Stop selling, start serving: 5 reasons why connecting with content is what every brand needs right now
- Strategy is not a prison, it’s your flexible friend
By Kim Willis, Strategy Director
In times of crisis, owned and earned media is every brand’s safe space. Always-on content is how brands can maintain presence, respond to real-time customer needs, and test out new ways to address pain points, without risking huge production budgets or long paid media schedules.
But even for the most agile of brands, COVID demands a new content strategy. In times of crisis, customer mindsets can have a short shelf-life. How people feel will change day to day, not always predictably, which means objectives and target audiences will shift. Regularly.
Building a new content strategy therefore means relooking at the fundamentals through the COVID lens. Ask yourself: what’s our brand’s purpose and point of view at this time? What are the prevailing pain points in our customer base? And of those, which does our brand have permission to address? Answer those questions, and you’ll find that brand content can have a very different role to play than it did ‘BC’.
But one thing you can’t do is go dark. At a time when audiences are living through their laptops, the right content might be the single best way to show that your brand’s value proposition is still relevant in the new world.
- No insight ever said ‘be bland’
By Chris Rayment, Insights Director
Multiple insight specialists have identified that people need and want the help of brands during lockdown. Yet, even when given a formula for success, advertisers are getting their response to the coronavirus crisis all wrong.
A recent study by market research company System1 showed that despite the pandemic there is no reduction in advertising’s ability to connect, but that certain types of communication do better than others. ‘Hard sell’ is out, as are comms that prioritise things over people. However, by trusting their guts rather than the data and living in fear of saying ‘the wrong thing’, too many brands are producing bespoke ads for the time that all look and sound the same – right down to the soft piano music in the background. Mark Ritson, the Marketing Week columnist, lambasted all these as “generic, clichéd and watery.” And possibly memorable for all the wrong reasons.
In saying what they think they should be saying, and therefore what everyone else is saying, some marketers are ignoring what the data and research clearly shows people actually want and need from brands right now: ideas, support and help. Clearly, content marketing making full use of owned channels is a vital cornerstone of that approach.
What kind of ideas, support and help do people want? That’ll vary by brand, by sector, and by channel/platform. Contrasting the hefty downward budget revisions for market research seen in the latest IPA Bellwether report, I believe that the commissioning of ad-hoc research and data projects is incredibly important for advertisers at this time. Listen to and incorporate the findings, which will likely highlight different or adapted behaviours, needs and attitudes during lockdown, and it’s likely that you’ll be in a position to crack the full power of content marketing’s ‘value exchange’ between an advertiser and its audience (to the benefit of both parties). I guarantee that the resulting content marketing won’t be generic, clichéd or watery.
- Dig (into the archives) for victory
By Rebekah Billingsley, Global Innovation Director
As consumers demand that brands change their focus to become supportive and helpful, and eyeballs on traditional advertising places have almost disappeared overnight, marketing via content has never been more important. Brands who have failed to invest in quality long-tail content will have little to say to their customers right now. Quite literally.
Content production has ceased around the globe, making the creation of new quality assets incredibly difficult, and it’s definitely not the time to raid the stock picture libraries, which are full of images of an irrelevant pre-virus world.
Unfortunately, silence right now is not a winning default position.
But those brands who have a wealth of quality, valuable content sitting in their archives will find themselves prepared to take on whatever the new normal is throwing at them. At times like these, editorial teams can deliver their greatest value; spinning, curating and repurposing existing content to meet a very new world. I’ve been fantastically impressed watching our creative teams scour and spin our archive of Tesco recipe content into storecupboard survival guides, or regenerate BA travel guides into travel from home features.
Covid-19 has highlighted just how vital content and the skills needed to curate it have become to brands winning in a world where for the foreseeable future nothing is certain.
- In a visual age we need clear creative more than ever
By Stuart Purcell, Global Chief Creative Officer
If ever a time was right to plug in the value of great creative imagery, presentation of data and connect to your audience, it is during this pandemic. There have been some wonderful highlights of natural speed and scale, and the power of emotional momentum using media + content in its best way – Captain Tom’s 100 raising nearly £30m and Joe Wicks’ PE classes are two classic examples. This is in stark contrast to the daily presentations from the Government. Vital though they are, who decided having three people in suits, talking behind lecterns using static slides was the best method of communicating in a modern world? It’s as though they’ve never seen how Apple have launched a product, or even considered graphic animation to assist the complex data in the slides. The world has moved on. In a visually-led age with so much opportunity to engage and connect and at a time when people need clear information and reassurance the most, we’re stuck with static PowerPoint slides.
Thankfully some other juggernauts have addressed the need to change and are benefitting as a result. Take Tesco for instance, have been smart enough to switch to more interactive and genuine content that connects people, such as our live cooking Q&As on Instagram, landing their message with charm and personality. It’s a human thing, touching, warm and kind – at a time when humanity itself is in crisis.
- Watch your tone (and still be you)
By Derek Harbinson, Marketing Director
If I meet someone at a party (remember parties?) and the conversation is light and breezy I’ll probably crack a few bad jokes and laugh at theirs. If someone then joins in and tells us their cat’s just died that’s a different conversation – but we are all still the same people with our distinctive personalities and ways of speaking.
The global conversation is changing radically day by day, people's mindsets and needs are changing too and brands are quickly realising (some faster than others) that “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Witness the line of celebrities dishing out well-meaning but unwanted, uninformed opinions at the start of the pandemic, only to have to go into PR crisis mode when it turned out (surprise, surprise) they were wildly ‘tone deaf’ to the situation and were damaging their personal brands.
Many brands have an official tone of voice that too often ends up as one slide with a few meaningless words on it, like ‘human’, modern’ and ‘friendly’. Take the logo off and it could be anybody. A real, developed content tone of voice such as those that we create for our clients is the result of a painstaking, expert piece of work that gives a brand a distinctive and consistent personality in any environment, long or short form, visual or written, online and in real life. Only by having this consistent, underlying tone can you flex it to deal with rapidly changing situations such as the one we find ourselves in now and still remain true to your distinct brand personality.
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