Lessons we can learn from January 2021

This lockdown has been hard.

I’m not even going to try to sugarcoat it: it’s been tough. The dark days, relentless Mancunian rain and withering boredom have reduced me to the stage where I’m looking back in envy on the banana bread days of Lockdown 1.0.

Yet brighter times are on the horizon. The vaccination roll-out is well underway (my grandparents both had their vaccines last week – hurrah!) and I’ve just read that in two weeks’ time, there will be an hour more light per day (double hurrah!). I’ve even tentatively booked two weeks off later on in the year in the hope that we’ll be able to venture more than a walk away from our houses.

January may have been one long ‘takeway-walk-Netflix-repeat’ mantra, but it delivered more than its fair share of on-screen entertainment and high drama, as the media continued to bring more huge, belief-defying, reality re-setting events into our living rooms. Trump was finally silenced on social media and ousted from the White House after a terrifying assault on the very cornerstone of democracy, kitchens became classrooms after schools shut and – the biggie – apparently KimYe are getting divorced. Devastating.

In fact, media events revealed some key learnings last month, so here are three marketing and PR lessons we can learn from the highs and lows of January 2021.

Event: JLo at President Biden’s inauguration
Lesson: Don’t shoehorn your brand in at every given moment

Jenny from the block was given a huge role to play at Biden’s inauguration, singing a mash-up of ‘This Land is Your Land’ and ‘America the Beautiful’ to the millions of people watching across the globe.

Yet, towards the end of the song, JLo threw in part of her 2000 hit ‘Let’s Get Loud’. The audacity.

Just because you’ve been given a platform, it doesn’t mean you have to blatantly plug your product or services, especially in situations which don’t warrant it.

Your audience will be left confused by the shoehorning in of your brand into the narrative when it doesn’t fit, resulting in your credibility taking a dive.

Event: Matt Hancock being interviewed on Good Morning Britain
Lesson: Be prepared in interviews for tricky questions – and don’t ignore the question

We cringed watching the video of Matt Hancock being grilled about voting down free school meals by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.

Then we cringed again half an hour later when we remembered it.

Media interviews provide great exposure, but – and we cannot stress this enough – you need to be prepared. There may be times when journalists ask tricky questions you don’t particularly want to answer. Do not just answer a completely different question a la Matt H – it not only says to the viewer/reader that you’re being evasive, but it also annoys the interviewer. They’ll either be like a dog with a bone and will interrogate you further or the following question will get even tougher.

Instead, be prepared for any potential bear traps, practice a line should a question come up and then figure out the best way to link back to the original topic of conversation.

Event: The rise of the sea shanty
Lesson: Keep an eye on Gen Z habits

So who had ‘viral sea shanties’ in the 2021 bingo? No, me neither. But thanks to Gen Zers, it happened. And I’m here for it.

Scottish postman Nathan Evans first posted his version of Wellerman on Gen Z-led TikTok where users across the world made it go viral. Its popularity resulted in a remix hitting number three in the UK charts, followed by TikTok using the song in its TV ad. Even Jon Snow (the news presenter, not from Game of Thrones) joined in and sang along.

So what does this have remotely to do with B2B?

The older members of the Gen Z cohort have recently entered or are soon entering the world of work and are becoming an emerging audience for your product and services. As the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue said, “they’re really influential because they’re willing to make changes, hold brands accountable and require a sense of transparency.”

Look up their likes, dislikes and habits and see how you can apply it to your marketing strategies. After all, if you want to attract these buyers and futureproof your business, you need to embrace their way of doing things. Even if it involves channeling a pirate and singing a sea shanty.

COVID confusion syndrome

I admit it. I have it. I’m a sufferer. So much so, I no longer know if I should be eating in or drinking out to keep helping out or abandoning food altogether and dosing myself up on the nutrient loaded, virus busting, immunity boosting food supplements that are flooding my social media. Talk about jumping on the bandwagon and capitalising on people’s insecurities. I can’t work out if this is genius or sly, unethical marketing.

I also have no idea if I can visit my mum, the pub, the zoo, the cinema or if I’m allowed to get my legs waxed but not my eyebrows.  And I’m totally baffled why one of my children is in 2-week isolation (deep joy – working and home schooling again said no parent ever!) while the other can still go. Surely I’m not the only one who needs a Pandemic PA to give me a daily bulletin – a do’s and don’ts list.  A concise summary of should nots and must nots.

A tuned-in content creator could flood my social media with this useful list? And savyy marketeers could use outdoor media to promote it on bus shelters, train stations, bus rears, streetliners, taxi sides and ablaze it across every 48 sheet or digital billboard available. Then we’d all be in the know.

We’d all get the rule of six. We’d get if it applied to indoors or outdoors or both. We’d understand if outdoors means our garden or the local park. We’d all feel confident booking a table for six from two households without the fear of being inadvertently ‘caught out’. We could all happily plan our half term staycation or arrange to visit family from a different region or go to the pub with a friend from a bubble, safe in the knowledge that we were being good, law abiding citizens. Simple pleasures which we once took for granted now need planning with military precision. And hours of research.

Someone needs to sort out the comms so that COVID confusion syndrome, if not COVID itself can be cured.

Communication let me down

And I’m left here. Like Spandau Ballet, I’m confused and a bit bewildered. In the world of PR and Marketing, informed and accurate communication is key. And loyalty is everything.

That’s why I find the lack of COVID clarity so frustrating. And the mixed messages so annoying. I’m a planner. I’m a wife. I’m a mum.  So being organised, forward-planning, spinning plates, multi-tasking and juggling information overload is in my DNA. I can handle my four-year olds tantrums about why she can’t keep a pet snail in her bedroom.  I can manage my husband’s inability to remember what time staggered school time starts and ends.

But COVID comms have defeated me.

Keep your COVID cohort converts

Consumers have become more confident switching brands and trying new products and services during this pandemic.

