Content Marketing Meets the ‘New Normal’

The term ‘post-COVID’ is as appealing as it is tenuous.  We all see and recognize signs of returning to business as usual, even as we’re confronted by other indications that the pandemic is not truly in our rear-view.  Content marketing strategies, however, cannot focus entirely on the past, or even the present; thinking of the post-COVID world, no matter how close we may truly be to that world, is a necessity.

With that in mind, here are thoughts from some industry leaders and thinkers on the kinds of content marketing that will be not only beneficial, but necessary in the post-COVID environment.

Take a Stand (And Tell Your Buyers)

Writing for Forbes, Kimberly A. Whitler relays the thoughts of two executives on types of customer expectations that will need to be met for content marketing to be successful.  Dosh CMO Amy Vale argues for clear expression of values, and ThoughtSpot CMO Scott Holden stresses the importance of authenticity in brand storytelling.

“…Vocalizing your values will no longer be the exception for brands, it will be the rule, and marketers need to be prepared to stretch their authenticity muscle,” Vale contends.  From social messaging like support for the Black Lives Matter movement, to encouraging civic engagement, to transparency around environmental sustainability, Vale notes that smart businesses are acknowledging that “consumers are… holding brands accountable to higher ethical standards.”

Your content should meet this ethical mandate if you hope to succeed, as consumers are less and less accepting of narratives that work hard to separate themselves from the issues of the day.  Issues like racial justice, environmental stewardship, and voting access will not go away if your brand ignores them, and doing so will not bode well for consumers’ opinion of your brand. 

Expressing your values must been done carefully, of course, lest you end up with a “tactless stunt,” as Vale cautions.  She argues that at least one of three pillars should be involved in any socially conscious content marketing initiative: money, time, and/or knowledge.  Money typically involves a donation that supports the value you claim; time relates to the volunteerism of your executives in the initiative; and knowledge implies increasing awareness of the issue in question with your initiative.

Be Realistic

In a similar vein, Holden’s call to authenticity hinges on undeniable social realities that good marketers should be confronting head-on, instead of pretending that they can exist in a pre-COVID or neutral space.  “Now more than ever, storytelling is critical for linking the value of your product to the challenges your customers are facing.  But it must be done authentically and supported by data.”

Storytelling, a constant in good content marketing, must be realistic and honest to hit the mark with modern consumers.  We’ve all seen dozens of advertisements start with “In these uncertain times…” and end up pitching an expensive car or luxury item that clearly would’ve made a lot more sense in times that were, well, certain.  Just because you say “We get it” doesn’t mean consumers have any reason to believe you.

Modulate your storytelling toward the realistic and the believable, however, and you’ll see great results.  Inclusion of relevant data and supportive language will increase the resonance of these messages.  So avoid hackneyed messaging and begin your story with something more sincere: “46% of millennials are underemployed.  At DreamJob, we believe your skills should get you the job you need—especially now, when you need it more than ever.”  Your website can expect considerably more traffic with this honest assessment of the situation, use of hard data, and empathetic understanding of your audience’s needs.

An Experimental Time

Finally, Stephanie Stahl has compiled a list of short thoughts from marketing professionals as they think of coming trends in content marketing.  For Andrea Fryrear, it’s time for experimentation: “It’s test and learn all the time now,” she opines.  Cruce Sanders sees “bigger investments in content operations” and hopes executives will step up to oversee and contribute to these investments.

Michelle Linn and Monina Wagner speak of “the year of conversation” and “authentic relationships,” arguing that the digital/social media nature of modern communications post-pandemic will need to be increasingly sincere and open for brands connect—and stay connected—to their customers and partners.

John Hall argues that content marketing will be necessary to make up for “the lack of ability to sell in person” that we all now face, a sentiment Vishal Khanna echoes by noting that since “sales teams won’t be attending any networking events… they’re going to need [marketing’s] help to stand out in their cold outreach.

Wisdom seems clear that the keyword for content marketing is authenticity, whether that be in expression of brand values, resonant storytelling, or revitalizing and strengthening social media connections and sales approaches.  It’s an emotional time for almost everyone, and the content marketing world must adapt to this emotional tenor instead of meeting it with old and impersonal techniques.