Disclaimer: I’m not writing this post to perpetuate the fear that I think has been magnified through the news and social media, but rather identify the business implications, especially in the marketing space from the global reaction to Covid-19.
EXPO West: cancelled. Coachella: postponed. Holiday parades around the country: cancelled. Amid Coronavirus fears, major events where millions of dollars are collectively poured into influencer campaigns are now off the table for the foreseeable future. Where does that leave marketers? With spoiled plans, agencies and brands will be expected to pivot quickly if they wish to continue to have a voice in the market. Or, they may just pull funds all together.
Yesterday, Vogue Business reported advertising volumes plummeting in Asia, and anecdotally covered the struggle many businesses are having trying to strike the balance between engaging with their customers and containing economic losses. What does that mean for the influencer marketing industry? As an under-priced tactic, I predict certain brands and agencies will be doubling down on their efforts to engage influeners who can create content from the comfort of their own homes, aren’t beholden to the whims of city officials or CEOs, and are still willing to travel while others aren’t.
There’s no question, the implications are significant, but there are some upsides for creators and small agencies that are worth noting. I’ve outlined some key points below.
Event-focused campaigns will disappear.
SXSW, Coachella, Ultra Music Festival, the latest James Bond movie release, and even part of a Pearl Jam tour have all been either postponed or cancelled. There are plenty of articles that quantify the impact on local economies (and showcase regular folks trying to make up the difference), but what about the social media talent that were meant to attend from all over the country… heck, the world?! Well, safe to say that those campaigns are no longer happening. Anecdotally, contracts for campaigns of now cancelled events are falling back on their force majeure clauses, and leaving influencers high and dry.
Not only that, but no new events are being planned. At least, not large ones. Because there is no elusive crystal ball telling us how far this crisis will escalate, event marketers are left twiddling their thumbs. And for the conferences, sporting events, festivals, and even global events that stay the course, attendance will be low or non-existent, rendering any complementary events flanking the “main stage” useless.
Destination-based marketing initiatives are going to scale down – way down.
This is where agencies come in, especially influencer management agencies. Whether brands like it or not, they need content created within a context that continues to showcase their narrative if they want to stay relevant. Because they can no longer align with major, globally recognized events, they will need to find a way to articulate their brand values and showcase their products on smaller stages. Knowing this, my agency has begun building small influencer trip itineraries featuring 3-5 creators in a particular destination, and has already locked in a trip and sponsors for the month of May.
Brands are hopping on board to have their product featured in these destinations with a carefully curated group of influencers, and a heavy hand on creative guidelines. The smaller groups make it easier to keep plans on track, and the agency planning the trip takes the burden of organizing travel (including much needed travel insurance), accommodations, and all of the operational needs for the campaigns. It’s a win for the small group of influencers who can work with a handful of brands on one trip, and for the brands whose hands are otherwise tied.
Hospitality and travel industries will need influencers, badly.
Have you checked the cost of flights lately? I found round trip tickets from Boston to Barbados for under $400 the other day, and I wasn’t even trying. A recent Barron’s article quoted Claudio Galimberti saying, “What we know for sure is that the month of February will record the worst oil demand contraction since the Great Recession.” While some may say that struggling airlines are going to benefit from the plummeting jet fuel prices, airlines are going to need to find ways to incentivize customers to actually hop on a plane. This is where influencers come in.
No amount of Facebook ads, billboards, or syndicated news articles are going to make people feel safe, or comfortable, to travel. People want to see people who look like them navigating through the airport, sitting on planes, traveling internationally, and enjoying themselves at a hotel. The only people who can do that at scale, are social media influencers. And guess what… the large majority of them are willing to do so.
Marketers will pivot to remote capable campaigns.
For all of the other industries, we’re going to see a shift of using products in the relative safety of your own home. Most brands, at the end of the day, don’t want to ruffle feathers. A father making dinner for his family in their kitchen doesn’t raise any eyebrows, nor does a style influencer’s try-on haul video. Instead of asking audiences attend a cocktail event, or shop at their local mall, they’ll leverage “home-grown” content to encourage e-commerce purchases.
Influencers are going to have to get creative.
For all of the influencers who would normally rely on those big events as a significant revenue streams for their businesses, the tables have somewhat turned. Instead of brands dictating the creative scenery, they’ll now need to turn back to their creators and solicit concepts that serve their overarching goals. Influencers are going to have to get very comfortable creating editorial content that works well in parallel with pitches they plan to send to brands. And those who don’t, will have to grapple with dwindling inbound leads.
Because influencers will be on the offense, they’ll need to pair that creativity with business-minded tactics. Pristine media kits, case studies, and even testimonials from past marketers will need to accompany mood boards and concepts. My bet is that these coming months will be very telling in who has what it takes to survive this industry when the going isn’t as good as it has been in the last 10 years… only time will tell.