One year on from the first lockdowns, the pandemic has driven significant changes in the way we communicate. It has affected how and where we consume content, and the type of content we consume. With 2021 looking a lot more like 2020 than we hoped, what can brands do now to ensure they hit the right notes and engage audiences with their content mix? As we look longingly towards the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, Margaret Flanagan, Co-Founder at new independent agency Tales & Heads offers her thoughts on how brands can use content to build bonds, rather than simply make noise.
We are consuming more cross-platform media content than ever before – twice as much as pre-pandemic according to measurement company DoubleVerify, at just short of seven hours each, every day. More than most of us sleep I would imagine. From whalers’ sea shanties to Ocean-Spray-swilling-Fleetwood-Mac-lip-synching skateboarders, the pandemic has thrown up some unexpected viral hits, and what makes this content so shareable has not been easy to predict. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as the platform it’s hosted on, despite TikTok’s ubiquity. Instead, brands and businesses need to look beneath the surface and beyond the soundtrack to see the underlying truths and emotional triggers that resonate with their audiences.
By now, we should have all subscribed to the mantra that brands need to be more human, less corporate. We know that it is not enough for businesses to talk about themselves and how wonderful their products and services are. The vast majority of us are going out less or not at all, we are juggling finances due to reduced incomes and job losses, we’re missing friends and family, and we have stopped planning anything more than five minutes in advance. So, of course, those self-promoting social feeds will have us reaching for the mute button. We don’t want to buy. We don’t want to be reminded of what we can’t have, or can’t do, and we don’t want to feel inadequate. As consumers, we’re all looking for a bit of support and fortification.
As communicators, we have been talking for years about finding brand purpose and quantifying the reasons that businesses exist beyond profit. The need for purpose now applies not just to the business or the brand, but to every piece of content we produce. We must ask, how does this support our audience? Does it contribute to their mental wellbeing? Does it teach them something new? Does it make them smile and forget their problems for five minutes? Does it inspire them to create? Or to look after their bodies a little better? Does it help them to get through home schooling in one piece, or prevent them from snapping at their partner? Does it give them reason to hope? To look forward or backwards with joy and optimism?
Because this is what we all need right now, and brands that recognise this and tailor their narratives accordingly will be the ones that strengthen their bonds with consumers now and for the long term.
With this in mind, when it comes to content creation, we might do well to adhere to what public service broadcasters refer to as the Reithian Principles – the tenets on which the newly founded BBC under its then director general Lord Reith based its output: to inform, educate and entertain. If you can do one, you’re doing something right. If you can do all three, give yourself a gold star.