Marketing has evolved significantly over the past two decades, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged this change while introducing new challenges.
Many large organizations still operate with an ‘old-school’ approach to marketing, keeping it siloed from the rest of their operations and seeing it as a cost centre. This approach was already a limitation before, and it has become even more of a constraint in the current environment.
As prominent investor Mark Cuban recently noted, how companies respond to COVID-19 will “define their brand for decades”. We couldn’t agree more.
The current crisis will sharpen the contrast between organizations whose marketing departments are stuck in the past and those that are evolving alongside business needs. Question is, how do you do it?
Marketing challenges in the COVID-19 era
The past few weeks have seen enormous transformation with millions of people and companies shifting their day-to-day activities into the digital world. For marketing teams, this has meant rapid rethinking of their value proposition, especially as all marketing and communication efforts have moved online.
Many organizations in sectors such as professional services, higher education and manufacturing are finding this a difficult transition. These organizations often spend 30–40% of their marketing budget on traditional marketing tactics like conferences, events and print collateral, yet these opportunities have largely disappeared now.
With many traditional advertising and promotion activities currently off the table, there is an opportunity for your company to shift its focus to content marketing strategy and approach. Not only will this bring your marketing in line with the broad trends seen in recent years, but it will also be well suited to the current COVID-19 era.
Content marketing is the right marketing approach for the moment, and it should continue to play a leading role for all organizations going forward. This HBR article provides an excellent overview of why communication during the ongoing crisis should be focused on empathy and information sharing rather than self-promotion and sales opportunities.
What is content marketing?
We refer to content marketing as ‘honest marketing’. Why? Because it’s a type of digital marketing in which organizations develop an ongoing relationship with clients and customers through value-driven content at every point of their journey, from awareness to purchase to client experience and delight.
Content marketing is non-promotional. Instead, it’s educational, informative, entertaining and/or inspiring. The key is that it’s content your audience actually seeks, so it’s driven by efforts that are inbound rather than outbound.
Content marketing is different from advertising. Think of advertising as the cover of a book and content marketing as the story itself. Both are important, and they work together. Advertising helps create the first impression while content marketing is where the rubber hits the road.
Content marketing involves a holistic approach. It relies on a broad range of digital marketing tactics such as email, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and paid media to maintain engagement with your audience.
Content marketing requires a company-wide purpose. To succeed, it needs to work in sync alongside advertising and all other marketing tactics within a unified ecosystem, with everything aimed at a common set of goals.
How content marketing strategy can help:
As many events and experiential marketing efforts have been cancelled or put on hold, content marketing will help you connect your company purpose and initiatives in a meaningful way with those who care.
With its emphasis on storytelling, client connection and digital tactics, content marketing strategy can help you pivot your marketing efforts and keep your organization moving forward.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, everyone is looking for guidance and information. Providing compassionate, timely and helpful information now can help you reach new customers and build loyalty among existing ones. (And this will remain true long after the pandemic has passed.)
Of course, there’s more to it than simply filling a newsletter with your blog posts and creative assets. Content marketing strategy is a well-rounded approach that involves strategic implementation of a broad range of digital marketing tactics to establish and maintain engagement with your clients.
How and where to focus your content marketing efforts will depend on your business and goals. If you’ve had to cancel an event, there’s no reason why you can’t bring a virtual alternative to life with some thoughtful planning and collaboration between your IT, marketing, event, communications and brand partnership teams.
While such an undertaking requires a lot of creativity and outside-the-box thinking, there are plenty of inspiring examples coming from leading organizations and industries:
- IBM’s Think is reinventing its conference as a ‘Digital Event Experience’ taking place May 5–6.
- The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has gone virtual! #AGOfromHome is a new way to enjoy the museum from your home, bringing you into the building virtually through unique access to stories and experiences.
- Artists are engaging with their audiences by hosting online concerts and live streams. Check them out under the #TogetherAtHome hashtag.
We refer to content marketing as ‘honest marketing’.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced opportunities for traditional marketing tactics like advertising and promotion, yet the potential for content marketing – honest marketing – to build credibility and deliver value has never been higher.
Everyone is currently seeking information and embracing content that resonates because it’s educational, informative, entertaining or inspiring.
By leveraging the digital reach and storytelling capabilities of content marketing strategy, your organization can meet this demand while showcasing that you’re still here and your organizational values are unwavering.
Being a marketer during a crisis is noble as long as you remember what’s important. Right now, we need to maintain a safe, healthy and caring environment for all.