4 Questions Brands Need to Be Asking About Covid-19 Messaging Right Now

This is an unprecedented moment in storytelling

It’s no longer news that Covid-19 has become a global health crisis that is impacting every industry around the world. And in recent weeks, widespread protesting has erupted in response to the systemic racism and police brutality that affects Black and minority communities. It comes as no surprise then that brands all have the same question: How should I respond?

To answer that question, you first need to understand what people want and need.

In a survey Verizon Media recently conducted, respondents were asked to describe a brand’s responsibility during periods of crisis. More than three-quarters (76%) agreed that brands have a role to play in society beyond selling products and 71% said they expect brands to lead during times such as this.

Clearly, consumers are hyperaware of how brands are responding publicly. The crux of it lies in how you listen to your audience, your ability to pivot quickly, embrace new storytelling mediums and craft your story with intention.

Here are four questions you should be asking and ways to take action:

What’s the right tone?

How consumers view a brand’s responsibilities and perceive their messaging has changed in light of Covid-19. Creative studios and agencies need to stay nimble as well if they want to help their clients and partners show up right now in a way that is natural and authentic.

At RYOT Studio, we learned this firsthand. We have an ongoing campaign for a major financial services brand with programming that spans a branded podcast series, documentary-style films, panel discussions, feature articles and social influencer integrations. Then Covid-19 hit and our strategy had to completely change. It was imperative to shift the creative because what was appropriate in February was tone-deaf by June.

How can creative teams stay nimble?

As the world changes by the minute, it’s more important than ever to connect with audiences in a timely and authentic manner. Today, being nimble means understanding the shifting needs and behaviors of your audience through constant listening and then coming up with a strategy that can adapt as things change.

Throughout the past three months, our entire multi-disciplinary creative and production teams have been working from home producing—and in some cases directing—video shoots virtually. We had to pivot our workflow with our brand partners overnight. Today, we’re focused on the most flexible, high-quality content formats that can be produced quickly by our WFH teams.

For a client with time-sensitive messaging, we were scheduled to begin filming a branded video series one week after Verizon’s WFH directive took effect. So, we revised our approach to instead utilize a combination of found footage, voice-over, animation and graphics. This allowed us to retain the quality of the original creative and reflect the trend of more lo-fi, clever and playful delivery that our audience is excited about.

Is it a good idea to leverage next-gen technology?

Speaking of tone, not every brand needs to go down the same heart-warming route. Consumers are looking for many things from brands, including levity and diversion.

New technology provides fresh, organic ways to appreciate favorite pastimes that might otherwise have been inaccessible due to the pandemic. Take the live events industry, for example. As sporting events, concerts and conferences are postponed or canceled altogether, brands can play a major role in delivering alternative experiences that, if done well, can be just as good at connecting, entertaining and informing people.

We recently reimagined our NFL draft live programming with a brand partner and delivered it virtually for the very first time. We activated a variety of synchronized editorial, philanthropic, video, multimedia, social, gaming and mobile touchpoints across our ecosystem to attract and engage football fans. The approach worked and it turned out to be the second highest-viewed Yahoo Sports production of all time.

We’re also seeing positive ROI for partners that embrace new forms of storytelling powered by the latest technology because it enables them to quickly explore new technology that reflects the current state of culture. Technologies like 5G will only enhance a brand’s ability to deliver more immersive, interactive and personalized experiences to their consumers in a more remote and virtual world.

How can you build trust?

To build a branded content strategy during a pandemic is to walk a fine line. You have to be intentional in translating a brand’s story along the axis of honesty, expertise and the commercial nature of the business.

By listening to your audience, you can lean into consumer behaviors, glean their needs and offer the right thing, whether that’s advice, solace, entertainment or distraction. Remember, people are going to look back at this time and remember the brands that got it right.

What’s important is that when a brand builds a strategy that retains its authenticity and keeps its mission relevant to the moment, it will prove that it’s ready to show up and be present. We think of it this way: Because we have the ability to reach millions of people every day, our responsibility as a creative studio is to work with brands to surface the stories that need to be told, and by helping brands better understand our audience, they’ll come to a clearer understanding of their consumers, too. After all, they’re one and the same.

RYOT Studio is the branded content studio at Verizon Media and it uses storytelling and technology to connect brands with consumers. Learn more, see recent examples of its work and reach out to partner together.