Before the COVID-19 saga started, even in the early part of 2020, the so-called “influencer” arena is abuzz with luxury, travel, enjoyment, and lifestyle. Then the global lockdown and shutdown began, and the whole notion of “influencers” changed.

Today, all we hear or see are politicians giving their endless spiel on what is by now, an ad nauseam display of meaningless statistics and charts, amidst the loss of tens of millions of jobs worldwide (or more), closures and bankruptcies of businesses abound. In the United States alone, unemployment has set in at more than twenty million, and there must be much more who are under-employed (paid much less than they should or was).

No one has an interest at this point, other than politicians and self-professed experts (medical or otherwise), to articulate or expound mortality rates and projected numbers (which in many cases are wildly inaccurate and fearmongering at its worst). What most people worry about, is the lack of, or a short paycheck, and the months ahead of the same predicament. Mouths need to be fed, rent or loans need to be paid, and bills need to be settled. And meanwhile, the so-called leaders, the elite, and the celebrities, remain cloistered in their cosy mansions or abodes, unaware of the needless suffering of the multitude who are living paycheck to paycheck, with mountains of loans, possibly evicted from their premises, and mostly in tiny small homes that offer little solace or sanity when “cabin fever” set in.

Media are talking about the changing content of the so-called “influencers” on social media, which are largely separated into 2 kinds – celebrities, and wannabes.

Celebrities who posted their exorbitant lifestyles in grand houses and pools, were ridiculed and scorned. Some of these celebrities promptly toned down or removed their posts. Some mainstream celebrities were more sensitive, and made efforts to show either corners of their abodes which looked approachable and down-to-earth.

So, while some folks seize every opportunity to silo their corners into bubbles, and not many people in many quarters can travel and produce exotic content, what are marketers to do in this dreadful 2020? Maybe there is still some hope.

1. Real experts, real content

OK, so the glitz is over, at least for 2020, and the pessimistic and power-hungry may oppress any hope for 2021 even. So imagining that glitzy content that used to excite and attract visitors and would-be buyers may likely be over, who can marketers find?

It is time perhaps to find REAL experts who provide real content. For example, when it used to be that clients and marketers would go to celebrities to pitch consumer gadgets, in the hope that it was the “star appeal” that worked. And perhaps it did. But now, consider domain experts instead.

Scout around, they tend to be not too difficult to find. For example, if your client is a smartphone maker, find non-competitive experts who have reviewed such gadgets in mainstream or tech media, who may not be flashing fancy lifestyles, but reviewing such gadgets with depth. Some may do text reviews, and some may do videos as well. It is a win-win arrangement as you will benefit the content expert in building up his personality brand (if he is not already one – some are!), while you get the benefit of real content. Whether a text or spoken video review at length, your product will gain SEO as well as editorial outreach. And above all, domain experts already love what they know and do, and they are great at articulating that.

2. Public Relations (PR) as your “red team”

Don’t underestimate the power of PR through the mainstream media. For example, if you have some consumer-facing products, or even B2B offerings. If you had tried consumer influencers in the past and got limited or no mileage, and you have not engaged a PR partner yet, it is time to seriously consider one.

An external PR partner will be able to extend your outreach much farther than traditional consumer-facing influencers, as PR agencies reach out to mainstream and vertical media, which in turn reach out to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of the populace in states, regions, or even the world, as well as vertical audiences. External PR partners also lend a “red team” approach to all your external messaging and communication, so that your team is not trapped in an internal “echo chamber”, which only reinforce inwards without realizing what the world out there is demanding. Plus, good PR agencies will offer your spokespersons specific media and crisis communication training, so that they are always prepared to face the media and the world with confidence and authority.

3. Domestic advertising campaigns

Surprisingly, when some clients discarded traditional mainstream media as advertising and marketing channels, and insisted only on digital platforms, we knew that one day this will change. The COVID-19 saga shorted and shocked even the tech giants like Facebook and Google, so much so that they had to make major revisions to their advertising platforms, and advised caution to advertisers. This has direct ramifications in relation to your previous influencer campaigns as well.

What then? As we have always advocated, especially for consumer-facing clients with an important domestic audience, to always have holistic marketing campaigns, and not skew towards one or another channel only. Yes, digital marketing campaigns have easy dashboards and pretty data to look at. However, traditional advertising reach out to key audiences in domestic markets too. With COVID-19, almost all people (other than essential workers) have to either work from home (WFH) or stay home (if their industries did not allow WFH). This means that most people are stuck at home, and whether or not they pore over a laptop or tablet at home, they will also have the TV or radio at their disposal, especially on off-hours or weekends. Most mainstream TV and radio media owners have seen declining advertising going their way with digital marketing platforms snatching their revenue away. But now, they have grown wiser, and more realistic. Many of such traditional TV and radio media owners are now offering fantastic steep discounts and special plans, and even throw in simple productions for free (TV and radio). For an almost captive audience all stuck at home, why not consider TV and radio now?

4. Go virtual (people)

Traditional influencers that used to travel on expensive jets to exotic locations, have lost their shine. Many client companies have also sliced their budgets. But marketing still need to continue.

So, why not use virtual “people” as casts for your videos for digital marketing? Instead of hiring real people as “influencers”, you can have animated casts to explain your products and solutions, as “explainer videos”. For voices, you can either engage a real voice talent, or if you don’t mind, you can use synthesized voices (text-to-speech or TTS) to convert your text messaging to voiceovers for your videos or podcasts. Synthesized voices have gotten more sophisticated, with Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) which is akin to web programming languages such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), for turning text with emphases and timing codes into more realistic synthesized voices.

The world isn’t going to end (maybe). We need to continue to sell through our products and solutions. There are many ways to continue to do so, from real domain experts, public relations (PR), domestic advertising campaigns, and marketing videos using animated casts and synthesized voice. Try them, you may find a new quantum leap and paradigm shift forward for the years ahead.