Coronavirus will increase the need for digital content experiences ; but marketers should act responsibly and go long-term.

One year ago, it was early spring 2019, I was invited to prepare a speech for a client summit, in NYC. Specifically, the goal was to collect major content strategy trends and dynamics – no tactical stuff, no Tik Tok, no VR and 5G, no “spectacular Snapchat marketing strategies”.

That was an easy task, considering the time spent advising clients and listening to their stories of marketing and innovation. Yet, I decided to go with something not obvious and I selected “responsibility” (I also gave other – more practical – trends but that’s less relevant here). Actually, it was more a personal desire than a trend. At that time I was driven by the conversations about data, privacy and brand purpose. My point was: as consumers become increasingly aware of their data rights, as social media has given consumers unprecedented access to brands and their representatives, as brands are racing to find new socially-acceptable, ethically-sustainable brand purposes (many of them ultimately pushing it for pure financial benefit), we marketers should act more responsibly.

Back to today. You don’t need me to tell what has happened in the past few weeks. Still if someone would ask me about how content marketing will evolve from pandemic, I would not change my answer: responsibility. Responsibility and long term plans.

Digital content experiences will come out of the crisis stronger than ever

It’s no doubt that content marketing will come stronger out of this crisis. With events and roundtables being cancelled in all industries across the globe, an advertising recession following an incumbent economic recession (with AirBnB, Mark&Spencer and other big brands cutting ads investments), a significant reduction of podcast consumption, and no indication when all of them may be able to start up again, online content experiences are going to be vital to support brand awareness and lead generation. 

In response to coronavirus, and amid the fear of attending and sponsoring large events, many marketing teams are now forced to switch gears and think of alternative tactics, away from event marketing, to accelerate pipeline while keeping the health of others in mind. And they are turning to content marketing to stay engaged with their customers. 

Content marketing has evolved from being just blog posts and editorial strategies. It’s a holistic approach that provides a complete content experience and relies on a broad range of digital marketing tactics such as email, social media, SEO, interactive content and paid media to keep and enhance engagement with customers.

During the outbreak, maintaining brand credibility with public interest content and ads should be prioritised (source: WARC) over any sales promotions and product-driven communications. Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) in an advisory update, recommends the following media mix: minimise OOH (cinema, airport, railway), increase digital (official media, short video, social, news and info sites), maintain OTT and maximise use of online videos.

No surprise – content is the most important marketing asset during a crisis and in a struggling economy. As Dave Gerhardt put it:

“No one knows how long this will last – three, six, twelve months? It is realistic to think that most B2B companies are going to miss 2020 revenue goals by 50% or more. This is the time to scale up content. Content is the thing that gets people to know/like/trust your brand. And if you do content right over the next 3-6 months, you can build relationships with people who will be you future buyers in Q4 and beyond. Just because people might not be buying in your industry doesn’t mean they don’t want entertainment or education from your brand.”

Content is the most important marketing asset during a crisis and in a struggling economy.

Dave Gerhardt, Privy.com

Which brings us back to the concept of responsibility.

Be a responsible marketer: invest in actions and bring a human focus to customer concerns.

Based on the new Kantar’s “Covid-19 Barometer”, what consumers want brands to do during the crisis is to help them. The top three comms strategies among consumers include talking about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday (77%), keeping them informed about the brand’s reaction to the new situation (75%), offering a reassuring tone (70%).
At the same time, 75% of respondents agreed brand should not “exploit” the COVID-19 situation to promote the brand. Forty percent of the sample believes brands should avoid humour. It is a tricky line to walk, however.

On the other hand, marketing and advertising are not the front-and-center issue in the near term, as companies have to contend with business fundamentals such as safeguarding staff members and ensuring their supply chains are getting customers what they need when they need it most. That said, recognizing the core human concerns of employees and consumers is paramount right now – and it is here that marketers can play a central role.

