Content marketing in the time of COVID-19

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Account director Scott Elmslie reflects on how content can help brands make human connections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Elmslie

It goes without saying that these are extraordinary times we're living through. It's very rare in life that something affects us at this scale on a global level; yet here we are.

As people struggle to get their home desks set up, share images of their new pet co-workers, and mass unsubscribe from email databases they didn't remember they were on until the company shared its COVID-19 policy, we are all here in the same boat, trying to establish the new norm where #FOMO has been replaced by #JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).

Working from home with a dog

Over the last few weeks, I am sure there have been many crisis management video calls between marketing teams and senior management trying to decide what messaging, if any, they should be going to market with. Many would have wondered if they should be promoting their business at all.

The short answer is that they absolutely should still be marketing their businesses. It will ensure they are in a stronger position when this is all over. Now is not the time to stop but instead to be more considered and strategic with your messaging. During the last GFC in 2008 those that continued to invest in their brand recovered the quickest.

But creating content and messaging with everything that is going on can be a challenge, especially if you want to ensure you are hitting the right tone and not coming across as thoughtless or opportunistic. While you may not want to create demand-driving content, there is still an opportunity for you to maintain and build your relationship with your client base through offering value.

In the first video from Tribe's Lockdown Lunch and Learn series Marketers in Pyjamas, Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and one of the founders of Thinkerbell, said that we're suffering from a natural optimism bias. People don't want to think of the reality as it's anxiety-inducing but it is a serious situation. There is a role for marketing as a distraction to appease anxiety.

There is a role for brands to play. In a recent global survey of over 25,000 people by Kantar, a global insights and data consultancy, it was demonstrated that people don't mind being marketed to during this time, but what they want is for you to 'talk about how your brand is helpful in the new everyday life' (77%). Creating brand value at this time is still okay in the eyes of consumers if you are being purpose-driven and creating content for good.

And let’s not forget what the role of content marketing is in your mix. Content marketing is never meant to be about immediate results. It’s about nurturing, being valuable and having a long-term view while always having the customer at the centre of everything you do. What we know is that this will pass. When? That's the unknown.

At the start of the year our strategy director, Kate Thompson, looked forward into 2020 and encouraged everyone to consider four content marketing concepts that we believed would define the year ahead:

  • Purpose
  • Context
  • Creativity
  • Integrity

While this was true at the time, it seems even more pertinent now.

With everything you are doing just make sure you create content that's valuable, relevant and fills a gap. Think about how you are adding worth to the conversation or to your audience. You have ideas and your audience is looking for inspiration and to be entertained, so find ways to be creative and connect.

Ultimately nothing can replace the warmth of human connection, but we can still deliver human messages by showing empathy and compassion. How would you want to be spoken to? The golden rule still remains: put the consumer at the centre of everything you do.

Here are some examples of brands doing this really well at the moment:


The brand is pushing its 'Play Inside' message and giving its audience useful exercise and healthy eating videos to explore on its website and social media channels. The messaging itself is beautiful and considered: It's when the game stops that we realise we are all one team. And right now, teamwork is more important than ever. To help support athletes around the world, we're offering daily inspiration and information to help everyone stay active, positive and healthy – together.

Pret A Manger

The UK high street sandwich shop started with a random act of kindness, offering all NHS staff free hot drinks and 50% off everything else in their stores. Now, with its stores closed, the brand asked loyal customers which products they'd like to make at home themselves and is now giving them the recipes to do just that.

Those are just two instances where brands are continuing to be relevant and build affinity with considered messaging.

Until this passes and an as-yet-unknown normality resumes, use this as an opportunity to experiment, test and discover. None of us has gone through anything like this. Let's just keep learning as we go.

While we're doing that and finding our feet, stay inside, stay safe and embrace the #JOMO.

Scott Elmslie, account director

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