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How to avoid off-key content during the coronavirus crisis

Rob Mitchell

As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, it is becoming clearer that this will not be a short blip, but a more fundamental realignment of the global economy. The crisis will eventually pass, but the business environment we inhabit will be markedly different.

Many companies and industries will face a tough battle to get back on their feet, and unfortunately some may never get that opportunity. But these challenging times will also bring some positive changes, including greater recognition that staff can be trusted to work remotely and even be more productive. And, I hope, a more caring business community. Certainly, the willingness to share and support one another has been noticeable over the past week or two, and I’m hopeful that this sentiment will remain when the crisis recedes.

In our sector of B2B content and thought leadership, marketing professionals are rightly asking searching questions about how they should proceed with their campaigns. Some are thinking about how their pre-coronavirus idea will be received in what is now a very different world, and whether it is still appropriate now that the research or content creation is underway. Others are thinking about postponing campaigns until there is greater clarity about the extent and duration of the crisis.

In a recent post, I stressed the importance of brands remaining visible in a time of crisis. Of course, it’s a complex situation and more nuanced than just ploughing on with current plans. There is no doubt, though, that some content campaigns will fall flat if the tone and messaging are wrong – and rightly so. The ability to pivot, adapt and flex in line with the needs of your audience is therefore essential.

Here are a few suggestions for how to make sure your message doesn’t strike the wrong key in the current environment:

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room

Campaigns will miss the mark if they don’t reference the current situation or fail to place their theme in context. Without thoughtful adjustment, it will seem as though you are speaking a different language, and your content won’t feel timely.

This doesn’t mean jettisoning your themes. With careful consideration, most can be adjusted to be positioned more sensitively, even if you are well underway with their development.

Follow the phases of business sentiment

Over the coming months, your audience is likely to move through three main phases of business sentiment:

  1. Right now, businesses are in the readjustment phase, which is largely internally focused: changing working patterns; exploring different scenarios; reprioritising and protecting the core business.
  2. Next will come adaptation to a new market reality: adjusting strategies to reflect evolving client needs; doubling down on what works; and abandoning what doesn’t.
  3. The third phase is re-entry. When a semblance of ‘business as usual’ starts to return, the environment will be very different. The risks will still be acute, but opportunities and some degree of optimism will begin to emerge.

Although the timing of these three phases is unclear (and will vary between sectors and markets), your content needs to be attuned to each. Align with the right phase, and your message will resonate strongly with your chosen audience. Get it wrong, and they will be scratching their heads.

Listen to your audience

Now, more than ever, it is essential to listen. Your audience’s needs are changing rapidly, and assumptions about their pre-crisis preferences are unlikely to hold true.

Gather insight from client conversations taking place on your front line, and find out as much as you can about the challenges they are facing. Then be prepared to adjust your messaging accordingly.

Be agile

A willingness to change tack and come up with creative solutions to messaging challenges will be paramount.

If your content doesn’t feel appropriate for the current environment, don’t reject it completely. Instead, pivot and consider how you can adjust or reframe it to be more sensitive and appropriate. This will probably require more effort than normal, but it will be worth it.

Keep one eye on the longer term

This crisis will eventually recede, although the timing of this is highly uncertain. Both you and your clients are in readjustment mode at present, but this will not remain the case forever.

By all means target messaging to meet short-term realities, but also consider the longer-term outlook and ensure that your content evolves in line with the unfolding crisis. Stay visible, but stay relevant too.

Read more: Coronavirus: How should brands communicate with their customers?

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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