I make myself some coffee, slice up a piece of fruit, and head out to the balcony. This is my new favorite writing spot and the closest approximation to “going to the park” I’ve allowed myself in the last 61 days.
These last few months have changed our lives in profound ways but today I won’t talk about most of them. Instead, I want to focus on content marketing.
I’ll share with you:
- some insights into the ways our audiences’ behaviors change because of the pandemic;
- what this means for content marketers and brands and what are the risks if we miss the mark;
- some of the trends that you need to take into account now – and the ones that will stay with us in the future;
- examples of good content marketing – mostly done in simple and easily replicable ways.
Let’s get down to business!
A brave new world (of breadmaking and Zoom calls)
We live in unprecedented times.
Right, you’ve heard this about a dozen times or more by now. But what are these unprecedented times really about? (Also, for the love of cat, please, stop using the same cliché)
Well if we want to be very literal about it, now is the right time to start your sourdough-themed Zoom virtual background company – as we see in the search trends from Exploding Topics:
Jokes aside, there really are a ton of hip business ideas that are booming. You’ll find designer masks, robotic lawnmowers, virtual tour services, and plant delivery are on an upward spiral. I didn’t even know the last one was a thing!
Obviously, opening up a designer mask division in your company might not be the soundest of ideas. But we need to pay attention to emerging interest trends in order to stay relevant and produce engaging content.
Changing shopping patterns
Whatever it is people want to buy, they are more than ever ready to do it online. The insights from 30 000 online businesses by Klaviyo shows a steep upward curve that is getting even steeper the longer the pandemic goes on. The biggest growth is registered by what they call “new essentials” – everything that helps us stay at home for weeks with our sanity still there.
Mind you, this doesn’t mean the overall demand for these products is necessarily growing. It shows that online sales are growing and possibly taking a big slice of the pie from traditional retailers.
It’s a good indicator that consumers who’ve been skeptical about buying online are finally dipping their toes in the water. And, as most of us know, once you find the convenience of online shopping, it’s hard to go back.
Changing media habits
According to data from Global Web Index, the outbreak is substantially changing media habits across the board.
The biggest winner is video. 48-51% of people are now consuming more online video on YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms. 50-56% are using streaming services more often. On social media, 48% say they are reading more news stories, 39% listen to more music, 28% are watching more live videos.
Let’s look at the activities people are currently engaging with online. A few interesting opportunities for content marketers arise: funny videos, mobile games, memes, podcasts, and blogs are all content types we can experiment with. When it comes to articles, the categories with increasing interest include business and finance news, cooking recipes and healthy eating, sports, and celebrity news.
Lastly, people are really looking for some good news. Positive stories are the second most sought after information category (after recovery rates), with 45% saying they want more. 32% are tired of coronavirus coverage and want to see more… well, anything else, really.
The Bad: Content that misses the mark
I look back at the first two weeks after the global pandemic announcement and it’s all kind of a blur. Like most other marketers, I was working overtime to reshape my clients’ content strategies and produce content that’s relevant. I’m sure you had it no easier.
But “relevance” can be a very broad concept and it turns out that audiences will not forgive brands that don’t get it right. If you’re just phoning it in, people will notice:
The most visible offenders were brands that put in superficial effort. McDonald’s made a symbolic separation of their golden arches and swiftly experienced backlash. I don’t know about you, but “having content criticized by a former Presidential candidate” isn’t among my career goals:
While this and many other examples filed under #fail might easily be dismissed as unfortunate mishaps, the long-term impact can be really tough. Edelman’s Trust Barometer Special Report suggests consumers are ready to shun a brand over the long-term if they don’t see a genuine response to the current situation:
- 65% say how well a brand responds to this crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood to buy that brand in the future.
- What’s more, 33% have convinced other people to stop using a brand that they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.
- On the upside, 37% say they’ve recently started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they have responded to the virus outbreak.
According to the same report, consumers expect brands to acknowledge the situation and update their messages accordingly. If completely overhauling the messaging isn’t an option, at least show you are not living in a bubble.
Another trend is that consumers expect us to play a role that’s beneficial to society. This can easily be done with relevant content if not with new product offerings. So make sure you create content that shows you’re stepping up to the challenge:
- show how you’re protecting employees;
- create special offerings like free or lower-priced offers, at least to health workers, high-risk individuals;
- be a reliable news source and spread helpful information;
- educate audiences on how to stay healthy and happy;
- create a community and help people stay emotionally close.
You might’ve noticed, but “update your logo” is not on the list. To be fair, McDonald’s isn’t the only brand that did it. But they suffered through a lot of negative reactions because their business strategy doesn’t align with their messaging.
So let’s look at the brands that are getting it right.
The Good: Content that gets it right
I’m personally delighted by some of the content examples I’m seeing online. It’s a testament to marketer ingenuity and learning to do more with less (time, at least).
You need a strategy first
I’ll share some of my favorite examples in a sec, but I’m a big believer in strategy development. So before you try to replicate some of the ideas, make sure you’re paying attention to your audience. This presentation by We Are Social will help you understand the bigger picture.
