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8 Things to Help Your Content Marketing Survive the Pandemic

Editor’ note: This article comes from CMI founder Joe Pulizzi’s new self-published book, Corona Marketing: What Marketing Professionals Need to Do Now to Survive the Crisis.

My wife and I started what became Content Marketing Institute on April 2, 2007. That exact day New Century Financial declared bankruptcy. Most people had never heard of this company that specialized in subprime loans, but this one event started a chain reaction.

In March 2008, Bear Stearns collapsed and when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in September, the entire world found itself in the middle of what ultimately became the Great Recession.

At the time, we believed things couldn’t have been bleaker. Looking back though, this was absolutely the best time for content marketing. While everyone else was battening down the hatches and holding on for dear life, we were publishing consistent content about the practice of content marketing and slowly, but surely, building an audience of marketing professionals.

When we were beginning to come out of the recession in 2010, Content Marketing Institute quickly became the leading resource for content marketing education, not because we had some secret sauce, but simply because we invested in our audience for two years when everyone else went silent (or went out of business).

There were so many amazing media players in the marketing game at that time. Those companies should have capitalized on the growing content marketing movement. While they were busy, CMI (and later a few others) swept in and created large followings and built powerful business models.

While what is going on today is quite different, companies are reacting in a similar fashion to what we saw in 2008. This presents a one-of-a-kind opportunity for you, the marketing professional.

Need more persuading?

In March 2020, just at the start of the original crisis, Marcel Marcondes, the chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch, recognized how AB would have to change its marketing approach:

“We’re not playing in the advertising mode. We really want to make sure that anything we do and everything we’ve talked about will be extremely relevant for people so that we can add value to their new routines.

“We are really thinking organic first. We’re only bringing in paid media when necessary, when we really want to amplify something we have to say because we’ve seen that whenever you come up with something that is really relevant to people, it goes, they share it.” – Digiday (April 2, 2020)

Translation? Right now, AB must focus on the needs of its audiences and customers over the products it sells. That means prioritizing its original content creation and using paid advertising to promote that message so it can add value to the lives of its customers. An amazing amount of goodwill can be created by brands during times of crisis. It’s very challenging today to do that with advertising alone.

Uh, content marketing anyone? Now is the time to double down.

Let’s get started. If there was ever a time to build and grow an audience, it’s right now.

If there was ever a time to build and grow an audience, it’s right now, says @joepulizzi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Here are eight things content marketers need to do now during this crisis.

1. Take a fresh look at your goals

Like it or not, you need to make changes to your content marketing strategy. Today. In almost all cases, the needs and wants of the audiences you communicate with have been altered. We need to adapt for that in our strategies.

Plus, let’s be honest, we are all dealing with fewer resources. Time to make the tough decisions.

That means we need to go back to the beginning and take a fresh look at why we started the plan or project in the first place. Continuing with a strategy approved just a few months ago, without any changes, could leave you looking for a new job.

Here is a series of questions I wrote a few years ago that you should answer now.

2. Focus on your true believers

There is a time for broad communication and content efforts, but this isn’t one of them. Now is the time to focus on the “true believers” within your audience.

  • Within the audience you are targeting, is there a segment that could be more profitable than the others?
  • Is your content marketing effort contingent on radically changing people’s minds and behaviors? That’s extremely difficult in this environment. You may want to recalibrate and focus on rounding up those already interested in what you have to say.
There is a time for broad communication and #content efforts, but this isn’t one of them, says @joepulizzi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

During an economic crisis like this, it’s always best to focus on a smaller, more profitable audience group. When the economy begins to grow again in the future, you can absolutely broaden your audience base.

3. Revisit your content tilt

The content tilt is that area of little to no competition on the web that actually gives you a fighter’s chance of breaking through and becoming relevant. It’s what makes you not only different but so different that you get noticed by your audience. That audience rewards you with its attention.

A #content tilt differentiates your brand so it gets noticed by your audience, says @JoePulizzi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Without “tilting” your content just enough to truly have a different story to tell, you most likely will see your content fade and be forgotten. Now is the time to really get focused.

  • Audience – Can you focus on a super niche audience area or an underserved section of your audience group?
  • Positioning – Can you talk about the topic in a different manner? For example, how many companies are creating content around cloud computing? It all starts to sound the same. Perhaps you can call it something different and start a trend? That’s what CMI did with content marketing. HubSpot did the same with inbound marketing.
  • Platform – Is there a content gap on a particular platform? Maybe there isn’t a podcast or a YouTube series on your topic.
  • Subject matter – Let’s be honest. Your topic is probably way too broad. Go niche, even when you think it’s too niche. In my opinion, there is no such thing as “too niche.”

4. Develop an internal content marketing initiative

Behind my desk, I have a clipping from B2B Magazine (remember that magazine?) taped to the wall. It’s from Jan. 13, 2003. The author is Don Schultz, arguably the father of integrated marketing.

In it, Don says, “(I)nternal marketing is more vital than external marketing. Customer-facing employees, not external marketing, drive customer acquisition and retention.”

This is true right now more than ever.

Now might not be the time to create more content, but to make it work better.

It could be a simple email newsletter for salespeople notifying them of your new content initiatives and different ways to use it. It could be a weekly podcast talking about company news (partner with HR on this). It could be a regular employee newsletter letting them know how the company is overcoming struggles. It could be a Slack group.