As COVID-19 feels like it’s here to stay for the foreseeable, brands and business will have to up their game in their comms strategy and content generation if they are to keep their new COVID cohorts happy and their old customers loyal.

As lockdown forced many consumers online, they shopped with shops that shouted loudest about what they wanted to hear. They used brands that made themselves addictive, available and accessible. They switched to businesses that communicated with sincerity and empathy to our new-found situation.

Being forced to work from home forced the absence of habit. From making us more creative in the kitchen, trying out new sports or tapping into wellbeing apps to being more attentive to our homes, becoming more inventive with kids entertainment and being hugely appreciative of our gardens, neighbours, local shops and open spaces. And a new-found appreciation for businesses that made our lockdown lives that little bit easier.

While many businesses have been forced into long-term hibernation or extinction as a result of lockdown, others have welcomed a swell of new customers.

With many ‘autopilot choices’ no longer available, consumers have been forced to buy substitute brands, try new services or introduce new products into their brand repertoire. I’m guilty of being enticed into the world of Hello Fresh and Gousto home meal deliveries – driven by the lack of inspiration and motivation to prepare 3 meals a day, 7 days a week when the pubs, cafes and restaurants were shut. Will I continue to use their services when a COVID cure is found? That remains to be seen. That will depend on the power of their persuasive PR and compelling ‘come back’ comms.

Working from home also means that communicating with colleagues and clients via Zoom and Teams has replaced coffee machine chats, boardroom brainstorms and business lunches. Dynamic storyboards delivered by conf-call have replaced the theatre of face-to-face creative presentations. And work do’s have become a virtual wine tasting or an online quiz. Who would have believed that would be a thing a year ago? Expect the unexpected is the new norm.

While we continue to suffer from COVID and COVID confusion syndrome, baffling and blindsiding brand communications won’t cut it.

Consumer and B2B PR and Marketing campaigns need to be more authentic, trustworthy and timely than ever before. Content needs to be accurate, honest and empathetic.

We don’t work in politics after all.

Golden Globes for HR software success

From your first school trophy to an A plus grade, an Olympic Gold to the glam of the Grammys, it is human nature to enjoy a very public pat on the back for a job exceptionally done.

According to research by Boost, around 72% of buyers are influenced by tech awards when buying IT services or software. Awards give recognition for the late nights, blood, sweat and tears that puts you on a pedestal and can quickly catapult a business into the limelight – but you need to be in it to win it.

Whether you’re a HR software start-up or a big brand global player, niche or mainstream, established or market disrupting, there is an award to celebrate what you do best.

Here’s our round up of some of the HR tech awards which should also be on your hitlist.

UK Employee Experience Awards                                                    
Deadline: January

Awards that recognise outstanding initiatives that have improved the world of work by enhancing the employee experience with several tech categories available.

Personnel Today Awards                                                                  
Deadline: June

These highly acclaimed awards celebrate the positive impact of HR initiatives and innovation on a wide range of sectors. It includes tech-led categories such as HR tech provider of the Year and the HR Technology Award.

The European IT & Software Excellence Awards
Deadline: January

These awards focus on software development, IT and Telecoms solutions provision. They welcome entries from across Europe but are mostly UK-focused and tend to attract the smaller providers. 

The SaaS Awards
Deadline: May

These awards give recognition to innovative software solutions providers from across the globe.

Women in Tech Excellence Awards
Deadline: May

The Women in Tech Excellence Awards is designed to encourage female IT leaders of tomorrow by recognising and promoted the talented women currently in the industry today.

Tech Leaders Awards
Deadline: May

The awards, organised by Information Age, celebrate the UK’s top tech leaders, innovators and disruptors, showcasing their contributions to the economy.

The Sunday Times Tech Track 100
Deadline: July

This league table, compiled by Fast Track and published by The Sunday Times, ranks tech companies with the fastest-growing sales over the last three years.

The UK IT Industry Awards                                    
Deadline: July

Organised by The Chartered Institute for IT and Computing, these awards celebrate the positive impact it has on business and the wider world. It rewards the people who are creating a better world through IT.

UK Tech Awards                                                      
Deadline: August

These awards celebrate the successes of publicly quoted, AIM and fast-growing private tech companies.

Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50
Deadline: September

Currently in its 23rd year, the Deloitte-organised awards celebrate tech innovation and entrepreneurship, ranking companies based on their revenue growth over the last four years.

The Women in IT Awards    
Deadline: September

Organised by business technology site Information Age, this global series of awards aims to promote recruiting and retaining female tech talent and redress the gender imbalance in the sector. It celebrates the achievements of women in the sector and shines the limelight on new role models.

UK Business Tech Awards 
Deadline: September

Celebrates the UK’s finest tech businesses and rewards innovative and exceptional application of technology to transform and grow business.

The awards feature a variety of categories celebrating companies, individuals, applications, use of data, deals and technology transformation.

Go:Tech Awards
Deadline: October

From innovative clean-tech pioneers and COVID heroes to start ups and international giants, these awards are structured to showcase companies of all sizes and disciplines.

Not got the time?

If time, motivation and a never-ending to-do list are getting in the way of writing that elusive award entry, we’d be more than happy to help you with your submission.

With 13 award wins already under our belt, and years of experience promoting software clients, we know how get to grips with technology in all its glorious complexity and can turn features into benefits and highly complicated concepts into award winning copy. 

Get in touch.

Golden Globes for software success

From your first school trophy to an A plus grade, an Olympic Gold to the glam of the Grammys, it is human nature to enjoy a very public pat on the back for a job exceptionally done.

According to research by Boost, around 72% of buyers are influenced by tech awards when buying IT services or software. Awards give recognition for the late nights, blood, sweat and tears that puts you on a pedestal and can quickly catapult a business into the limelight – but you need to be in it to win it.

Whether you’re a software start-up or a big brand global player, niche or mainstream, established or market disrupting, there is an award to celebrate what you do best.