Check the whole thing out, but pay special attention to the following parts:
- Tune in to what your audience is saying, review your tone of voice, be helpful, and adapt fast – follow all 11 steps on slides 15 and 16.
- Make sure you understand your community’s needs and only act if you have something valuable to contribute – as shown on slide 21.
If you’re still not entirely sure about the content you’re planning out, this checklist from Ogilvy can help out:
Here are some of the good examples – the ones that are both great, but also replicable by others (you, for example).
Be a teacher
Nike has always been a great source of content marketing examples. Currently, the brand is employing star athletes to produce at home video workouts. They are combining a few of the trends we mentioned – video as a format, the topic of healthy lifestyles combined with celebrity presence. They are also launching the new videos in the series as live premieres to get a boost in viewership.
Even if you’re a small local fitness club, you can still be a teacher for your audience, just like Nike. The quality of the video doesn’t need to be stellar. Or you can teach people something else, depending on your brand.
Connect with the community
We’re longing to feel less alone and are happy to form new digital connections. Outdoor retailer REI challenged its community to run their “tiniest mile” – running for a full mile in a limited space, like your living room or balcony.
It’s a good example of the trends around spending more time on hobbies and socializing more. And it brings positive emotions by connecting audiences together through the shared limitations.
The example you see is actually a video produced by one of the largest stuntman academies in the world. They challenged their students to record a mini-clip of receiving a punch and sending one back straight to the camera. And then the team edited all the clips together.
If you want a more mainstream example, you should look no further than any one of the cultural organizations sharing recordings online for free. The National Theatre of London is an especially notable example – at least to me, as a theater buff.
This type of activities takes advantage of our current tendency to consume more video content. It also satisfies the need for escapism in the face of the torrent of COVID-19 news.
Messages of hope and connection are still not without merit if done right. To pull off something like that, though, you need a loyal core following and you need to put your money where your social media account is.
The reason this worked for Nike, but not for McDonald’s is a good reminder that size and advertising budget are not key success factors. Opt for something that feels genuine or don’t go there at all.
If you don’t know what exactly to say and what content will help your audience, here’s a novel idea: ask them. This is what designer furniture brand Made did. Showing you care doesn’t need to be complicated or very creative – it can be a newsletter that for once doesn’ sell but asks “How can we help?” And they seem to be producing some content related to questions clients might have.
Make no mistake, I know a lot of businesses are struggling to survive now and a CSR campaign might not be at the top of your priority list. But if you can help your local community, the investment will have a long term impact.
The example above from the running shoe brand Brooks is one of my favorites. It shows that giving can be directly related to your brand. The original post has a ton of comments by happy healthcare workers who have been using Brooks sneakers for a long time. Some of these testimonials are pure gold.
Share useful information
You don’t need to tie the content straight back to your product. You can align it with your audience’s interests and still win. Tattly, a temporary tattoo e-shop, knows their customers are crafty, art-focused, and always looking for inspiration. So the brand shared some useful ideas on keeping busy during the pandemic.
The example is related to the peaking interest in testing out new hobbies and creative outlets. It also shows how brands help people cope with pandemic-related challenges – something mentioned in the Edelman report.
Zappos is taking this same trend to the brink with their new Customer Service of Anything – a portal that, simply put, helps people find answers. And the questions asked can be anything, from new app recommendations to advice on finding pulse oximeters for a hospital.
Be part of their life – even from a distance
Local businesses are having it especially hard as they are used to connecting with customers on the spot. For them, it is paramount to connect with audiences in new ways.
Two examples that caught my eye work with the increasing interest toward recipes and home cooking. They both work with the ability of food to make communities stronger. IKEA launched their meatball recipe for people to prepare at home. And the DoubleTree hotel chain released the carefully kept recipe for their signature chocolate chip cookies.
Creating these moments of connection is challenging but it’s especially important when you have limited options for being with your brand tribe.
Share some good news
Most of the examples we already mentioned stay positive and that’s no wonder. People are getting more and more exhausted and optimistic information is extremely rare.
This is why my favorite example of corona-content is not even related to content marketing. It is the YouTube weekly show Some Good News by John Krasinski. The first episode aired on March 30 and it now has reached 17 million views.
Although not a content marketing example, we can learn a lot from Krasinski’s project – not just about the power of positive stories. With its Zoom-centric production and the homemade feel to it, it’s a powerful reminder that content quality trumps all else. So you don’t need to worry about starting small and scrappy. Go ahead and ship some content!
The trends that will stay
This last part might be a bit anticlimactic. But I feel like all of these content trends have staying power. First of all, I doubt anyone still feels like “getting back to normal” is even an option. This pandemic will have a profound impact on our interests and habits. The new normal will be different.
And second, all the examples I mentioned cover a few key characteristics of good content. They are:
- well thought out and in line with the audience’s needs;
- satisfying a need – be it functional, emotional, or the need to belong;
- bringing intrinsic value to the audience;
- building trust and long-term engagement.
So I hope that all of the context and examples here are something you will get back to and work with even after the main pandemic wave is over. May it be quite soon!