The coronavirus crisis has forced many brands to rethink their marketing strategies. Some campaigns have been put on hold and others have been pulled all together as companies work out how to respond to the global crisis.
While marketing during a pandemic should be approached with caution and care, there’s still a place for brands to tell stories – and with social media usage on the up, there’s an obvious opportunity for companies to link with influencers who can help them create useful, inspiring and entertaining content during lockdowns and beyond.
As Rebecca Reeve-Kendall, business director at influencer marketing agency The Fifth, explained in a webinar earlier this month, influencers can be valuable and authentic intermediaries for brands at this time because they see themselves as part of a community and know what their followers enjoy. They provide brands with a way to remain visible during the crisis and still add value to the lives of consumers who are not exposed to them in the usual way.
Reeve-Kendall added that if brands “go dark” and disappear during the crisis, they could struggle to recover after the lockdown or fail to acknowledge how consumer behaviour has changed. Instead, they need to remember what they stand for, but adapt their tone to suit our so-called ‘new normal’, if they want to connect with consumers.
Brands are being forced to transform their strategy, but this needs to be done sensitively
“Brands are being forced to transform their strategy, but this needs to be done sensitively,” she said. “Audiences are at home and desperate for the right content, and brands can use influencers to be more confident in their approach.”
According to Kantar, consumers spent 70% more time online in March, and this figure was likely to be even higher for April. The lockdown has also seen older consumers embracing new technologies and platforms, from Facebook to Zoom and TikTok.
“So much has happened in such a short time,” said Reeve-Kendall. “We have seen influencers like Joe Wicks become global superstars, and the emergence of Zoom and House Party, as people adapt to a fully digital way of life.”
Consumers are certainly watching brands’ actions closely. In research compiled by Edelman, 65% of people said that how brands react to the pandemic would have an impact on how they interact with them in future, and over a third said they had stopped using a brand they felt had not acted appropriately. Kantar’s research also reveals that 70% of people are looking for a reassuring tone from brands, and 77% want to see brands helping and remaining relevant, without being self-serving.
There is an opportunity for brands to work creatively with influencers to promote safe behaviours during the pandemic. Many creators have been producing content from their own homes in support of the World Health Organization’s ‘Safe Hands Challenge’ to promote correct hand washing, while others have been creating videos, posters and illustrations encouraging people to stay at home.
For partnerships to be successful, brands need to find the right influencers to work with – and authenticity and audience are key. Most influencers tend to fall into two main camps, said The Fifth: those using their platforms to entertain, such as London blogger Victoria Emes, who went viral singing her lockdown version of ‘I Will Survive’; and those who are helping followers solve new lifestyle problems, for example around cooking or home schooling.
Working with influencers like Emes in a creative way can provide an opportunity to cheer up audiences during these difficult times, offering people a much-needed escape from reality through music, comedy or theatre.
There’s also an opportunity for brands to collaborate with influencers to help people overcome the disappointment of seeing events and festivals being cancelled by creating online alternatives. US rapper Travis Scott’s gig inside the game Fortnite was watched by more than 12 million players, and musicians from Billie Eilish to Chris Martin have been delighting fans with impromptu concerts.
As The Fifth points out, influencers can also help brands overcome the production challenges presented by lockdowns, as many have the skills and equipment needed to produce TV-quality content from their own homes.
Asma Elbadawi – a spoken-word poet, basketball player, activist and playwright – recently collaborated with director of photography Johno Verity on an Instagram video called ‘Lockdown’, produced for just £250. Influencer strategist Scott Guthrie points out in his blog that the video “offers a prime example of the speed of turnaround, the power and relatability of content, and the low cost of production possible through skilled influencer-generated content”.
“An influencer has their own unique tone plus the skills and equipment at home. This can cut production costs by 50%,” said Candice Green, creative lead at The Fifth.
As Green points out, working with influencers can also allow brands to create content with people from all walks of life. “We can find the talent whose tone aligns with the brand and build an audience around authentic content,” she added.
Green also highlighted Tesco’s Food Love Stories project – which features influencers from various generations – as an example of how brands can use influencer-produced content in their above-the-line or digital campaigns.
Of course, any partnership only works if the influencer really does share a brand’s values and beliefs. If not, there is a lack of authenticity, and digitally native audiences will call out brands for jumping on a particular social bandwagon and hold them accountable as we emerge from the crisis, warned Green.
You must not forget who you are and what you stand for. It is not what you do now but why you do it
Apple demonstrated how to do things well with its ‘Creativity Goes On’ campaign, showing people including celebrity influencer Oprah Winfrey using Apple products at home during the lockdown to stay creative.
“You must not forget who you are and what you stand for. It is not what you do now but why you do it that will build relationships with consumers,” Green explained.
Another example of a brand adjusting its tone and remaining contextually relevant by acknowledging new audience behaviours is Birds Eye. It was one of the first brands to adjust its strategy with its ‘What’s For Tea’ campaign, which ran in place of activity planned before the pandemic took hold. As a trusted family brand, Birds Eye was conscious of the need to remain on screen and reassure customers during the lockdown, without appearing self-serving, and has been providing meal inspiration and activities for parents and kids through its website.
Elsewhere, many food chains, including Burger King, Pret a Manger and Wagamama, have been giving away their secret recipes to stay connected to customers while branches are closed. “This is another example of brands remaining relevant and front-of-mind until they can interact with customers in the usual way again,” said Green.
There have even been examples of influencers trying to recreate classic fast food. YouTuber Oli White has 2.8 million followers, and his film showing him attempting to make a McDonald’s Big Mac and fries had more than 315,000 views by the end of April.
Green said brands can move forward in the ‘new normal’ if they are prepared to be reactive and use influencers to help them. “Existing strategies have to change because it is hard to plan too far ahead,” she said. “You have to be forward-thinking but ready to react week to week.”
The Fifth’s webinar also included a Q&A with vegan chef, author and influencer Brett Cobley, who set up Instagram account @EpiVegan in 2016, and has become an expert at producing engaging content from his home.
Cobley now has more than 71,000 Instagram followers and 11,500 YouTube subscribers, who look to his account for recipe inspiration, cooking tips and lifestyle advice.
“From my experience as a creator, I am being asked questions about a recipe or how to get a particular ingredient that people could easily search on Google,” he said. “The reason they ask me is that they want an opinion or review from someone they trust and follow.”
[Brands should] try to build lasting relationships with influencers who share your approach and ethics
One of his most popular pieces of content is his ‘Creative Cupboard Challenge’, where he asks his audience to tell him three items in their food cupboards that they are unsure what to do with, and then invents a recipe or recommends a use for them.
Reflecting on what makes for a successful influencer partnership, Cobley said: “The best people to know the morals and values of a brand are those behind the brand itself. Influencers can help them create great content that sets the right tone and keeps people engaged and entertained.”
“[Brands should] try to build lasting relationships with influencers who share your approach and ethics. Ideally, an influencer should be seen as part of the brand family. I tend to work with brands that are already part of my lifestyle,” he added.
The Fifth is a creative influencer marketing agency on a mission to do things differently; connecting brands with professional talent. fifth.co