Depending on which industry you’re in, there will be a host of different sector-specific opportunities you can pursue, but here’s our round up of some of the main generic software and tech awards which should also be on your hitlist.

The European IT & Software Excellence Awards
Deadline: January

These awards focus on software development, IT and Telecoms solutions provision. They welcome entries from across Europe but are mostly UK-focused and tend to attract the smaller providers. 

The SaaS Awards
Deadline: May

These awards give recognition to innovative software solutions providers from across the globe.

Women in Tech Excellence Awards
Deadline: May

The Women in Tech Excellence Awards is designed to encourage female IT leaders of tomorrow by recognising and promoted the talented women currently in the industry today.

The Sunday Times Tech Track 100
Deadline: July

This league table, compiled by Fast Track and published by The Sunday Times, ranks tech companies with the fastest-growing sales over the last three years.

The UK IT Industry Awards                                    
Deadline: July

Organised by The Chartered Institute for IT and Computing, these awards celebrate the positive impact it has on business and the wider world. It rewards the people who are creating a better world through IT.

UK Tech Awards                                                      
Deadline: August

These awards celebrate the successes of publicly quoted, AIM and fast-growing private tech companies.

Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50
Deadline: September

Currently in its 23rd year, the Deloitte-organised awards celebrate tech innovation and entrepreneurship, ranking companies based on their revenue growth over the last four years.

The Women in IT Awards    
Deadline: September

Organised by business technology site Information Age, this global series of awards aims to promote recruiting and retaining female tech talent and redress the gender imbalance in the sector. It celebrates the achievements of women in the sector and shines the limelight on new role models.

UK Business Tech Awards 
Deadline: September

Celebrates the UK’s finest tech businesses and rewards innovative and exceptional application of technology to transform and grow business.

The awards feature a variety of categories celebrating companies, individuals, applications, use of data, deals and technology transformation.

Go:Tech Awards
Deadline: October

From innovative clean-tech pioneers and COVID heroes to start ups and international giants, these awards are structured to showcase companies of all sizes and disciplines.

Not got the time?

If time, motivation and a never-ending to-do list are getting in the way of writing that elusive award entry, we’d be more than happy to help you with your submission.

With 13 award wins already under our belt, and years of experience promoting software clients, we know how get to grips with technology in all its glorious complexity and can turn features into benefits and highly complicated concepts into award winning copy. 

Get in touch.

How to livestream like Lady Gaga

What if this is it?

What if this is as good as it gets? A lifetime wearing face masks – or rushing back home to find the one you forgot, just so you can buy a loaf of bread. A life wearing baggy pants with a few cooking stains for your most important client meeting because your lockdown tum-down is mercifully hidden by a Zoom screen. 

And what if we are faced with a lifetime of Vera repeats and no new middle of the road middle-class BBC dramas to help us escape the humdrum of our lives for an hour every Monday at 9pm? And god forbid what if temporary lockdown home schooling just becomes schooling?

What if I never get to see Take That in concert again apart from a live stream into my living room brought to me by a meerkat?  

Every crowd-based event that we once took for granted will look and feel so very different. Theatre, comedy, musicals, gigs, opera, D-list celeb pantomimes, the races, awards ceremonies, corporate networking or sales events and big brand launches may never be the same again. No crowd surfing, no back slapping, no more big, bright, brash hats,  no more he’s behind yous, no sales spin and swopping of business cards, no heckling, no Rule Britannia and no branded freebie bags full of stress balls and plastic pens or the obligatory after event drinks with new-found best friends.

Instead we will sit on our comfy sofas in our comfy pants and log on and tune in – trying to get involved and get in the mood. Trying our best to look engaged and immersed.

So how does it feel to attend a virtual event? Flat or fabulous? Who loves or loathes them? As a planner how to you make it a success and as a business or brand how do you make them lucrative?

Planning a virtual event a few years ago would have sounded so futuristic and so out there. But in our era of Tik-Toking teenagers and crypto coin dealing through to online zoo and museum visits, it doesn’t sound out there at all anymore.

Tech and social media have allowed the smallest of gigs to the biggest of conferences to cut costs and carbon footprints and open up the invitation to a boundary-less, limitless worldwide community. Lady Gaga’s star-studded ‘One World: Together at Home’ virtual concert was livestreamed to millions of people in their homes across the world. Easy for celebrities with trillions of Twitter and Instagram followers. But how do businesses get people to log on, live stream and live tweet without strings of number ones, award nominations and record labels backing them?

Not so easy. But here are 5 tips to get you going.

Tip 1 – It’s all in the preparation

Your plan of attack should be to first answer these 10 questions to form your event concept and strategy.

  1. What kind of experience do you hope to deliver?
  2. Will the event be live, on-demand, or both?
  3. Where do I want the content to be seen?
  4. Will access be gated or free?
  5. When is the best time for the event?
  6. Will you require event registration?
  7. How will you promote the event?
  8. Do you plan to work with an advertiser or other partner?
  9. Will people still have access to the event once it’s over?
  10. What KPIs and data do you plan to track?

Tip 2 – Timing is of the essence

Getting the date and time right is essential, so do your research. Before you commit or send out invites to save the date to your network, make sure there are no events or holidays that would compete with yours. Check analytics to see when your community is typically online or consider posting a poll for preferred dates.

Don’t forget time zones if you are going global – pick a time that works for as many of your customers and followers as possible. It’s useful to ensure content is accessible after the live presentations for those who couldn’t make it.

Tip 3 – Shout if from the rooftops and laptops

Be focused on the key selling points of your event and shout it loud in all your marketing and social media. This could anything from a gift incentive, a noteworthy speaker or an opportunity to network to discounted pricing, live demos or a sneak preview of an exclusive new product or service.

Registrations tend to peak 2-3 weeks before an event so maybe ramp up marketing activity around this time, with LinkedIn’s InMail ads which may be a better way to extend invitations than impersonal sponsored posts.

