“The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire.
It is not comparable to Pearl Harbour or 9/11.
Such disasters are confined in time and space.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world.
Everyone wants to know when this will end, that’s not the right question.
The right question is: How do we continue?”
In came Covid and out went all the plans. Change the plan. Make it virtual. Throw it out. Create a new one. Repeat. This quote from Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh, really sums up where we find ourselves. Restrictions are starting to lift; we’re holding out for the next update. But one thing seems certain – life is not going back to ‘normal’ for a while yet.
Some of these behaviours and technologies have been emerging for a long time, but the pandemic is causing them to accelerate. Video calling, once a novelty, is now a daily event. Live streaming was a nice to have, now it’s the only way to host your event. Dating went digital, now it’s becoming virtual. These are some of the broad trends we’re seeing, with a perspective on what they mean for Content + Publishing.
Brands on trial
Brands have always been scrutinized in the media and on social, but right now it feels like there is a new level of intensity to the microscope they are under. Didtheyhelp.com gives an actual score to brands and celebrities based on a review of how much they have helped the relief efforts. The media is also looking wherever it can for cracks in the armour; Axios ran a story investigating the big tech giants and whether they were still offering internship programmes virtually, pointing out the importance of these opportunities for students to learn.
A lot of the positive stories emerging highlight how brands are creating useful, innovative products, the monetary contributions they are making, but also how they are communicating. Whilst some internal memos have gone public unintentionally, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky was praised last week for the way he laid off 25% of staff, with his email, filled with transparency and empathy, circulating amongst the world’s media.
With brands under this much of a spotlight, the responsibility trickles down to those at the frontline, as it were, of their reputations. Community managers must become crisis experts overnight, on high alert to the potential issues surrounding the brands they safeguard on social. Some early analysis from Social Insider in revealed that Twitter was the most used platform for brands to be talking about the crisis, followed by Instagram, then Facebook. When the news agenda is everything, Twitter shows its value as a platform for daily updates and interaction with brand communities.
Who to trust?
If we needed proof that influencers really do impact behaviour, then it is all around us now. A survey of US influencers revealed that 70% found their audiences were looking to them for guidance during the pandemic, which matches with the strategy we’ve seen from health organizations. Particularly amongst younger demographics – the elusive Gen Z – health organizations have been optimising communication beyond government addresses and traditional media.
As well as health organizations, brands are also seeing the benefits of working with influencers as they provide a flexible way to create content and drive e-commerce. Outdoor brand Dakine reported a 26% uplift in web traffic from social thanks to its influencer campaign.
It’s been suggested that Covid will cause the influencer industry to grow up, with the true creative voices emerging and the already prominent trend for more authentic content to rise to the top.
Events are not slowing down, but they are adapting. Zoom usage has rocketed from 10m daily users in December to 200m. Live streaming was once an after-thought, now it’s proving to be a necessity, with Instagram live usage up 70% last month. Users are longing for routine and using virtual events and live streams as a way to curate their own calendar.
For marketers, this means reworking activations with a much heavier reliance on digital channels to promote events and drive engagement. A great example of this is Haagen-Dazs activating its partnership with Secret Cinema. What would have been a series of high production immersive events has turned into “Secret Sofa” – a Friday film night where influencers from the TAKUMI network get dressed up and point their followers to order in the movie-themed ice cream to match.
Not being able to do shoots in a studio or on location brands means are getting creative with treatments and formats. The fashion industry is capturing content remotely and even creating digital models – like those on the Vogue Italy March cover.
Influencers are being relied on heavily as a source of content creation, and glossy high production value all seems less important. We’ve seen Davina McCall shoot her own home hair dye video with Garnier, which you almost can’t believe she hasn’t done before. Does this signal the end of long drawn out edits and super slick production? Will we need to be thinking more about how we brief in live content to influencers, with no opportunity to review and sign off?
As we face more economic uncertainty and increase in unemployment, there is a reassessment of consumption that will likely continue as restrictions lift. In China, luxury spending is taking a hit, with 61% of those surveyed by Kantar reporting they cancelled luxury spending since the outbreak, and 21% predicting they would continue to reduce once it is over; higher than any other industry. Luxury brand Louis Vuitton quickly reworked its strategy; its Valentine’s Day campaign transferred to Wechat after stores closed just before one of the biggest shopping moments in the Chinese calendar. The agility of this move paid off, with LV reporting it doubled its YoY sales.
Even when bricks and mortar retailers reopen, we could well see a greater focus from brands to “futureproof” their business models through e-commerce and ensure that social and digital channels are being utilised well as a route to acquisition. For those than continue to have physical locations, we’ll likely see more Amazon locker style solutions. One pharmacy in Italy has already put this into action as a test for the rest of the country and reported a 10% uplift in sales.
As we review how we’re spending our cash in the wake of the outbreak, the fight for attention will play out more than ever through the search results of Google, or our TikTok, Facebook and Instagram feeds. Brands that succeed will be utilising the functionality of these platforms to micro-target audiences, partnering with influencers who reach them, and joining up their digital ecosystem in a way that gives insight and opportunity to iterate as our behaviours and priorities continue to develop.