Surviving disruption with issues-led thought leadership

Yogesh Shah, CEO at iResearch Services, discusses when it is the right time to wade through the disruption and dare to look ahead beyond COVID-19.

a light bulb plugging itself in

No one can escape the Covid-19 conversation, especially with various stages of lockdown across the UK and continental Europe now in force. It’s a popular topic of choice, with CMOs across numerous sectors building it into their marketing and content plans in a bid to not only stay relevant but to directly appeal to the issues their customers are currently facing.

It’s a solid approach; discussing topical issues is a key way of demonstrating to customers that the organisation is up to date with the challenges they’re facing and knows how to tackle them head-on. But when – if ever – is the right time to consider talking about other issues? What else should CMOs take into consideration, on top of the continually evolving Covid-19 landscape? There is plenty to talk about. Take sustainability, for example, or the rise in automation/AI technology. Diversity, equality, inclusion and ethics. Times are changing in many more ways than in response to the coronavirus pandemic and there are multiple issues that marketers and the businesses they represent must address. Covid-19 may have dominated conversations since the start of 2020, but these other issues have not become any less important for many organisations, arguably, they have become all the more important and prominent throughout 2020. Understanding customer sentiment on a range of topics such as loyalty, digital adoption and overall outlook in such volatile times is key to engagement. When, therefore, is the right time to wade through the disruption and dare to look ahead beyond Covid-19?

The answer to this question lies in having an objective – rather than subjective – understanding of the target audience, which every CMO should have. What platforms are they using to get their daily dose of news? How are they responding? What issues do they want to hear about and what challenges are they facing that aren’t a result of the pandemic? Knowing the answers to these questions will give CMOs a clear viewpoint of when – if ever – is the right time to move on from the coronavirus conversation.

Facing reality

Covid-19 is here for a long time to come and will continue to impact and disrupt both businesses and personal lives for the foreseeable future. With so much hanging in the balance, how can CMOs factor in uncertainty and plan for best and worst-case scenarios, to make sure all possibilities are covered? Strategising for the short, medium and long term is key. Long term plans, for example, will enable CMOs to look ahead and consider which other issues their audience might be interested in; what guidance or action are they looking for on other important challenges that might actually be inextricably linked to the pandemic, even if they are unaware of the connection? A long-term view will also demonstrate the forward-thinking nature of the business and how the brand will continue to go from strength to strength, even in challenging times.

Society will continue to face geopolitical challenges and tensions, but remaining aware of these and how they impact the market, whilst staying on top of other key challenges and issues and avoiding the fatigue that often comes with a message that has been repeated too many times, is essential. Indeed, discussing wider issues and future-thinking is an opportunity to differentiate and relieve target audiences of “Covid Fatigue” from the many news sources they are consuming.

Learning from the past and looking to the future

Although the Covid-19 situation is certainly unlike anything many people have encountered, CMOs can use past experiences from other times of uncertainty such as Brexit to prepare for new eventualities. In the past, what types of content did the audience look for; did they want advice, did they want to learn, or were they seeking a distraction in the form of content on other subject matters? Using past experiences when planning for many different situations will enable CMOs to demonstrate true understanding and a connection with their audience, even in times of doubt. Taking a view on how issues will pan out and how businesses can be more agile and prepared for the future supports valuable insight and action in times of uncertainty.

Furthermore, CMOs can also learn from other organisations, examining which businesses have used Covid-19 within their thought leadership and content strategies and which have moved away from the topic. Many fashion brands, for example, have made strides in their sustainability efforts this year, forming partnerships, tackling conversations around materials used and rewarding customers for returning old products, at the same time as discussing the impact of Covid-19 on the retail industry.

In the financial services industry, automation has been a topic and cause of both celebration and concern, with many organisations discussing the benefits, drawbacks and implications of automation in the sector this year. These examples show how CMOs can drive conversations on numerous topics, if these topics are relevant to the target audience.

The human element

Regardless of the topic of conversation, whether CMOs decide to take part in the coronavirus conversation or discuss other important issues, showing vulnerability and understanding is essential. Empathising and connecting with the reader, watcher or listener through content will demonstrate that they are not alone and that the organisation is able to help.

As 2020 comes to a close and CMOs reflect on the success of this year’s content and marketing strategies, it is time for plans to be put in place and for the next topics to be decided. There may still be turbulence ahead, but creating thought leadership content that really resonates with the sentiment of the organisation’s audience, either on the topic of Covid-19 or on other issues, will ensure the content is relevant, timely and effective.

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