Take advantage of the social media tools available such as creating an event countdown in Instagram Stories or list your event on sites like Eventbrite or wherever your audience will be surfing and searching.

Speakers can become influencers and brand ambassadors, so provide them with the details they need to share and shout about your event with their army of followers.

No virtual event should be without a link to a registration form or your Instagram or LinkedIn profile and don’t forget to share an event hashtag to drive conversations online.

Tip 4 – Hitches and glitches

It may seem obvious but rehearse and test. Test your Internet connection, rehearse again and refine and get speakers do the same. Prepare backups of visuals, demos and presentations in case tech lets you down.

Be mindful that some guests may not be tech savvy so anticipate the troubles people may encounter by preparing easy to follow guides or FAQs that are easy to access.

Tip 5 – Get engaged

Create opportunities for engagement by getting people involved. Just because it’s not face to face doesn’t mean it can’t be personal.

Encourage questions and comments through a chat tool, ask people to participate in polls or quizzes, encourage live tweeting, take requests and invite suggestions. And at the end of the event, ask for feedback.

Failing all that, ask Beyoncé to sponsor your event.

Five of the most inspirational marketing campaigns by tech companies

With the right skillset, anyone can develop technology. But not everyone has the creative inspiration to develop technology solutions that people really love and want to use.

MarComms professionals face a similar challenge. Devising marketing campaigns that really succeed calls not only for sound strategy, but for the summoning of creative juices to trigger that ‘big idea’.

Here we bring you a selection of some of the best campaigns executed by tech companies to help fuel your marketing inspiration – and to encourage us all to continue pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved.

Braintree: ‘Speaking in code’

Mobile payments service Braintree, owned by PayPal, saw sign-ups increase by 92 per cent after embarking on an ingenious campaign targeting software developers.

Developers can be notoriously difficult to market to, and so Braintree decided that they needed to speak their language.

The company embedded hidden messages within the source code of popular tech sites, such as TechCrunch, and followed this up with cleverly designed billboards painted in black and white code, strategically located in areas such as San Francisco’s South of Market, to attract the attention of developers.

And Braintree didn’t stop there. It then offered to pay for their lunches by using computer code on Twitter and on signs outside coffee shops frequented by programmers.

This inspirational campaign took pride of place on BuzzFeed’s ‘23 Things That Could Only Happen in San Francisco’.

Cisco: ‘There’s never been a better time’

Demonstration – not proclamation – sits at the very heart of effective marketing.

B2B networking giant Cisco recognised this and launched a multi-channel campaign back in 2016 to demonstrate how digitisation and connected technology can be a great catalyst for positive change.

Rolled out almost simultaneously in 42 countries and 86 languages, ‘There’s never been a better time’ became Cisco’s tagline, supported by real life stories to explain what it is that there’s never been a better time to do.

Ambitious efforts were made to engage storytellers from Cisco’s global teams and channel partners, and a wealth of stories were generated from across this ‘ecosystem’ to demonstrate the social impact of Cisco technology.

People learned how it was helping to transform entire industries and countries. It was helping bring water to those who don’t have it, for example, making jobs safer, cities smarter and even saving the lives of people and animals.

One particularly powerful storyline – ‘there’s never been a better time to save the rhino’ – told of the company’s achievement with partner Dimension Data in helping create a haven for rhinos against would-be attackers. Rhinos were brought to a reserve in South Africa and electronically tagged, while rangers in the region connected to a digital network. In the three years that followed, not a single rhino was lost to poachers.

MailChimp: Did you mean MailChimp?

Email marketing platform MailChimp has a history, it seems, of people mispronouncing its name. This was highlighted back in 2014 when it was mistakenly pronounced ‘MailKimp’ in one of its audio ads, run as part of a sponsorship of crime podcast ‘Serial’.

The mistake inspired the company to create a series of fake brands that sounded very similar to MailChimp. MailShrimp, for example, was a short film about seafood sandwiches, NailChamp was an online nail art competition, SnailPrimp was an anti-aging beauty treatment, while WhaleSynth was a musical app for creating compositions from whale song.

Promo videos and websites were created for the fake brands, and all were actively promoted through printed ads, billboards and social media.

When anyone searched for them on Google, however, the search engine would ask if they meant ‘MailChimp’. All the while, the fake brand websites subtly redirected visitors to the official MailChimp site.

The multifaceted campaign led to 988 million earned media impressions and 67 million organic searches.

Lockheed Martin: ‘Generation beyond’

Because B2B marketing is invariably focused on targeting the work personas of business customers, it can be considered dry and serious in some quarters.

However, this needn’t be the case – campaigns for B2B companies can be as fun and inspirational as their B2C counterparts

Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin proved this when it put immersive virtual reality (VR) at the heart of ‘Generation beyond’ – a campaign devised to inspire the next generation of engineers, innovators and explorers.

The idea stemmed from the belief that today’s young students could very well be among the first to reach Mars. 

A ‘Mars experience’ school bus used VR to make it feel, when you looked out of the windows, as though the bus was driving on the planet’s surface.

This awe-inspiring, experiential educational campaign also included a ‘Hello Mars’ app and an interactive microsite with a variety of additional content, including everything from hands-on learning tools and a curriculum for educators, to videos and fact sheets about Mars and Lockheed Martin.

Mobile billboards and Snapchat advertising helped promote the campaign, while social media engagement saw it trend on Facebook and reach audiences across more than 50 countries.

Jennifer Whitlow, Senior Vice President Communications of Lockheed Martin, has spoken of how the campaign successfully merged the company’s brand marketing with its STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education outreach strategy.

Inmarsat: Connected Air

Inmarsat Aviation, a UK satellite communications provider of mobile and data services to airlines, also tapped into the virtual world to promote the commercial version of its GX Aviation in-flight wi-fi solution.

Time was of the essence, with market intelligence highlighting a 24-month window during which airlines would be looking to invest in passenger connectivity.

