Why content marketing’s next evolution is here – thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic

June 22, 2020
SCMP Insights

On April 21, I watched Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author, opening the 2020 Content Marketing Conference by delivering a video keynote address. 

“Now it’s just you and me,” Handley told the audience, pointing out one upside of the virtual event. “That’s allowing us to communicate differently.”

I feel the very same principle is true with marketing. The economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic force us marketers to rethink how to communicate and bring value to consumers. 

As people’s lives are turned upside down, marketing strategies need to be attuned to a new reality.  

In my experience, content marketing will work best now – in particular, creating stories that have more depth and resonance among the people a brand wishes to connect with.

Connect with people as peers

A marketer’s job today is to create camaraderie within our communities by connecting on a peer-to-peer level. Expressing empathy about what people are going through and speaking from the heart really count.   

For now I suggest to stop focusing on brand-to-target messaging – as traditional advertising does – because, in my opinion, neither will it suffice, nor will it result in a great return on investment. The number of full-paper newspaper or magazine ads is greatly reduced anyway, as the rapid change of technology and the dramatic transformation of the media landscape have uprooted long-established advertising practices. 

In contrast, storytelling provides a helping hand to put services and products into context for our clients. Narratives break a brand’s big idea down into smaller, but more humanised pieces that customers can relate to.

Win by building trust  

Each marketer’s goal has to shift from wanting to get attention to thinking about how their brand can earn trust. “Focusing on building trust is vital now,” Handley said in her talk and I wholeheartedly agree. 

The first step to build trust in marketing involves the commitment to – and the application of – strong ethics across the entire value chain, including the stakeholders a brand uses to produce and distribute its content.  

As the only Asian publisher, the South China Morning Post has taken the ethical reins and joined The Trust Project. This global initiative provides news production standards to help readers identify credible journalism. 

The membership requires SCMP to share its code of ethics, policies on fact-checking, corrections and sourcing, as well as to provide labels on what type of information is published. 

However, SCMP’s commitment to ethics and transparency doesn’t stop at the news, but also applies to the advertising and branded content marketing team I’m part of as well. 

SCMP accepts only advertising that adds value to society, and we apply unambiguous disclosure for unique content marketing tactics such as  native advertising. 

For example, the label “Paid Post” identifies advertorials, which won’t appear natively with the news. “In partnership with” marks branded content that can be found alongside news stories. 

Meaningful and relevant communication

In an industry publication I recently read, Adrian Michaels, director of FirstWord Media, eloquently summarised native advertising competencies, as follows: “Native is a multi-disciplinary approach that requires excellent journalism and creativity, videography skills, a newsroom mentality, data science and much more.” I think he’s spot on.

Besides this, the key to successful native advertising is to match the form and function of the publication used as the communication vehicle.   

Whenever members of the Morning Studio team create compelling branded content we tune into the SCMP voice to deliver high editorial standards and authentic value to the readers. 

Two of our recent campaigns for MSIG, a global insurer, and Hong Kong Tourism Board demonstrate my case in point. Both brilliantly pair entertaining reader education with relevant brand association.

Concentrating on a Southeast Asian audience, MSIG familiarised readers of the “Preserving Life on Earth” campaign with its efforts to protect biodiversity for future generations.

The value-driven conversation captivates the content consumers through visually rich illustrations, and informs at the same time. We performed extensive research on biodiversity and a copious amount of fact-checking to ensure the credibility of the campaign. 

The award-winning "Building Connections" series, produced for Hong Kong Tourism Board, serves readers by exploring how cutting-edge infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the high-speed rail transform Hong Kong into a smart, accessible city.

Adapt to new realities    

The time people, including myself, spend online is growing exponentially as media consumption habits have shifted from being passive to actively looking for helpful content that provides problem solutions.

New research suggests that in the past few weeks of the global lockdowns media consumption may have grown by 60 per cent, and attention span increased by 39 per cent.

Such findings are among the many reasons why marketers should pivot their advertising spending to creating content.

Adding high standards and ethics to content marketing offers a robust foundation for brand owners and publishers to cultivate marketing value and brand experiences beyond traditional expectations.

While the world hopes to have the Covid-19 pandemic under control soon, life after it will be as novel as the virus and full of precariousness. 

However, for me and fellow marketers, one thing is for sure – content marketing, and its continuous evolution, is here to stay.

So is SCMP, the trusted platform to read credible news – and on which to publish excellent branded content.