Just as the Great Depression inspired Hollywood’s Golden Age, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on how and where people consume online media. Who will be the stars and who will go the way of silent movies?
Humans love to be entertained, inspired, and educated (even in quarantine). What businesses are giving them to consume, and how they’re doing it, is undergoing a rapid transformation.
What is content marketing? (A brief refresher)
The classic definition of content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute is:
“A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
In other words, companies attract prospects and customers to their sites or social media pages and ultimately turn those eyeballs (and the people behind them) into sales. Successful content marketing companies have specific and data-driven strategies for delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. They nurture those relationships over time, feed prospects more relevant content, and ultimately convert them to buyers (or build loyalty with current customers/clients).
- A timeless marketing technique. It has its roots in the 1880s. Sponsored content and direct mail-driven lead-generation streams have been around for decades.
- Changed dramatically as a result of automaton. Technology became the jet fuel that enabled marketers to market with more precision, speed, personalization, and analytics.
- Continues to evolve, due to AI, machine learning, and sophisticated SEO techniques. Today’s content marketer can assess virtually immediately who is consuming what types and patterns of content (message, media, and even time of day, location, and device) perform best and fine-tune their approach at the drop of a hat (or an exclamation point).
How has the pandemic changed buyer behavior?
First, we have different distractions. Although many professionals and consumers are home-schooling, dealing with family and health issues, and job-hunting, media consumption has skyrocketed — a whopping 215 percent year-over-year increase in the U.S. Video content viewership is up 60 percent, according to the same Nielsen study.
The working-from-home economy has emerged, with 42 percent of workers now in their living rooms, dens, home offices, and other random safe places. In-office workers may be hesitant to look at the latest entertainment news for fear of being labeled a slacker, but this new freedom actually presents a huge opportunity for marketers — if they can produce content that people want to read.
That leads to the next COVID-19 impact — content overload. Getting readers and viewers to pay attention to YOUR company’s content is more challenging than ever. The average consumer or business professional doesn’t wake up thinking, “What blog do I want to read today?” Your content, to be useful, needs to appear in the right media, at the right time, in a way that will break through the clutter and draw the reader/viewer to your message — and then keep them there.
What types of content are people consuming?
- Content related to purchases. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on online consumer behavior. People are not only looking for news, they are streaming entertainment, spending more hours on social media, and searching for products like food delivery, household goods, apparel, and electronics.
- Content for business growth and cost savings. On the business side, people who are unemployed are searching online for jobs and career advice. Professionals are looking for a wide range of insights, products, and services to help them make more money, cut costs, solve problems, and perhaps upskill/reskill (to ensure they stay employed).
An entertaining window into the searcher’s soul is Google Trends. Search terms change constantly but seem to indicate that most people are looking for pop culture gossip and today’s news rather than deeper concepts. So, how do you know how to generate the types of content that your target prospects really want?
Use this time to understand your prospects (and competitors)
As a marketer, you need to jump on that consumer research and competitive framework that you were postponing. Getting into the hearts and minds of the people who will buy your product or service entails understanding their pain points. Whether you invest in simple online questionnaires or in-depth persona research, now is not the time to guess what your customers want. Ask them. Listen and learn.
Then, marry your brand (more on this below) with the needs of your viewers/readers to create content that answers their questions and solves their business problems — in a way that’s clear, compelling, and memorable.
Here are the 11 commandments of content marketing during a pandemic.
When Moses came down from the mountain, he may not have had an integrated content calendar, but he communicated a powerful and timeless message that still exists today. These 11 principles of content marketing have never been more relevant.
- Know your brand. Your content is ultimately a key part of your entire marketing platform. What do you want to be known for as a company? What’s your tone (formal, whimsical, entertaining)? How are you different from — and better than — everyone else in your product or service category?
- Create a calendar. Some of your content will be “evergreen” (or useful year-round) and some may specifically relate to a season. But every piece of content must have a purpose and somehow tie into your customer experience and sales process.
- Ensure you have the right tech stack. The automated system you use to share your content, sequence messages, and qualify leads for your sales team is every bit as important (if not more important) than the content itself. Dollars may be tight right now, but an investment in the right marketing operations systems and talent can pay off for years to come.
- Think broadly in terms of media. Content is not simply a blog. Here are 25 different types of content. How will you push your content out to prospects via social, e-mail marketing, and other channels?
- Your content should be dynamic, highly visual, and even interactive. Incorporate unique imagery, videos and graphics, polls, and other creative approaches to attract viewers. Headlines must be powerful and pithy. Even white papers and research reports need to be compelling to read. After all, professionals are consumers too.
- Link with a purpose. Don’t simply stuff your content with random keywords that add no value. Search algorithms are constantly changing and voice is becoming a very real and significant search trend. Yesterday’s logic on copy length may not be tomorrow’s. “It’s not about the length… it’s what you do with it that counts,” asserts one SEO authority. (See #4)
- Collaborate with other brands. Especially during this era when dollars are tight, having content-sharing arrangements with other companies can ensure that your content travels farther (and can even give you more credibility).
- Think YOU, not ME. No one wants to read a post or watch a video that’s all about you or your product. Consider your own content consumption habits, along with those of your customers. We all want to be drawn into the content we’re finding online. Your CEO may love a 15-minute video, but how many people are watching to the end? What are you communicating that makes people want to give up their e-mail address to download that research report?
- Track, measure, and fine-tune. Take full advantage of the data that’s now available to you and don’t simply “spray and pray” with your content. Make data analysis a daily routine, especially because different geographies have varying challenges during the COVID-19 era and you need to be mindful of matching your messages and cadence to what your clients and prospects are thinking about.
- Acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic, but don’t make it the sole focus of your content. Industries like hotels, restaurants, and retail are looking for new ways of dealing with health, staffing, and revenue challenges. But they also need guidance on how to sell more during the holiday season. Case studies of companies that are surviving and thriving can be uplifting. Interactive experiences that bring professionals together can count as content too. Find ways to inspire, entertain, and build credibility with your audience.
- Engage professionals who understand your industry and content marketing. Great writers can be useful, but true content marketers know how to turn those words or pictures into profits. Create a cross-generational multi-skilled work team that has both business acumen and creative chops. Some companies have had to trim their marketing and content staffs, but outsourcing to integrated groups of teamlancers is a viable option. Selecting the right partners can be more cost-effective than in-house solutions and can bring a whole new skill set and perspective to your business. Managed content creation is a new outsourced marketing specialty and can be very efficient and help you find exactly the right team of content producers.
Content marketing will never be the same
Just as technology and new media platforms changed the content marketing industry over the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting and profound impact.
Online buying and virtual interaction with colleagues and suppliers will remain the norm.
- Giving people information and insights they really need will be more important than ever.
- Voice is rapidly replacing touch (and is healthier in the long run).
- Workgroups will be different and content teams will be diverse groups of talent, located worldwide.
- Businesses will be more mindful of how they spend every marketing dollar.
- AI and machine learning will not only accelerate performance data reporting but will also guide decision-makers on how to respond.
However, one thing hasn’t changed since the 1880s. People want to read, view, and engage with words and pictures that make them smarter, make them laugh and cry, give them insights into how to solve problems, and find where to go for the things they need.
And, if you can deliver content that’s so compelling that they want to share it with friends (socially-distanced, of course) after they’ve bought from you — that’s the ultimate state of content marketing nirvana.