Trade shows were identified as the best opportunity to reach and demonstrate GX Aviation to a small, hard-to-reach audience of industry decision-makers and influencers. Using augmented reality and interactive videos, the company created the ‘Connected Air’ exhibition to allow event attendees to ‘board’ a virtual cabin or cockpit and experience the connected airline of the future.

Supported by a press and social media campaign, Inmarsat managed to arrange vital face-to-face meetings, secure contracts with leading airlines and saw a significant uplift in its share price.

Dominic Walters, senior director marketing communications and strategy, Inmarsat Aviation, said: “Instead of customers and prospects asking us “who are you?”, they’re now looking to us for thought-leadership and partnership.

“We’re now regarded as true industry innovators.” 

Social media winners and losers during COVID-19

The social media platforms that have performed best – and admirably – during the coronavirus pandemic

When lockdown rules were imposed, we retreated in our droves, mentally and physically preparing ourselves for months of social isolation, away from family and friends.

One thing we could be thankful for during these turbulent times was the fact that we are now living in a technological age, where interaction is just a click away. 

Social media has proved a godsend during the pandemic, with millions of us turning to our smartphones, laptops and tablets to stay in touch with our loved ones, seek solace and distract ourselves from the uncertain world outside. 

Indeed, engagement on social apps has soared during the pandemic, with users logging in to consume news, share content, live stream, video call and mobilise communities. 

Here, we look at how the social app giants reacted and adapted to the ‘new normal’ created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

TikTok

The undisputed winner in lockdown has to be TikTok, with everyone from teens to baby boomers now acquainted with the video-sharing app. 

The 15-second clip videos first gained popularity amongst teenagers, showing off their latest dance routines or pulling pranks, but TikTok came into its own during the pandemic, offering much-needed escapism to all the generations during a period of doom and gloom.

Although a relatively newcomer to the social space, in Q1 2020, TikTok generated the most downloads for any app ever in a quarter, accumulating more than 315 million installs, according to Sensor Tower.

TikTok is estimated to have now surpassed two billion lifetime downloads – a meteoric rise by any standard. 

Rather than emulating the primped and preened content of Instagram, TikTok is about finding humour in the darkness and giving some light relief to both the creator and the viewer through absurd jokes, quirky dance moves and funny skits.

Unlike Instagram, with its emphasis on glamourous, envy-inducing luxe-living, TikTok can easily be filmed in a bedroom or in the garden – making it accessible and perfect for lockdown living.

Keen to take advantage of this video sharing trend, the UK government has jumped on the TikTok bandwagon, with health secretary Matt Hancock uploading TikTok videos urging people to stay at home and the leadership running health ads on the app. 

There was also the #stayathomechallenge, where NHS workers and TikTok creators urged users to stay indoors and shared exercise routines or cooking tips to pass the time.

Although not primarily a source of news, the app has introduced a range of in-app features, notifications and safety measures specifically designed to elevate credible and accurate information from trusted sources. This demonstrates that although light humour sits at the core of the app, its creators take their responsibilities seriously and understand the impact of their influence. 

Twitter

It has been a bit of a mixed bag for Twitter

According to Twitter’s Q1 2020 results, the platform saw a strong start to the year, with global monetizable Daily Active Users (mDAU) up 24 per cent from 134 million in the first quarter of 2019, to 166 million in Q1 2020. Total ad engagements increased by 25 per cent year-on-year.

However, coronavirus has hit Twitter’s ad revenues, with advertisers pulling back their spending as they brace for the pandemic’s financial fallout.

Twitter is famous for its ‘stream of consciousness’-style musings, which is arguably less relevant during this time of crisis and not in keeping with the public’s growing need for a sense of community. 

The platform is also known for being a breeding ground for fake news and misinformation, and, with the sheer volume of real-time conversations being had, this can be hard to vet. 

Twitter is taking action, however, and recently announced it would begin adding labels to some tweets to combat misinformation, beginning with tweets about the coronavirus pandemic but eventually about other topics. 

Although tweets would not necessarily be taken down, users would be presented with verified information from the World Health Organization or other medical experts.

Facebook

With its video functionality, Facebook was poised to do well during lockdown, with the brand holding its own against newer apps, such as Zoom and Houseparty

At the beginning of lockdown, total messaging on Facebook and sister app Whatsapp increased by 50 per cent in some of the hardest hit regions, and video calling doubled in some markets.

However, as these services are not monetised, this uplift in engagement did not translate into increased revenue, and, like other businesses and platforms, Facebook was hit by a decrease in digital ad spend. 

But as the dust settles, brands are starting to cautiously resume their advertising activities. 

Facebook has been one of the social app giants to have adapted quickly to the changing situation and has leveraged its reputation as a community-driven platform during this time.

It also launched the Covid-19 Information Centre, which is an expanded adaptation of its ‘community help’ function.

The Information Centre prioritises conversations in the user’s general area, and includes local information on the real-time numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, latest news on the virus, links to authoritative bodies’ websites and pages, and coronavirus prevention tips.

Community spirit and social responsibility are two positive things to have emerged from the pandemic and the platform’s ‘offer and request help’ function has helped to facilitate community action.  Stickers and ‘empathy’ emojis also drive home that message of Facebook being a caring, community-minded platform. 

Instagram

The pandemic served as a sharp shock to many Instagram influencers, as brands pulled back on their sponsorship campaigns.

Sponsored posts on Instagram fell from representing 35 per cent of influencer content in mid-February to 4 per cent of creator content in mid-April, according to a report from the marketing-analytics firm Launchmetrics.

The reaction of some influencers to a drop in their revenue left a bad taste in many people’s mouths and reputations were somewhat tarnished, with an initial backlash against the ‘out-of-touch’ influencer culture. 

Despite this, forced hibernation has meant that engagement has been climbing during the pandemic and the platform continues to perform well. 

When it comes to stopping the spread of misinformation around coronavirus, Instagram is one of the most actively responsible platforms. As well as prioritising verified information from authoritative bodies, the platform is down-ranking posts and stories that have been flagged as false, removing non-credible accounts featuring coronavirus related content from recommendations, and banning misleading ads.

