What are the content marketing trends that will dominate the second half of 2020? Lizzy Hillier looks at five overarching trends for content that have emerged in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Several content marketing trends that were already emerging before the outbreak have been accelerating during the Covid-19 pandemic, and consumer behaviour along with them.
Stakes will be high, if they haven’t been already, in H2. Budgets are being squeezed, and with a major recession on the horizon high customer engagement, acquisition and retention will be even harder to achieve, yet more crucial than ever. Fears of a second wave of infection in some regions, as well as increasingly complex safety guidelines, will exacerbate consumer uncertainty and could cause further reluctance to return to old shopping habits.
Without great content, many tried and tested methods that brought success before the pandemic may no longer cut it for consumers after experiencing such a sudden shift in their priorities.
While it’s still not entirely clear what the rest of 2020 holds, marketers must start implementing revised content strategies that address both what has happened and the new normal that awaits the market post-Covid. Here are five areas that they should focus on.
1. Social responsibility
Brand purpose has been gaining traction as an important aspect of content marketing over the past few years, as ethical and societal issues increasingly inform consumers’ brand and product choices. This has led to a wider adoption of sustainably sourced products, greener delivery options and charitable fundraising, to name just a few.
Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on social responsibility more than ever before. The sheer scale of the crisis has meant that brands can no longer ignore the disruption it has caused to their business, their customers and society at large. As a result, many brands that have, in the past, shied away from social responsibility in their marketing strategies have been compelled to address it, or risk appearing tone deaf. This was then followed by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd in May, which hammered home the message to brands even further: use your platform for good.
These two events in particular have been the wake-up call some marketers needed to take societal issues into account throughout their branding and marketing efforts. Consumers have had more time on their hands over the last few months to scrutinise the authenticity of brand communications and are calling them out more and more on issues that are important to them.
Consequently, it is clear we’ll see content more in-tune with current events during the second half of this year and in the long term. We can expect brands to take more time to respond to crises in a more meaningful and measurable way as and when is appropriate. Those that had already incorporated CSR into their branding pre-Covid will likely reap the biggest rewards, but it’s not too late for others to follow their example.
Alcoholic beverage brand Brewdog took to YouTube to demonstrate how it was using its production facilities to make hand sanitiser during the peak of the UK coronavirus crisis.
Marketers have been reining in content that focuses on the hard sell and replacing it with empathetic and advisory messaging to build meaningful long-term relationships with prospective or returning customers. This is a sensible strategy which will help brands weather the impending storm, supported by strong customer advocates.
Useful content that adapts to the changing situation, such as updates on in-store social distancing measures, will reassure customers that, when they do decide to make a purchase, the product or service can be trusted and is safe. It’s probable that you’ve already spotted this kind of messaging in email correspondence and on social media, as brands were quick to implement it in their modified strategies towards the beginning of the pandemic.
As it is almost certain that some restrictions will remain in place during the latter half of 2020, brands will need to continue producing a significant amount of content that concentrates on helping and advising consumers within the context of their product offering.
In retail, British DIY store B&Q used Instagram stories to highlight in-store safety precautions and reassure and prepare customers looking to visit.
Content is king in Covid-19 world as brands make themselves useful
3. Virtual experiences
As physical spaces were forced to close earlier this year, brands began solely relying on their digital channels to interact and engage with consumers. In-person events that were due to take place in H1 were adapted to fit livestreaming capability, and online customer journeys were streamlined to capitalise on the boom in ecommerce.
Some brands have turned to using innovative technology in their content strategies either to compensate for the lack of a real-world experience or, for online-only retailers, to enhance their branding.
For many, Covid-19 brought about their first experiments with livestreaming, an already well-established content strategy in markets like China but less so in the west. Livestreaming offers the opportunity to interact with your customer base in real-time, complementing their purchase experience and providing them with further information about specific products. They can also be just for fun, such as hosting live competitions and giveaways, or interactive quizzes. BoohooMAN, for example, livestreamed its virtual lockdown festival #MANOfTheHouseFEST in May.
Others have been pursuing augmented reality. In May, Meitu (a Chinese beauty tech company) developed a free AR try-on tool for beauty brands to help increase the sale of cosmetics via online platforms during the height of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Benefit’s Brow Try-On Experience, originally launched in 2018, saw a 43% increase in daily usage between April and May.
Benefit’s Brow Try-On Experience saw a 43% increase in daily usage between April and May.
Of course, it’s not just retailers that have taken advantage of virtual experiences. Places of interest, particularly museums and art galleries (which are normally reliant on tourism), have had to drastically rethink their marketing strategies to retain customer interest while their doors have been closed. This has led several well-known institutions to direct their visitors to comprehensive virtual tours, often complete with interactive elements and detailed accompanying information about the exhibits on display.
