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The idea of a post-COVID-19 world feels alien and unattainable. As it stands, we’re still wandering through mostly uncharted, and widespread marketplace changes caused by the novel coronavirus. Add in the back-to-back plot twists that 2020’s scriptwriters fancy, and we’re all left with bated breath.
Nobody knows the next subplot to drop in this year’s manic script, but businesses need to develop a post-COVID-19 digital strategy now if they want to survive what comes next.
Thankfully, the solutions to our combined ignorance — new messaging strategies, user testing, and industry analysis — illuminate what consumers want, need, and how they react to this pandemic and other recent socio-economic turbulence.
Using these insights, we can prepare for the unknown through strategies that embrace the chaos.
The following content marketing strategy is a lump-sum tactic. Although you’ll benefit from implementing any of these ideas, I designed this plan to thrive with complementary, almost codependent rules.
New user research shows us that consumers are experiencing a breadth of emotional responses to COVID-19. The pandemic-fueled lifestyle changes, health risks, and global economic toll weigh heavily on people’s minds.
While we’re in a peak-COVID scenario, the best way to confront how users feel is to “read the room” and address the root cause of those feelings head-on with practical, candid, and supportive content.
When people and companies eventually transition to a post-pandemic lifestyle, brands that evolve their peak-COVID content to embrace authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability will soar above the competition.
Vulnerability and transparency, which are the building blocks of authenticity, are among the most powerful tools in your arsenal as a business or marketer — especially when users are afraid, frustrated, and uncertain.
Here’s how and why this rule works.
First, the definitions:
In the before time, when “normal” still existed, 94 percent of consumers said they are more loyal to transparent brands, and 86 percent of consumers said brand transparency is a core conversion factor.
When your content and marketing messages combine users’ desires for transparency with vulnerability, you create empowering and meaningful content that transcends people’s fear and invigorates their sense of connection and community; key motivating factors of user-brand trust, loyalty, and conversions.
This outcome is because we recognize when someone is being vulnerable, and we instinctively invest in their story and develop an emotional bond with the storyteller. The more emotionally attached we are to the storyteller, the more we care about the story they tell.
Consequently, any COVID-related content you produce should marinate in the following ingredients:
If your content isn’t telling a story rich with these components, go back to the drawing board and come up with a more inclusive idea. Here are a few examples of brands embracing this rule with various types of peak-COVID content:
If you want to learn more about this rule, read my separate analysis for a deep dive into how to create transparent and vulnerable content.
The self-quarantine and isolation created by COVID-19 has left people feeling alone and yearning for connections. These feelings and desires are why user-generated content (UGC) is an optimal way to reach users with peak-and-post COVID-19 content marketing.
Thoughtful UGC creates user-user bonds and taps into subconscious associations people have about friends and family, which is why 92 percent of users trust earned media, like UGC, more than other brand content. You can use UGC to improve your brand’s social proof, user trust, and create opportunities for human connection—which are all qualities of beloved, high-converting brands.
Poll your users and determine what COVID-related stories they want to share. Learn what information they want to dissect, and then determine the best ways for your brand to provide users with a platform to share and be heard.
Another option is to provide your employees with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. If you choose this approach, make sure your brand doesn’t moderate the stories. Be vulnerable and let employees share freely, without fear of censorship or retaliation.
Here are a few examples of great UGC campaigns for inspiration (not all are COVID-related):
There are several hidden benefits of embracing vulnerable messaging and gathering user-generated content during the pandemic. Among the most powerful is the chance to listen to what users are saying and pivot toward their desires and needs.
COVID-19 gave consumers the chance to slow down and reevaluate what they need, how they shop, and why they interact with brands. And businesses that will survive and thrive in the “new normal” must embrace the most crucial rule of marketing: understand what problems your users have and determine how you can solve them.
If you’re preparing for a post-pandemic digital strategy, you must listen to why users’ needs have changed, how these changes affect their willingness to resume “normal” behaviors, and what changes can comfort or reassure them.
To hear what customers need, you should keep an ear on industry forums, relevant subreddits, social media, and customer emails. Poll users and run ample tests. Closely watch how other brands pivot. Become an avid supporter of your users.
Ultimately, you need to track these attitudes like they are your company’s heartbeat monitor. And you must be willing to pivot in whatever direction users tell you they need. Because attitudes toward the peak-and-post COVID-19 world change nearly every week, and it’s unlikely what worked great last month will still be valid two months in the future.
Here are a couple of examples of how companies have pivoted their services to accommodate shifting user needs and earn customer trust:
For better or worse, the world has changed in novel ways. Users are approaching brands for new purposes and with new mentalities.
Now and for the foreseeable future, brands must prioritize messaging around people first, their communities second, and the brand or product third. You need to be vulnerable and transparent in your content, and you must give users the chance to interact and build meaningful connections.
Are you going to embrace the user-first world that COVID awakened, or linger on past strategies and become one with the dinosaurs?
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