Stickers and hashtags have also been popular and helped to promote a sense of community and shared experience amongst the Instagram audience.  These include the ‘Stay Home’ and ‘I Stay Home For’ stickers and hashtags, to encourage self-isolation and support health workers, and the ‘Support Small Business’ sticker, which helps to promote smaller businesses and encourages users to show their support by ‘shopping small and local’.

Where next?

Social media platforms may be a place of downtime and social interaction for the majority of us, but they are also large corporates with a responsibility to their investors and shareholders to stay afloat during this turbulent period.

Social media users can be fickle. These platforms have had to adapt quickly to keep the attention of their audience and not lose them to a more switched-on or forward-thinking competitor. 

The new features and functions that have been developed gives us insight into how we, as a society, have been shaped by the pandemic, with our need for community, verifiable news, and sociability becoming ever stronger.   Ultimately, it is a numbers game and by catering for the needs and wants of users, social media apps can hang on to their audience for that little while longer.   

Top 5 ads which demonstrate that it takes more than COVID to crush creativity

There’s nothing like a big global event to get creatives fighting in a frenzy to come up with that one campaign – the one that gets everyone talking – or laughing – or crying. And most importantly these days, going viral. Oh, and putting a smile on the face of the brand manager as the sales come rolling in. Not to mention the accolades, awards and bonuses to boot.

From a World Cup comeback or a Wimbledon washout to a celebrity wedding or a royal birth, creatives thrive on the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of a big newsworthy and sales-worthy event. It’s like a gift – a dream brief handed over on a golden plate with a big stash of cash to play with.

But what happens when that big event causes worldwide pain and suffering and an economic crisis like no other? What if that big event changes the way people work and play – and virtually puts a stop to travel and commuting making cinema and some outdoor and ambient advertising null and void overnight.

What do creative agencies do when there are no more location photo shoots or filming commercials in exotic far-away destinations? When clients cut budgets faced with an uncertain post COVID future, do creative teams stamp their feet and take their marker pens and Macs home? Do art directors bury their heads into safer, less emotive, less controversial stimuli?

You bet they don’t.

Although lockdown has produced some predictable, quick-fix, budget-busting ads featuring home videos and conf call montages and ads cobbled together from the archives of past glory, it has also delivered some brilliance. Some even worthy of Cannes Lions 2021 if lockdown limitations are lifted in time for the revered red-carpet creative awards.

Many creative teams have grasped the opportunity to produce campaigns with heart, spirit and empathy – and an undeniable dose of creative genius. Working from cluttered spare rooms or dining tables surrounded by screaming kids and unwashed laundry has undoubtedly brought out the best in our industry – and coming up with good ideas is what makes our industry great.

But some of the best work hasn’t even been big budget brand advertising or direct response integrated campaigns. It’s been half-price meals and clothes for key workers, free taxi rides and hotel accommodation near hospitals for exhausted NHS workers and charge waivers on overdrafts for people struggling to make ends meet. Just good ideas doing good.

A global pandemic may not the right time to sell your products, but it can be the right time to make your brand relatable. Consumers remember and feel. Consumers react and retaliate. Show the compassionate, human side of your big corporate machine and make customers remember you for the right reasons with ads that make them think, smile, laugh out loud, question, donate…or simply re-wind and re-watch.

As the world looks forward to life behind a face mask, we look back at some of the good stuff to come out of lockdown – proof that it takes more than COVID to crush creativity.

Women’s Aid – The Lockdown

While the nation followed the government’s advice to stay safe at home, Women’s Aid revealed ‘The Lockdown’. This chilling campaign pointed out that victims of domestic abuse were not ‘safe’ at all following these instructions – their abusers always have and always will ‘work from home’.

Lego – Be a hero

So charmingly on brand and on brief. By using a toy to communicate the power of ‘no play’ as the core message, this is a perfect example of how to turn exceptional circumstances into an exceptional ad.

L’Oréal – Home hair colour tutorials

Renowned for celebrity endorsements in glamourous settings with stylists, make-up artists and wind machines, L’Oréal really took a step backwards to go forwards with this one.

Eva Longoria and Holly Willoughby in their own homes doing their own roots is the most convincing ad they’ve ever produced. So simple. So sold out.

SEAT – Moving is what we do

SEAT has seamlessly developed it’s long established ‘Start moving’ brand message to ‘We’ll get you moving again’ when the time is right. The advert is a beautiful production combining nostalgia, fun, humour and relatable people and places. 

KFC is back

This tongue in cheek ad uses images from its #RateMyKFC social media campaign where customers attempted to recreate their own KFC during quarantine with the earworm soundtrack ‘All by myself’ by Celine Dion.

The ad ends with KFC reassuring consumers that they will “take it from here”, ‘cleverly positioning them as THE original and best when it comes to fried chicken.

So while lots of brands are clumsily trying to be relevant and acclimatise to these uncertain times with contrived and cliched ways of saying ‘we’re all in in together’ and shoe-horning ‘new normal’ into every campaign, others are unprecedently standing out.

Now onto the toughest brief yet: find a vaccine.

Lockdown life skills

So after approximately 12 weeks without the tedious 45-minute commute to travel a measly 6 miles to the office, I decided to reflect on what I have achieved with these invaluable bonus hours. What have I accomplished whilst not radio and lane hopping my way down the M60?

This is my moment to brag about my bread baking and the perfection of my painting skills and a firmer, flatter tummy courtesy of Tabata. But my work colleagues know me too well. Even on Zoom, my work family would spot the exaggeration, well actually the outright lies.

My commute-free reality is an extra 15 minutes in bed and extra cuddles with my kids. Maybe not shout-out-loud new life skills but a bonus all the same. And in this taxing time, you take what you can and count your simple blessings.