Now that brands have implemented such technologies on a more intensive scale during the peak of the outbreak, they could become more commonly used by marketers as a method of engaging their audiences. We’ll most likely see this in the beauty and fashion industries, where being able to ‘try before you buy’ is a key purchase driver for many consumers. In addition, as museums and galleries begin to reopen on a reduced capacity, it’s expected that they’ll redirect the overflow of visitors to their virtual offerings for a little while to come.
With social distancing measures still in place until a vaccine is distributed, brands will increasingly rely on technology like AR and livestreaming to fill a gap in the customer experience that was suddenly very apparent when shopping and tourist destinations were obliged to close.
Museum and gallery virtual tours: How does the experience measure up?
4. Brand humanisation
Life for many people during this pandemic has become monotonous and arduous. Much of every day is spent catching glimpses of colleagues’ make-shift home offices, wearing the comfiest clothes possible, all the while sporting a bare face and tied-up hair. People are seeing rawer, less put-together versions of each other, so they’ve begun to expect the same of brands.
As a result, we’ve seen brands slowly ditch slick, expensive-looking campaigns and in-feed images and replace them with more unfiltered alternatives as being relatable becomes ever more important.
While the inclusion of user-generated content in marketing strategies has been praised in the past for generating a more diverse and honest view of companies and their products, Covid-19 has accelerated its significance to consumers. They want to be assured that we are indeed ‘all in it together’ – and are increasingly less tolerant towards anything that could appear out-of-touch.
Not only is user-generated content a relatively inexpensive marketing method – something that can only be welcomed in a time where budgets are being harshly cut – it also reassures hesitant customers that business is continuing as usual. Some brands, like Hobbycraft, have already been asking their customers and followers to share their experience of their brand or product offering – what better time to do so than when social engagement is at an all-time high?
Another possibility is a heavier reliance on influencers. Despite the coronavirus wreaking havoc on their livelihoods and lifestyles, influencers will return in full force once circumstances and budgets allow. However, they may need to alter their tone, at least in the short-term, to match consumer mood and mindset. Brands should be mindful that influencers may be less well-received than before, particularly when placed alongside a greater amount of content submitted by real-life customers.
Last, but not least, showing the people behind the brand is a further sure-fire way of adding that human touch. Although it’s less commonly considered by marketers, it’s a fantastic way to create a sense of community between a brand and its following. Companies may want to consider featuring employees a lot more as part of their content strategy as they aim to build rapport and trust.
Co-op employees inject a little humour to the brand’s Instagram feed.
Four brand campaigns using UGC in lockdown
5. An even greater focus on digital tutorials and content design
Although restrictions are gradually being lifted in outdoor and indoor spaces, it is unwise to expect consumers to fully return to real-world experiences such as shopping, given the high street was already waning in popularity well before the events of recent months. Indeed, insights from the Chinese retail sector suggest that the ecommerce boom that occurred as a result of the coronavirus outbreak is here to stay, despite the majority of brick-and-mortar stores in the region having now reopened.
Those who previously hadn’t been brave enough to seek online alternatives for shopping or other services like banking have finally taken the plunge after being faced with no other option. As a result, there is now a new portion of the population who have migrated to digital platforms for the first time and might very well stick with the newfound convenience they have discovered.
British bank TSB has been pushing its mobile banking app very prominently on its website homepage and on social media. The app’s simple design is displayed in short animated clips, demonstrating that it is easy to navigate even if you’re a complete beginner. Featured animations like the one below, and others which provide examples of how to spot online scams (something which has become a prominent concern during Covid-19) double as helpful mini tutorials for their customers.
????Do your day-to-day banking without having to visit a branch – it’s easy with the TSB #MobileBanking app. Download it and get up and running in minutes at https://t.co/gHH5Xwm0mK pic.twitter.com/K2Za8iDz38
— TSB (@TSB) July 20, 2020
Much of TSB’s recent content has been focused on its mobile banking app.
In response to the overwhelming influx of customer queries during the outbreak, TSB also launched a new ‘Smart Agent’ chat function on their website, run by both previously branch-based (now remote) employees as well as AI chatbots. Its aim was to answer frequently asked questions about topics like mortgage and loan repayment breaks, freeing up their call centres for more complex queries.
Online habits have been formed by consumers during lockdowns and it’ll take a while to break them, if it ever happens. More likely, as the Chinese market indicates, they will be making more online purchases than they ever did before the coronavirus during the second half of this year and beyond. With many physical bank branches, education centres and gyms either gradually opening their doors or remaining closed for a while longer, there’s no doubt that consumers will continue to use available online alternatives for these services too.
Therefore, we’ll see an even greater focus on content design by investing in more creative and innovative digital tools, but also in content that helps users get to grips with said tools. Marketers must throw as much effort as possible into their digital content, at least in the short term, to help offset reduced person-to-person customer service.