There is no playbook for times like these, but what I’ve found is that crisis can provide clarity.-Joshua Spanier, Global Marketing VP for Media, Google
This piece is hard to start. As people first, then as professionals, marketers, moving through this global pandemic sensitively is crucially important. The fact is, everyone’s jobs are changing as a result—a world event like this does not fall neatly along socio-economic or industry lines: local businesses are shuttering doors, big-time startups are losing funding and pivoting, workers like Verblio writers are quarantined at home with stir-crazy kids and pets, grocery store staff members are powering through stocking nightmares and being exposed to the millions of shoppers, necessary medical personnel work countless, thankless hours to heal those affected by the virus—and those are folks who are afforded the fortunate outcome to keep their job in this.
We take solace in the fact that we are all experiencing the same crisis, worldwide, and with one common enemy—the spread of COVID-19.
For business, times are simply different right now. Priorities are different right now. We’ve been doing some hard assessment internally at Verblio at our own content across marketing channels, and in the spirit of content marketing that is the lifeblood of our organization, we thought it best to share, since there is no playbook on how to weather something like this.
We offer six best practices we’ve implemented when we approach content in the instance they could help anyone steer their marketing through these unpredictable waters.
1. Editing for tone is now more important than ever.
Any content manager can tell you the importance of editing, of getting your message across as concisely as possible.
The editing I speak of here is thinking beyond your deliverables that you have been working on for days, weeks, and even months—they should all be assessed with a new lens now. Run it by someone—be it an ad, blog post, email blast—like an internal team member who hasn’t worked on it and has no skin in the game to get a deliverable out the door. If it feels slightly grimacey or, worse, cringey, do not ship it. Tweak it if you can, or save it to ship out later.
As an example, this week, we pulled a video out of production we’d worked on for months that was a funny take on solving your freelancer management challenges, in the form of a pseudo-pharmaceutical commercial. It was a lot funnier two weeks ago. Of course, it didn’t even warrant discussion—it has no place in today’s climate.
Trust your gut, don’t overthink it.
+ a bonus tip for marketing automation
Review and audit your email marketing automation, social ads, and top-trafficked content pieces in your blog or on your site—something that was funny or lighthearted when it was written may not be now. Oftentimes, these valuable marketing assets don’t get the ongoing auditing attention they deserve, so now is opportune to do your due diligence.
2. Give first, like always. Then, keep giving.
Content marketing, a key foundation for digital marketing these days and changing audiences, has always had the core tenet of giving first. Bring that ebook from behind a gated form for folks to read, make that course free, build your thought leadership through a wealth of resources like blog posts, presentations, LinkedIn nuggets of wisdom, podcast interviews, etc.
Now is about this tenet of giving, and then keep giving what you can. Generosity is not a differentiator now. It’s table-stakes.
Right now, all sorts of courses, teachers, and educational websites are giving away their expertise for free for set periods of time. Here’s a list of some favorites to check out or brush up (mostly professional, but a few that might be useful on the personal side):
- 36 Marketing ‘Playbooks’ from Digital Marketer (free until March 31)
- Moz Academy (promo code: wegotthis; free until May 31)
- Smart Agency Masterclass: Podcast for Digital Marketing Agencies from Jason Swenk, agency coach
- All Brit + Co Online Classes Are Free Through 3/31
What can you do, if you don’t have online courses or aren’t able to give away services for free or at a discount? You can put the pen to paper to share what you know about. Content is education.
3. Adjust your focus for long-term impact.
It’s possible we’re approaching a global recession. Future-proofing and planning for the future are smart now. How to future-proof? Iterate on what’s working. Keep it simple. Keep your sanity. (You’ll need that in the recession.)
If you’re always jumping on the ‘new shiny thing’, you may lose focus on those tried-and-true strategies. Now is not the time to get on TikTok as a brand, and probably not the time to start that podcast.
No one is selling now. No one is going to conferences now. It’s time to invest in the future. Build your content for when you future clients are ready to find you. Add so much value that you’re helping them when they’re looking.
It’s time to hunker down and crank out some content to bring value to your audience. Content is recession-proof, and DIY-related keywords are trending. So, approach your content from that perspective—empowering your audience in times like these, easing burdens, or just planning ahead.
4. You don’t have to write about COVID-19.
You don’t even have to publish anything about COVID-19, if it doesn’t directly apply to your business. Do not put out something if its relevance to your audience is reaching, at best.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be productive with respect to content if you’re not writing pieces anew and publishing them.
Instead, be a consumer of content. Collect sources for your next piece. Take advantage of some of the educational resources in point #2, above. Use this time to be a student of your industry.
Listen and curate curiosity in this time of forced stepping-back.
5. Now is not the time for personas. Now is the time for humans.
You’re speaking to humans. Humans who are practicing social distancing, humans who still have to go to work to support their families, humans who are struggling to make ends meet in this time of great need or have lost jobs or family members, humans falling ill with COVID-19 or thinking about their elderly neighbor who they want to protect from sickness.
I know personas are a valuable tool to think about your segments of customers for your business’s marketing, but at this point, thinking about them as humans first has to be your guiding light. How would you appreciate being spoken to in these trying times?
Sometimes lighthearted seems like the right approach. We as a brand are lighthearted, but even our copywriter who cranks out puns like it’s her native tongue is having trouble with that now. These are the times we live in. In fact, a lot of people deal with tough times through humor. But not everyone.
Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Advisor at Content Marketing Institute, said it particularly well:
…Relying on a brand’s mono-tone can get them into trouble, especially when talking to new audiences or about topics that fall outside of their (and their audience’s) familiar pattern… When brand communicators struggle with what to say, it’s not that we’re always seeking the right words. It may be because we don’t have the right way to say it. If we work on developing multiple tones of voice, we’ll develop deeper trust with our audiences.
Do the work.
That, and practice kindness.
6. It’s not about you. Or your business.
It’s about this common enemy we are all banding against together—globally. While self-promotion can sometimes rub people the wrong way, in this environment, it surely will. And it will take much less to feel self-promotional too.
Businesses in every walk, every industry are nervous, and many have little option for how agile they can be, the changes they can affect, and how much control they have over messages their brand puts out. So, if you’re reading this, you already have a leg up. Find gratitude in that position.
Times like these speak volumes. Amplify what you want your legacy to be.
Stay safe out there.
If you know of a really talented writer out of work, send them our way to become a writer.