In my defence the last 12 weeks has seen me gradually morph into my mum. I am helping self-isolating neighbours (and know their life and love stories and even their names now) and I have become obsessed with filling my decking with blooming plants and Mediterranean pots. I am even attempting not to kill a tomato plant and two lettuces. In my head I’m trying to recreate a heavenly, cool Ibiza Beach Club scene with cream sofas and parasols where I will sip Mojitos, reading French novels while listening to vintage Moby.

In reality, the garden looks like a miniature unfinished Haven holiday park adorned with plastic toys, a creaking swing, a fluorescent trampoline, a deflated paddling pool, naked Barbies and Ikea pink plastic tables. With then Frozen soundtrack blaring out to complete the Havenly, very unheavenly experience.

But at least my unschooled children are happy. And that’s my main achievement for the COVID ridden Spring-Summer of 2020. That and hopefully a home-grown salad.

So, what has the rest of the UK been up to with their commute-less, holiday-less and furloughed free time?

Has it left you feeling restless, bored, anxious, chilled out – or motivated to learn a new language, improve your culinary skills, take up taekwondo or mediate your way out of the madness?

With so many online tutorials, apps and resources swamping social media and bragging WhatsApp groups, mastering the art of the down dog or honing haberdashery skills through to coding courses and building a drystone wall should be a walk in the park. And free.

Sales of breadmakers, portable pizza ovens, home brew kits, yoga wear and sewing machines are soaring. In theory, we should come out of COVID as a highly skilled, fit, calm – if not a little inebriated nation of individuals. 

So, how have the rest of the Cameron Wells team livened up their lockdown?

Anthony reckons he is now fit for DIY SOS. After a crash course from the professionals, he can now lay an Indian Sandstone patio. And safely build a new slide for his son.  Maybe stick to PR for a bit longer Ant…

Amid the mayhem of working, planning a house move, spending time with his daughters, Mano has still found time to write and record new music. Now that’s what I call male multi-tasking.

Cara, our wannabe Jane Fonda is now a Pilates convert and can also do the crow pose in Yoga which had always evaded her. When we eventually make it back to the office, we are fully expecting her to be wearing lycra and typing with her toes with her leg slung over one shoulder. Now that would be a lockdown life skill worth tweeting about.  

Meanwhile, Debbie has been getting crafty and has made a pair of earrings and a cushion for a friend’s birthday. Watch out Notonthehighstreet. She has also been meditating to manage the madness of running a business remotely whilst juggling her cats, pro bono work and shopping for an elderly neighbour who eats more meat than a wild bear. Not the greatest COVID pastime for our vegetarian, animal fanatic MD. But as usual she puts her best pleather foot forward and gets on with it.

What Debbie and Cara don’t shout about is the selfless time and energy they give to helping elderly people living alone. They both volunteer for Independent Age and while they can no longer do home visits, they are still calling their ladies every week to check on their health and wellbeing and putting a smile on their faces with their craft, cat and yoga anecdotes. It’s good to talk. That old BT strapline still rings true – now more than ever.

Similarly, Jen has devoted much of her free time to helping Manchester & Cheshire Dogs’ Home with their website content and enewsletter to ensure that theses once unwanted dogs find their new forever homes.

So we’ve all been doing our bit and doing our best to perfect our lockdown life skills which may not change the world – but have changed ours.

I am a firm believer that good things happen to good people and these bunch are truly good. Proof that you don’t have to be ruthless in – or out of business. Brands that have been fair to their customers and used their clout and free time to do good during the crisis should hopefully flourish – and the bad will be flushed out.

Let’s live in hope that post COVID Britain will be smarter, healthier, kinder and more resilient. And I might have a self-sufficient vegetable patch.

Ten sectors that will thrive post-COVID – from the obvious to the unexpected

Coronavirus has turned our world upside down.

The UK and global economy has experienced a seismic shock in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – and much has been spoken about the losses, both financial and social.

But while doom and gloom has understandably overshadowed any good news in recent times, commercial life has not hit the buffers.

Many companies have adapted like chameleons to the new business environment, restructuring and reorganising to cater for new needs. Furthermore, as we look forward, new opportunities and creative solutions will emerge.

Although we may not have a crystal ball, we have identified ten sectors that are already showing signs of recovery, growth, or that have good reasons to feel upbeat about their post-Covid futures.

1. DIY beauty

For many of us, lockdown brought with it the jettisoning of our daily grooming and beauty standards. Some found this liberating, others discombobulating.

For those of us that fell into the latter category, a desperation to maintain beauty routines translated into a surge in DIY beauty treatments.

According to data from IMRG, sales of beauty products during the week commencing 15 March rose by 32 per cent year-on-year. McKinsey, meanwhile, reports that online sales of prestige-brand nail polish in the UK have seen double-digit growth every week since lockdown began in March. In the US, Nielsen reported year-on-year rises in the sales of hair dye and hair clippers by 23 and 166 per cent, respectively, in the first week of April.

Returning to the salon will be a priority for many – when they are able to do so. But with money tight, and social distancing concerns over professional treatments, regular salon visits for others, for the foreseeable future at least, may become a thing of the past.

This may mean a flourishing post-Covid market for DIY beauty – from digital makeup classes to online cosmetic products – as we reassess what treatments we can do ourselves at home, for a fraction of the cost.

2. Home fitness

No gym? No problem. While gym memberships were put on hold during lockdown, the world of home exercise has boomed.

In fact demand for home fitness equipment has soared by 170 per cent globally, according to Research and Markets.

All the while we have seen a surge in people following workout routines taught by fitness coaches online, from the nation’s PE teacher Joe Wicks to Hollywood super-trainer Tracy Anderson.

Will we return to sweating en masse again when life returns to a semblance of normality?

Not all of us according to David Minton, director of market intelligence firm Leisure Database Company. He predicts that one in five of us may forgo our gym membership for good in the new post-Covid world.

Where one door closes…

3. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity has become big business, and as we continue our ‘industry 4.0’ journey, its strategic importance is sure to only increase.