Remember, your employees are always your best marketing asset. Get them involved in any content you are creating.

Your employees are always your best #marketing asset. Get them involved in your #content, says @JoePulizzi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

5. Steal audience

Right now, the people who make up your audience are not just standing around waiting for your content. They are actively involved and engaged in mobile, video, audio, and textual content for informational or entertainment purposes. During the start of the pandemic, your audience and customers digested almost every part of Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney Plus. If you are going to break through, you need to take that attention and direct it toward your content (not an easy task).

Most influencer programs, especially in B2B, revolve around the influencer “doing” something, such as appearing on a podcast or writing something original. While this is completely fine and works for many companies, the best way to involve influencers is to ask NOTHING of them. Just start creating content and publicize their efforts and expertise. Build it in to your content programs.

This could be through a:

  • Research project
  • E-book
  • Traditional book
  • Blog series
  • Podcast shoutout
The best way to involve influencers is to ask NOTHING of them, says @JoePulizzi via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

So, if you want your influencer project to gain momentum quickly, ask nothing of the influencer at first. Just let them know they were included in your project and how you are trying to help them with their own visibility. You’ll be amazed at the number of people willing to share this type of work.

Then later, once you build a relationship with the person, you could ask them if they want to assist in creating original content with you or be a guest on your podcast.

Over time, as you build relationships with these key influencers, they’ll share your stuff and you’ll win over their audience to your platforms.

6. Leverage the best talent in the world

In 2008, the financial climate started to take a turn for the worse in the United States and around the globe. Media companies began to lay off droves of journalists and writers in our industry. Nonmedia companies, which in some cases had robust print custom magazines, began to lay off portions of their content teams.

Never in my career had I seen so much journalistic talent without a job (sound familiar?). At the same time, some of the greatest media titles on the planet were struggling to keep up with content demands since letting staffers go.

So we initiated a twofold plan.

Contact content creators out of a job

The first was, whenever possible, to get quality writers involved in CMI projects. In some cases, we couldn’t pay very much, but these journalists, writers, and content creators were happy for the work.

Where do you find them? Just go to the digital masthead (check the About Us page) for the media property. In it, you’ll find both staff and freelancers. In many cases, the freelancers used to be staff but now only write when there is overflow (which there usually isn’t at a time like this).

You should also check the news for any layoffs for media companies of interest. Once the news gets out, you’ll be able to peruse individual LinkedIn pages, where generally the writers and journalists will have notified their community they are actively looking for work.

Explore media partnerships

Second, we reached out to media brands with a number of content ideas, stating that we would gladly create content for them at no charge and without pitching any products or services. This worked brilliantly, as a number of media companies were extremely open to content ideas of any kind.

Not only did we pen articles, but we helped construct research projects, we coordinated small in-person events, and we gladly served as guests of multiple webinars.

Both these initiatives helped us become known as the leading provider of information on content marketing once the recession broke.

7. Preparing for an asset sale

A few years ago, I sat in a marketing meeting with one of the largest producers of consumer goods in the world. The discussion centered on building audiences through content in various markets. In some of the markets, the company already had a solid content platform built. In others, there was nothing on the horizon.

The plan being discussed was an acquisition strategy of multiple properties where the organization would approach and, if terms were worked out, buy blogging sites and media properties that already had a built-in audience and content platform.

Sometimes it makes sense to build. Sometimes it makes sense to buy.

Blogging/influencer sites and media companies have two things that we want and need.

First is the capability to tell stories. They have the people and processes to churn out amazing content on a consistent basis.

Second, and maybe more important, is that blogs and media sites come with built-in audiences.

Although merger and acquisition strategies have been happening ever since the first media company was launched, nonmedia companies are starting to get into this game recently.

What do you do about this during a recession or depression?

  • Make a list – Keep a running list of media brands, blogs, and influencer sites that you may want to purchase at some point. I’d start with a list of five to 10.
  • Reach out – For now, just try to build a relationship with key people at these organizations. Perhaps get them involved in your influencer program.

When the time is right, you can starting choosing which one makes sense and exactly how to approach them with the opportunity.

8. Start killing social channels

The great experiment is over.

If you are like most marketing departments, you have multiple social media accounts on every network. Heck, you probably even have a TikTok account.

Well, it’s time to do some spring cleaning. But first, you need to review what you are doing on each social channel to each individual audience. Jay Baer at Convince & Convert put together a fantastic visual analysis to help (see below).

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a goal for each channel?
  • Are you accomplishing your goals (or at least headed in the right direction)?
  • Are you targeting too many audiences with your social channels?
  • Is your content plan for that channel working? Is it consistent?

After this analysis you’ll most likely find that some channels are working well, some are OK, and a few are doing absolutely nothing and are a drain on resources.

What should you do?

The social channels that are a drain on resources should be killed and transformed into listening channels (feedback only). The ones where you are just “OK” need to be dealt with appropriately. That means either invest the proper content, cadence, and resources to make them great, or kill those as well.

Remember, you DO NOT need to be everywhere your audience is on the social web. Make a strategic decision to be in the places where you can serve your audience faithfully and at the same time help your business.

One of the biggest challenges for content marketers is demand generation. We’re here to help. Join us May 19 and 20 for CMI’s annual  virtual Demand Generation Summit. Register today. It’s free!

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute