All advertisers have had to think long and hard about how to face the world during the pandemic, particularly where their social channels are concerned: whether to black out or keep up a stream of relevant communication; to press ahead with existing goals or adopt a new brand strategy entirely.
There is no single right answer, but what is apparent, more than a year into the global crisis, is that the only truly valid reactions in disastrous times are recognisably human ones, and that naked commercial intent while people’s lives are being upended is rarely a good look.
Many of the brands that have done their little bit to brighten the world this past year are those who have shown the ability to shift away from demand-driven strategies and into more caring ones, underpinned with real compassion for the well-being of those they are talking to.
How to humanise your brand
There are many ways brands can humanise: they can tell their stories; they can let their team show their faces; they might be in a position to depart from their own script in smart and amusing ways; or they can bring their customers in – let them tell their stories and contribute their own content.
In the partnership marketing arsenal, influencers hold the strongest hand here. A human face is one of the things influencers have always given to brands – a relatability, an authenticity you believe in – and in the pandemic the best ones have created a vital human interface that allows brands to do all the things listed above.
Take care with your tone
In a news cycle that leaps on bad news and controversy, some might think the main contribution of influencers in the pandemic was to jet off to Dubai in pursuit of ‘aspirational’ content. (The verdict there, of course, was that while posing in bikinis on beaches might count as aspirational fun in normal times, it is entirely tone-deaf in a virus-afflicted, locked-down winter when most of us aren’t leaving our postcodes, never mind our countries.)
The irony is that influencer marketing, of a more thoughtful kind, has never felt as valid and appropriate as it does now, and the evidence is in the numbers. Influencer marketing is on track to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022 [source: Insider Intelligence/Mediakix], and Instagram owner Facebook reported 12% user growth in the three months to December 2020 alone. Clearly, a lot of locked-down people want to aspire to something – just not beach holidays they aren’t allowed to have.
Care over commerce
People have seldom been in greater need of uplifting material or good advice, and that principle has never grown stale in these long months. HelloFresh got it right, using influencer partnerships to talk about cooking from scratch and its ability to give focus to a day that has lost much of its usual structure. There were calls to action, of course, but also an overarching sense of care for people’s health and wellbeing.
Mapiful, a supplier of custom maps and posters and an Impact client, also exercised a neat pivot during the pandemic. It departed from a promotionally-driven strategy in favour of influencers who were given a licence to show the brand’s sentimental side, sparking conversations among their own audiences about connection, gratitude and happier times. Such has been the response across the wider community that Mapiful is now working with psychologists to run events on issues such as self-care and connectivity, which is a covetable place for any brand to find itself.
Above the line, too, influencers have been important in setting the right tone – look at Tesco’s Food Love Stories campaign, which featured influencers and others staying in touch with loved ones and sharing food ideas across the generations.
Humanity isn’t going away
The pandemic has created an important context for a more human approach to brand communications, but this year’s shifts in tone have been in the wind for some time. Younger consumers in particular want to deal with brands who share their values and are truly committed to them, obliging brands to find their position – and prove their mettle – on issues from climate change to mental health, diversity and inclusion.
Increasingly, it looks as if this kind of humanity is not optional, and that times really have changed. According to Edelman research, 65% of consumers say the way brands react to the pandemic will have an impact on how they interact with them afterwards. Kantar, meanwhile, indicates that 77% of people want to see brands helping without being self-serving.
If that feels to some businesses like a contradiction in terms – the brand that doesn’t just care about itself – then the next few years are going to be the time to unpick that puzzle, because from here on in, humanity is the only way forward.
Credit: San Sareen, Customer Success Lead, Activate & Impact EMEA.
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.