The trend towards an increasing dependence on digital tools and new working models will only accelerate post-Covid, with more companies moving services online and more employees working from home, using personal mobile devices to connect to home networks.

Consequently, despite the tightening of purse strings, it’s an investment that cannot be easily dispensed with.

Indeed, research by investment publication LearnBonds has revealed that 68 per cent of major organisations plan to increase their cybersecurity spending in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The growth of cyber insurance might also be expected to continue, as companies and individuals alike exploit all the possible avenues to mitigate loss.

4. Virtual meetings

Virtual interaction has become a mainstay of our daily lives in recent weeks, and so it should come as no surprise that the video conferencing sector has seen phenomenal growth.

At the end of April Microsoft Teams had 75 million daily active users, up 70 per cent from just six weeks earlier. It is the company’s fastest-growing business app ever.

Zoom, meanwhile, reported 169 per cent year-on-year growth in the first quarter of 2020 and expects full-year sales to increase by $623m in 2020.

As we emerge from the crisis, many of behavioural changes are likely to endure – we’re unlikely to be attending real world events or having regular face-to-face business meetings, for example, any time soon. What’s more, we have become a lot more familiar and comfortable with using these video conferencing platforms.

Tech providers are recognising the opportunities that lie ahead and are investing in their platforms apace in a bid to attract new customers, and to stay one step ahead of the competition. Check out our recent guide on how to engage customers in this new virtual world.

5. E-commerce and logistics

Thousands of businesses have shifted their focus to online sales during Covid-19, and the impact on the e-commerce sector is set to be huge.

According to analysts at Edge Retail Insights, the pandemic is expected to add £5.3bn to UK online sales this year – and significantly, industry experts are not expecting a retraction to pre-Covid levels.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has almost certainly had a lasting impact on the retail sector, reshaping consumer shopping habits, and the priorities for retailers and brands,” said Xian Wang, Senior Director of Product and Content at Edge by Ascential. 

The warehousing and logistics market, which was buoyant prior to the pandemic, will also become stronger as our reliance upon this core infrastructure intensifies.

6. E-learning

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the e-learning sector was fast growing. Lockdown accelerated this growth overnight, with demand for e-learning platforms reaching unprecedented levels.

According to the research firm Global Market Insights, the size of the market it is now set to exceed $375 billion by 2026.

And it hasn’t just been school pupils and university students turning to online resources. People in all walks of life, across all age groups, have been taking courses on everything from floristry to fishing.

The demand for smart education and learning solutions is expected to continue as digital technologies proliferate, techniques such as gamification and adaptive learning advance, and the benefits of easy and cost-effective access to educational content are increasingly recognised.

7. Healthcare

Over recent weeks, companies around the world have been racing to develop treatments for Covid-19 – and governments have been committed to supporting them.

As we emerge from the crisis, the widespread desire to spend more on health will remain and demand for healthcare products and services can only intensify.

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have been leading the charge of late – and infectious disease prevention and treatment research is sure to continue with a vengeance – but opportunities for innovation and growth exist across a wide range of disciplines.

At Willis Towers Watson’s pre-Covid Health & Benefits Disruption Event, AXA Marketing and Innovation Director Gordon Henderson told delegates that healthcare “has changed more rapidly in the last two decades, than at any time in the last 2,000 years”.

New technologies, for example, are transforming how we think about healthcare. Amid Covid-19 fears, many patients have been forced to turn to virtual consultations, and this may help to trigger a boom in telemedicine platforms over the next few years. Other forms of digital and remote healthcare services, for both physical and mental health, may see a similar uplift.

The LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index found that professionals in healthcare are more confident about the prospects of their industry two years from now than the UK average.

8. Gaming

Video games have become a mainstay of the home entertainment industry. The sector continues to enjoy high-volume sales, and rather than seeing revenues wane in the wake of the pandemic, it has instead received a lockdown boost.

The immersive nature of gaming has offered welcome escapism. And while there have been understandable concerns that this binge may lead to an increase in gaming addiction, it is sure to have also opened the door to an even larger market of users.

Microsoft and Sony will officially launch their new games consoles later this year, which will trigger the next generation of game creations.

The industry must of course continue its innovation trajectory if it’s to retain its place at the heart of our entertainment media, but while creativity abounds, the sky’s the limit.

9. Cleaning and hygiene

As coronavirus spread, demand for cleaning products and services unsurprisingly surged.

Good hygiene practices have become so engrained in our day-to-day lives that returning to a state where we wash our hands, or disinfect work surfaces, less seems improbable

The future for companies that sell and distribute cleaning and hygiene products, or offer cleaning services, consequently seems a safe one.

Both the British Cleaning Council (BCC) and the Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA), however, have issued warnings about profiteering.

“The public needs to beware of some organisations outside the established cleaning and hygiene sector playing on people’s fears about Coronavirus to take advantage of the unprecedented demand for cleaning and hygiene products and services,” said BCC chair Paul Thrupp.

“We are aware of many instances where the products and services they offer have been exceptionally overpriced, with no kind of guarantee that they will do the job.”

10. Augmented reality

Post-Covid, augmented reality (AR) – which provides digital enhancements to the real world – may have an important role to play in retail, manufacturing and healthcare.

Augmented reality in retail can render items in 3D to give buyers a more experiential experience of products in their home, online environment. In the post-Covid retail world, this may be embraced with vigour.

Highlighting the benefits this can deliver, earlier this year, Burberry launched a new augmented reality (AR) shopping tool, linked to Google search technology. When searching for Burberry items using Google Search on their phone, consumers can see an AR version of the product at scale against other real-life objects. 

In manufacturing, AR can be deployed as part of the design, prototyping, inspection and maintenance processes, while in healthcare AR can help surgeons visualise areas on which they intend to operate.

According to an industry report by market research company Technavio, the global augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) market is expected to grow by $125 billion between now and 2024.