Rethinking Your Content Strategy in the Time of Coronavirus

How to navigate the new normal

Simply put, the absolute best thing brands did at the onset of this pandemic was shut up—resetting and reassessing their content and marketing strategy.

Some were able to pull off winning statements—Nike stood out for its understatement, Bauer and Christian Siriano for principled production to support healthcare workers. But many that stepped out to say something—either through misplaced rapid response emails or unnecessary PR stunts—earned backlash for not correctly reading the room.

So what is a brand marketer to do in this "new normal," especially with no foreseeable end to the crisis?

Not considering the hopefully obvious measures (social distance, wash your hands to the Disturbia chorus, please stop flying, stay on mute unless speaking), the first step for all of us content marketers is getting back to work. People are not only open to hearing from brands, they're kind of demanding it—75 percent of consumers believe brands have a responsibility to help out during the pandemic.

But keep in mind, there is most definitely a right way to go about this. Here are a few tips on what to do as you step out into post-Hanks brand storytelling.

Focus on your people.

Nobody's brand book has a chapter on how to alter your logo in times of global pandemic. So, you know, quit doing that.

Your brand is made up of actual, real human beings who are as affected by the crisis as anyone. If your brand doesn't already put its people front and center, now's the time to drop the facelessness and try a little humanity. Mark Cuban said it best in a recent interview with JUST Capital:

"This is a pandemic, and every single person in this country, and in the world, effectively, is impacted by it. Nobody's immune to it … And because of that, you can change your priorities … If you get branded as a company that acted in bad faith [or] laid off all your employees … you're going to get crushed and your brand is going to go straight into the toilet."

Build from your brand strategy, yes, but the world wants to know your focus is on your employees and the people you service. If your brand is working overtime like grocery stores or other essential businesses, consider featuring the people still offering a smile to your consumers—highlighting them, their communities and the safety practices you're implementing to protect them—humanizing your response as we're all more isolated than we've ever been.

No gimmicks.

That manifesto film isn't the move right now. People don't want lofty platitudes or a false sense of hope when they're worried about making rent or how to protect their parents.

Those emotional gimmicks we love to use—and are both affective and effective when the world's not on fire—just don't hit the same note right now. It's no doubt that your content strategy offered your audience something of value before, but speak to them plainly now about how your brand can and will help them in the midst of this crisis. For the majority of brands, that doesn't mean offering advice on how to stem viral contagion—it's how you help keep their family safe in a clean home, entertained when hunkered down on the couch, or how you make it as easy as possible to keep food on the table without stepping outside.

Find the core functional value you offer and tell that story in an empathetic, human way—without gimmicks or clever PR tricks.

A great example, leave the "longing for the open road" brief for another day and do as Skoda Auto did—showing where to disinfect inside the car for COVID-19.

Tell them something good.

Take your cues from Jim.

John Krasinski's good-natured web show Some Good News raked up 8.7 million views in its first 24 hours. The first 15-minute segment featured an appearance from his former Office co-star Steve Carell and highlighted feel-good news stories that made us all believe everything might just turn out alright. The latest episode, posted Sunday night, has almost a million views in less than 12 hours. People are craving uplifting messages.

Not everyone can change their supply chain or donate thousands to frontline organizations, but it's a great way of creating that good news people are looking for.

Did you have an experiential event that was canceled? Maybe donate the unused food to a food bank. Are you a beer or liquor brand with your celebrity campaign on hold? Find a way to help your most reliable and more vulnerable ambassadors—the laid-off bartenders that love you. Maybe you're a big company with a creative bent? Do like Vans' Foot the Bill and create limited-edition products to support similarly creative small businesses.

When the news is all bad—and, mind you, this was true before any outbreak—creating some non-ornamental, tangible, bonafide positive impact on your audience now will be worth its weight in "brand love" gold later.

So, with no end in sight to the crisis, read the room, brands. Your consumers will remember how your brand showed up when the world needed actual help and not just another self-serving campaign.

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Shawn Shahani
Shawn Shahani is director of insights at Wild Card Creative Group.

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