During this crisis, marketers may shift messaging, spend or delay initiatives, but it doesn’t mean to stop communicating. Content marketing can be a lever that’s easily flexed, less promotional, and deployed right, could create some discernible value in the short term for the customer, and in the long-term for the relationship.
Jay Mandel runs The Collective NYC, a team of marketing consultants organized around the customer experience. Mandel emphasizes the need for companies to start with a clear understanding of their mission and values so that their actions are not forgettable or un-ownable.
The three major types of content
Applying this to content marketing, you would then consider each audience and the conversation about where you might help. What is each of their needs and what might you offer as a brand? Recognizing this might be a new and delicate space for marketers, there’s a slew of guidance coming out every day, such as this one-sheeter from Pinterest. While there are many channels one might consider, there tend to be three major types of content that can guide some quick decisions:
The most important content type, the first wave from brands has been about notices on closures, reassurance on cleaning practices, and about their employees. The second wave of information from companies has tended to be around service substitutions, expansions or even workarounds. More recently, we’ve seen brands provide updates and showcase efforts in an attempt to gain some momentum (and perhaps pre-emptively) burnish its reputation. One things noticed by many of my colleagues and peers in marketing and communications is the snowball of every business sending an update, probably because they saw others doing it. The consumer probably starts to build a blindness to the irrelevant ones.
One route would be to sustain this flow of information and formalize it into, say a bi-weekly cadence. Many companies are taking care of employees, donating to charities, or giving products for free or at a discount. Unfortunately, while kind gestures are helpful to the community, they are easily forgettable and difficult to associate with a particular brand. How can you start to differentiate and fight the forgettable-ness Mandel warns us about? You can start with an emphasis on what the customer needs in this scary time rather than sending another “we care about you” note.
The other route would be shift to or mix in a second category of content.
Dozens of schools and universities are offering free online classes. Comcast is providing unlimited data and two months free access to low-income families. King Arthur flour is promoting its library of recipes, especially comfort food.
Utility is the second content type, best driven by audience needs and filled with tools or apps and supported by traditional content. It can take longer to build a tool than write an article but we see plenty of existing code that can be repurposed or quickly put into beta for use. A software developer in London launched an online toilet paper usage calculator in hours. Behr Paint offered a trove of beautiful Zoom backgrounds. Note that utility can be an opportunity to not go it alone. World Health Organization (WHO), for example, is partnering with WhatsApp for an alert service.
Every day on Twitter, someone begs their following to see dog photos. There is also a clip of a bat peeing with 11,000 likes. It’s tricky for brands to play in the entertainment space for content, especially if you're not a brand such as Universal, which shifted movies from theatres to streaming. I suspect however there’s a way to do this in context and if not for laughter, then through warmth, humanity and empathy. Is there a game to provide for skill-building, for kids, for interaction between family members separated. And how about special access: Dior live-streamed the Paris catwalk show for its 2020 women’s collection.
Your measurement of what matters may need to change with the context. Content success may shift from meaningless metrics like views and shares to engagement, quality of feedback and any impact where you’ve actually helped or been of value.
Of course, there will be risks to over-communicating and be wary of following the crowd. Social Media Today recently warned of virtue signaling — advertising company values but not coming through on them with actual deeds.
It’s also never too early to plan for how you will use content coming out of crisis. As Mandel notes, “How can you be relevant when the economy comes back?” But like many marketers trying to understand today, most of us are not there yet.