Invest in actions, not content and ads about actions. There have been many past crises where marketers happily publicized their contributions. But the present moment is not a time to promote actions.

A big shout out to companies like LVMH, Brewdog and Ramazzotti which have already turned around their manufacturing lines to mass manufacture hand sanitisers for French, UK and Italian hospitals. Deliveroo, Lidl and Morrison have distributed free food to NHS professionals and to food banks. It’s the kind of thing that gets remembered many years later.

We – marketers – especially the ones not involved with above mentioned large corporations, are not supposed to go with such magnificent gestures. We are not epidemiologists, neither doctors. Marketing is the only discipline we can help with. Let’s help our community, if we can afford it. How we deal with the crisis now may shape consumer views beyond. Brands using their market position to be helpful during the coronavirus outbreak will leave an impression. Let’s provide education, webinars, pro-bono support. It’s not a lot and it won’t safe lives. But it might help small companies to face the disruption and to be better prepared for the moment when this situation will be over (because it will be over). 

And again, these are the kind of thing that gets remembered many years later. As Seth Godin puts it:

“In this moment when we’re so disconnected and afraid, the answer might not be a freebie. That might simply push us further apart. The answer might be showing up to do the difficult work of connection, of caring and of extending ourselves where it’s not expected.”

Which means that we should not follow the disgusting examples of individuals and brands who have professed (and (promoted) for many years the cult of customers and employees, and then suddenly show their real soul during unprecedented crisis like the one we’re living (see Notes: Mr. Branson & Virgin Atlantic (1), Amazon/Whole Foods (2), Waterstones (3), Ryanair (4), Wetherspoon (5) and Sports Direct (6) – among others, treating employees and customers like shit).

In a few words: be a responsible marketer.

Go long-term

It’s no longer business as usual.

A prolonged disruption and a risk of lower consumer spending will result in many advertisers delaying brand awareness projects, instead favouring a tactical retreat into performance marketing. This would be pertinent during the Easter period in the West, for example, with retailers and CPG brands in particular focusing on discounting and promotions in the hope to recover some sales.

Yet, don’t be tempted to focus all your (already reduced) budget into short-term performance marketing and sales promotions. While that might looks the natural choice, to sustain monthly and quarterly sales pipelines, that would be a mistake. 

Quoting Prof. Mark Ritson:

“No amount of hot deals and clever sales activation can stimulate a market that is currently terrified, locked inside their homes and unsure of their future.”

Confronted with dramatic cut in marketing budgets, the smarter strategy is to actually focus on longer-term brand-building; performance marketing is going to underperform in the current market conditions. Marketers need to be mindful of long-time horizons during crises and make decisions on this basis. They should also look for ways to add value to the consumers they service, the media owners they buy from and the societies in which they operate.

The smarter strategy is to actually focus on the longer-term brand-building mission.

Prof. Mark Ritson

A crisis such as this one will have many unfortunate consequences, but the changes in behaviours that will follow from it could create new opportunities for marketers to engage with all relevant stakeholders.

It might not look a natural choice but it will pay off. Be a responsible marketer and think long term.

Featured Image by DAQ

Some References:

Notes:

  1. Mr. Branson and Virgin Atlantic. Mr. Branson asking 8500 employees of Virgin Atlantic to take 8 weeks unpaid leave.
  2. Amazon/Whole Foods. Owned by Jeff Bezos, Whole Foods Wants Workers to Pay for Colleagues’ Sick Leave During Coronavirus Pandemic
  3. Waterstones. Employees requested to work after the UK lockdown, with no hand sanitiser and no protective gear.
  4. Ryanair. Increasing cost of rebooked flights.
  5. Wetherspoon. The billionaire CEO insisting he cannot afford to pay employees during the Covid-19 crisis until the company will be reimbursed for their wages by the UK government.
  6. Sports Direct. Requests employees to work after the UK lockdown; then hikes the price of some of its sports equipment online after the closure.

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