The COVID-19 pandemic has made community more important than ever. The ways that brands are tapping into this need for community can make the difference to their long-term strategy. We chatted with Ariel Wengroff, Co-founder and Chief Content Officer at arfa, Inc., to gain her perspective on the role technology can play in maintaining relationships, what it means to be nimble, and emerging platforms for connecting with consumers.

Do you think this crisis will permanently change the way we do marketing? If so, how?

Through our conversations with the arfa Collective, we’ve learned if you’re experiencing something, someone else probably is too. If there was ever a time to bring people together in shared empathy and support, it’s now—and brands are pivoting their marketing messaging this way. We’re seeing brands be held accountable in their missions and commitments, and come together in offering community and compassion to customers, whether it’s through gifting products or sharing messages of solidarity. And consumers are taking note. 

We’ve seen 5-10 years worth of trends happen in the last few months. Consumers will see through any marketing campaign that feels inauthentic to a brand’s mission. Due to COVID-19, this means more consumers are willing to purchase online in categories they might have only wanted previously in-store, allowing brands to discover new customers through marketing and diversify where they’re placing media buys and engaging with consumers.

What are the qualities of the companies that will emerge from this pandemic stronger?

Brands should always ask themselves “Are we an essential business? Do we provide a sense of comfort or purpose for consumers that makes them want to spend money with us during a pandemic?” We’ve learned from this pandemic the importance of connection and consumers feeling a true sense of identity to the brands they spend with. Arfa was born from a fundamental belief in the power of human connection, which is even more important during this time. Brands that are consistently true to their mission and provide something different will emerge stronger.

What shifts have you seen in content production since the pandemic began? Where do you see content production moving in the future?

Since COVID-19 started, we’ve found that user generated content is performing stronger than high-value production shoots. Consumers are craving honest campaigns shot by users, whether it’s on their iPhones, Pixels, or Androids. This provides brands an opportunity to take big campaign budgets and put those dollars towards innovation in performance marketing. 

Leaning into that need for human connection and support, we’ve seen more brands turn to social media in a more compassionate way, focusing on product and brand category education and giving consumers a deeper level of value. Rather than producing content focused solely on a product or service, brands are utilizing the "Live" feature on Instagram to host discussions with their communities and share insights on topics that are important to them.

We’ve also seen a shift in the platforms brands are leveraging to interact with customers. TikTok has been a big opportunity for brands to show their personality in a clever, joyous way. Creating brand playlists on Pandora and Spotify have allowed brands to showcase their mood or vibe. At arfa, at the beginning of COVID-19 we hosted IG Lives on the topics of mental health, journaling, therapy, and more to engage with our community. There were topics we already knew our arfa Collective wanted more education on.

Digital media demonstrated that multi-platform audience reach is key to growth over time. This will become more important with increasing time spent online daily. With less time to convince the customer why your product or brand is worthwhile, your content should be straightforward, honest, and optimistic.

In your opinion, what impact will this current period of time have on consumers over the long term?

Consumers have just accelerated trends already in motion. They’re taking a critical eye to every campaign, product, and experience to make sure they’re getting value that’s equal to not just the money they’re spending, but the time they’re giving to each brand. They’ll also be looking for education, community, and solidarity from brands. Brands are signifiers for friendships and experiences.

Consumers are now relying more on technology to maintain relationships (professional or personal) and as an extension of face-to-face interactions. For example, we’ve had to shift our arfa Collective meetups to entirely virtual meetings. Before we were having intimate and honest conversations about our bodies in people’s living rooms across the country. These now happen through over the phone, video calls, and social media. 

We're embracing technology at a rapid pace right now. What role do you think technology will play in forming our content marketing strategies in the future?

You have to be nimble—and with technology today we can quickly pivot our strategies. When we launched HIKI during the pandemic (by offering our product for free to healthcare workers and others in exchange for words of kindness), we quickly notified all new potential customers via social media and through our e-commerce website while working remotely. This also allows us to maintain our direct relationship with the customer. Before COVID-19, more people wanted in-person experiences, so how do you take that small community feeling, and use technology to make the internet (a very large space) feel intimate and personal? That will be the tension going forward.