fred Wilson.As malls close and office workers stay at home, traffic on mobile and social channels is up as much as 30%, says marketing data firm App Annie, and out-of-home advertising budgets are moving to those channels. People sheltering at home are hungry for information and entertainment. Traffic to content-driven websites is seeing a big surge, Axios says. Ars Technica reports that Netflix and YouTube reduced streaming quality to reduce stress on residential broadband networks and that Comcast and AT&T have temporarily suspended data-cap enforcement. For anyone creating content, it can be a great time to reach an audience at home. Clients I work with are asking whether and how to do that with influencers. I’ve been sharing some pointers, which I’ll share here, as well.
Why influencers can work well, nowAuthenticity is never more important than when people are skittish. Influencers know their communities, understand how to craft a message in the context of the times. They can, for example, share cute and clever glimpses of their longings for freedom of movement while they shelter at home, something social media superstar Kylie Jenner did in lamenting her inability to visit her adorable baby nieces. Influencers also know local circumstances. They have an on-the-ground view in their region even as conditions vary and the landscape shifts. L.A. is on a different cycle in dealing with COVID-19 than New York, London, Madrid, or Singapore.Influencers can create high-quality content quickly; an especially useful skill in fast-changing times. Brands’ content creation and approval cycle is usually 6-8 weeks at its fastest. In the current climate, by the time that content is ready, it’s quite possibly stale, or worse. Brands can quickly, and often inexpensively, tap into influencers’ breadth and depth of creativity. Marketers who maintain rights to the content can then use it in multiple channels. The influencer marketing agency Obviously told Business Insider that it has seen a 33% increase in the number of brands looking to hire influencers for content creation. Engagement in social media posts marked with “#ad” increased 76% in the first two weeks of March.
How to direct influencers in a crisisWhile deploying influencers to create content now, brands must be especially on the ball. There’s an inherent tension between moving quickly and getting things right. With conditions changing so quickly and consumers’ sensitivities heightened, even the most trusted creators need to be monitored and managed more closely than ever. Brands working with influencers need to have a process that supports a balance between agility and control.Monitoring influencers closely while getting their work out quickly means assigning enough resources to do so. Approval cycles need to be stepped up. The best influencers are chosen because they know the tone to set. They also need to be kept on message, and that message may evolve as customer needs, official directives, and brands’ supply chains shift. Content approved yesterday may need to be recrafted today.
How to strike the right toneThe best brands, just like the best human beings, want to help others — to watch out for friends, family, neighbors, communities, and, in businesses’ case, customers. Brand marketers who are cognizant of the challenges customers are facing can ask influencers to create great content that reflects consumers and their needs. And right now, the best content is content that truly helps. “Brands are being very sensitive not to be tone-deaf,” Vickie Segar, the founder of the influencer-marketing firm Village, told BI.This is a time for brands to avoid pushing brand messages too strongly. Marketing is powerful not just for what’s said but also for what is not. Rather than talk about a product or service, influencers can create content that helps people get through their 23-hour days at home, helps improve physical and mental well-being, aids them in caring for loved ones. They can urge socially responsible behavior — as Coke, Google, and Walmart have done. Pinterest accelerated the launch of its “Today” feature to make it easier “to explore popular and timely ideas” including info from the WHO and CDC, recipes, family-friendly movies and self-care tips.At this moment, building brand awareness can take a back seat to help consumers get through their days safely and soundly. By reinforcing government messages being relayed to the public about social distancing or hand-washing and other important measures, brands can get behind what really matters. They can create content that helps mitigate financial anxieties. They can maintain a steady presence with customers that reminds them they share this struggle. The metrics to evaluate the campaign may not be immediate sales but rather brand affinity that accrues over time — or simply doing the right thing for the good of all.Brands can work with influencers to quickly produce high-quality content, with an authentic voice that’s sensitive to the times. Like everyone, brands want to help right now. Influencers can help them do that.