If you’re scrolling through Instagram, you’ll probably still see posts from your favorite influencer on vacation or a brand launching its latest product. Check your junk mail and you’ll be flooded by emails touting “Fresh Spring Looks” in the subject line.
As stores continue to temporarily shut their doors, some firms are already considering layoffs and world leaders are weighing the necessity of global quarantine. In this moment, according to marketing experts, sensitive brand messaging is critical.
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The coronavirus pandemic has yet to hit its peak and the worst could be in front of us, yet some brand messaging has been slow to catch up.
“Brands need a layer of cultural cognizance where they are thinking about themselves from the perspective of the consumer and humanity,” Aliza Licht, brand consultant and former DKNY and Alice + Olivia PR specialist told FN. “Everything needs to be revisited in real time to make sure you aren’t being tone-deaf.”
The consensus is clear: Being funny or flaunting luxurious items will not resonate in a time of crisis. Gwyenth Paltrow’s Goop brand is a key example.
The actress and entrepreneur came under fire over the weekend when a photo hit the Goop Instagram grid featuring Paltrow in a pair of Alexandre Birman’s $425 Clarita sneakers to promote an upcoming sneaker guide. The post has since been deleted after a barrage of comments flagged its perceived insensitivity.
“You should promote what you’re doing within the context of what’s happening in the world,” added Licht. “Your community is going to check you now.”
Though some may argue that escapism is needed during a time of crisis, experts have found that brands could elicit a similar emotional response on social media by creating deeper meaning.
“Figure out a way to create goodwill and lock in arm in arm with consumers so that after this difficult period, the consumer base will remember,” explained Marc Beckman, CEO and founder of advertising agency DMA United. “We’re living in a time where digital consumers in particular are less loyal than ever before. It would be very powerful for brands to make decisions from a marketing perspective that will resonate with the consumer after this crisis.”
Examples run the gamut. Whether firms can find a way to alleviate financial pressure, offer products that are appropriate to the current market situation or simply provide human connection, it’s a chance to deepen brand awareness and trust, which can translate into increased sales.
“People are looking for added meaning right now,” Erin Allweiss, co-founder of PR agency The No. 29, explained. “Having a very thoughtful approach to being transparent with customers is the best thing you can do right now. Plus, people are at home. They really want to be learning. Share your story about your team members, who you are, talk about process. You can escape through beautiful products but still acknowledge the moment that we’re in.”
For brands working with influencers to promote product and messages, Gil Eyal, CEO of influencer marketing platform HYPR, recommends having a tighter grip on business entities amid coronavirus concerns. Confusing and inconsistent communication from brand partners could be more detrimental than ever.
Nevertheless, Eyal cautioned, brand identity is not supposed to die during a crisis.
“You are dealing with an audience. Keep your identity, but focus on content that really resonates or you bear the risk of being too cheerful in the time where things are risky. With that said, though, people don’t stay down for long,” he explained. “This is the opportunity to do more, and that’s going to come from generosity and initiative. The one thing influencers give brands is the ability to approach customers when they’re interested in the content as opposed to pushing an ad where they don’t want to hear it.”
Companies do, however, need to be cognizant of financial performance related to influencer partnerships, said Eyal. As the COVID-19 continues to present uncertainty for businesses and their bottom lines, it’s becoming a glaring reality that brand awareness alone won’t keep the lights on.
“This is a place where you really have to be very alert on what’s generating revenue and what’s not,” he added. “From an influencer marketing industry as a whole, [the coronavirus crisis] is going to usher in the age-of-measurement scenario, where people really need to know where they’re spending. Measurements of performance is going to become crucial, and that is going to shift away from prepaid posts to compensation that’s tied to performance.”
Similarly, Beckman noted that while honesty and sensitivity in messaging remain crucial right now, companies are still in business.
“Brands have a duty to their shareholders to drive as much profit to the bottom line as possible. And with the closure of brick-and-mortar stores, these companies really need to put a plan in place, a digital-first strategy, and implement that plan as soon as possible,” he said.