The ongoing pandemic and protests have shone a spotlight on what matters to the people and organizations we do business with.

As companies adjust their strategies in response and move from a focus on immediate viability to ongoing recovery, marketers are looking for innovative ways to stay connected with their customers.

Businesses are redesigning their communications around what they've learned about their customers' needs, increasingly shifting away from a culture of selling to one of serving.

And as they do, there's an unrealized opportunity for many organizations to develop content that goes beyond their response to COVID-19 and societal calls for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion—all while still solving customers' near-term needs.

Messaging That Matters

It's more important than ever to communicate with your customers with messages that are authentic, that build relationships—and offer useful information that's relevant to their business right now.

The media is already flooded with content related to COVID-19, but people are still looking to companies and the media for actually useful advice, whether on how to adapt policies and processes to manage remote workers or how to improve customer retention.

And though different industries have been affected to varying degrees—some are holding steady or thriving while others may be focused on cutting costs until business picks back up again—you nevertheless want to be ready to spring back into action whenever your customers, and the economy, are ready.

It's Time for Content—the Right Kind

It takes time to develop good content. That means there will be a lag between when you start developing content and when it's ready for public consumption. If you wait until business picks back up again to get started, you're going to be behind the curve.

Three types of content are well suited to the current business environment: blog posts, contributed articles, and whitepapers/POVs.

Here's how they can help you meet your business goals.

Blog Posts

You want to continue to run as business as usual to the extent that it is possible, and part of that is communicating to your customers that you're still here for them with products, services, and advice that can help them solve their most business-critical challenges.

Enter blog posts:

  • They are a relatively quick way to keep your website fresh and give you a reason to reach out to your customers and prospects.
  • With a versatile format, they can educate, inspire, or simply provide a quick tip that makes your customers' lives easier.
  • They're often shorter—500 to 1,000 words—which means that they are less of an investment.
  • They are often helpful early in the sales cycle as potential customers evaluate your products and services, and they're typically housed with a collection of blog posts, easily available to anyone who wants to read it.
  • Blog posts are also easy to revise when conditions change—and, let's face it, they will.

Contributed Articles

Authored by a subject-matter expert, a contributed article is a piece that offers up a unique perspective. Usually ranging in length from 800 to 1,500 words, the contributed article is published in a media outlet, typically a print or digital magazine or newspaper.

Contributed articles are non-self-promotional, and they infer a level of authority on the writer (and, by extension, on his or her employer) based on the reputation of the outlet they're published in.

They're an effective way to reach a broad audience (in a general business publication) or a very narrow one (in a highly targeted vertical or industry publication).

And though many writers and editors have spent the last few months writing almost exclusively about the pandemic and protests, despite that focus (or perhaps because of it), we are seeing an appetite for contributed articles that focus on evergreen topics.

Whitepapers or POVs

This is where you and your thought leadership really get to shine. These longer-format pieces give you the opportunity to dive deep into your perspective on a topic—or how your expertise is uniquely positioned to help your customers.

Whitepapers and POVs typically include significant research in support of the points you are making, whether that's research you've conducted yourself or research published in third-party sources (Harvard Business Review, Forrester, other industry experts...).

They're educational, logical, and authoritative, and though they generally conclude with a recommendation pointing back to your company, they're not salesy.

And due to their in-depth nature, whitepapers and POVs are generally used both early in the sales cycle, when people are researching a specific problem, and later in the sales cycle, when decisions are being made.

* * *

Each of those three formats offers a significant opportunity for businesses to build strong relationships with customers by offering content that's authentic, relevant, and helpful.

In the end, keep in mind is that it's all about them, not you. Consider the content you're developing not only in terms of how it aligns with your business strategy but also how the customer would view it: It doesn't need to be specific to current events, but it must speak to a need your customers have, now and in the future.

Above all, be authentic. Consider both what you're saying and how you're saying it—and do so in a way that's consistent with your brand personality.

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It's the Right Time: Three Types of Content to Develop Now

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image of Gretchen Hoffman

Gretchen Hoffman is VP of A.wordsmith, a boutique PR/communications firm specializing in thought leadership.

LinkedIn: Gretchen Hoffman