Form an economic perspective, the first quarter of 2020 was unlike anything the world’s seen before. It started off strong, then completely fell apart in late February and early March with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stock market suffered losses not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, and unemployment in the United States soared to depression-era levels.
In response, brands published a ton of COVID-19 content across their owned channels (blogs, social media networks, YouTube channels, email newsletters).
We wanted to better understand the COVID-19 content strategies of brands in different industries during Q1, so we pulled data on 643 pieces of COVID-19 content published by 191 different brands during Q1 across a variety of industries. In this report, we’ll detail the approaches taken by each industry based on the content topics they focused on during Q1.
We’ll also look at overall COVID-19 content volume by industry across owned channels in Q1. But first, let’s explain why brands doubled down on content marketing during Q1.
Why Publish COVID-19 Content?
Publishing content during a crisis is necessary for a couple of reasons. First, consumers focus on necessities during a crisis, without particular regard to the brands they typically buy from or work with.
However, brands that publish content during a crisis are able to retain mindshare with their consumer base, which will help them recover faster once the crisis passes.
“Right now, you have to turn off marketing autopilot,” Erika Serow, Chief Marketing Officer at Bain & Company, told us. “Our team has increased content production by six-fold in the last month.”
In addition, many other brands are cutting marketing spend, which reduces competition for eyeballs. Furthermore, quarantined consumers are spending more time online than ever before. The combination of these factors means there’s never been a better time to put out content.
However, content marketing during a crisis requires a unique approach. As you’ll see in our data, most brands putting out COVID-19 content focus on being helpful or empathetic, rather than transactional.
“Put yourself in the consumers’ shoes,” Raja Rajamannar, CMO at Mastercard, told us. “The worst thing marketers can do right now is sell something.”
"Brands can play a big role during a time of crisis, if it's authentic,” adds Carla Zakhem-Hassan, Chief Brand Officer at Citi. “You can't be neutral. If you talk about things that are inconsistent to your values, people will see through that.”
Our partners using the Knotch platform have found putting out helpful or empathetic COVID-19 content has led to a 20% spike in positive sentiment toward their brand. Furthermore, they’re seeing 50% higher engagement on their COVID-19 content.
But what exactly are these brands writing about in their COVID-19 content, and which industries are leaning most heavily on this type of content? Let’s find out.
B2B, Financial Investment, and Technology Brands Published Nearly Half of All COVID-19 Content During Q1
For the reasons previously mentioned, there’s been a large spike in owned content production over Q1. According to our data, businesses in the B2B, financial investments, and technology sectors published roughly half (49.6%) of all COVID-19 content during this time.
This makes perfect sense when you consider how these industries are impacted by the pandemic. According to research from eMarketer taken at the end of 2019, 51% of all B2B buyers said they were “concerned” about the possibility of a recession in 2020. You can only imagine their level of concern after the pandemic started.
Therefore, B2B businesses needed to produce content to inform their partners of the steps they were taking. The same goes for businesses in the financial investments space, who needed content to calm jittery investors and advise them on what to do with their money.
Technology companies also needed to produce a ton of content—but for a different reason. Demand for tech tools spiked once the pandemic hit, as individuals and business relied on tech for collaboration and information sharing.
For this reason, technology companies put out content related to how their business was proceeding with operations, and how they could help others being impacted.
News & Crisis Management Were the Dominant Content Topics During Q1
Next we looked at the theme of each piece of COVID-19 content put out during Q1, which we separated into 13 different categories:
- News & updates: Crisis news related to the activities of the business.
- Crisis management: The steps the business is taking to manage the crisis internally and externally.
- Business continuity: How the crisis will affect the level of service the business is able to provide to its customers.
- Community/collaboration: Information on how the business and individuals can work together to overcome the crisis.
- Impact assessment: Assessing the impact the crisis has had on the industry the business operates in.
- Philanthropy/support: What the business is doing to aid in relief efforts.
- Informational/educational: Educational content about the crisis.
- Risk management: What the business is doing to mitigate exposure to the crisis and how it’s working to lessen the impact on customers.
- Operational impact: How the crisis has impacted day-to-day operations.
- Thought leadership: Advice from leaders within the organization.
- Public health and safety: Information on how to protect your health and what the organization is doing to protect their customers’ health.
- Employee relations: Content directed at employees to help them navigate and understand how the organization is responding to the crisis.
- Leadership: Guidance on how to lead during a time of crisis.
As you can see, every category is related to providing help, showing empathy, or some combination of both. The most prevalent themes were news & updates and crisis management, which made up roughly a quarter (25.4%) of all COVID-19 content published during Q1 on owned content hubs.
The reason here is obvious: At the start of a crisis, people want as much information as possible, as well as guidance on what to do. The next three most popular themes were business continuity, community/collaboration, and impact assessment.
From this we can infer that many businesses were concerned with informing customers about how they would continue to provide services during the crisis, any disruptions in service caused by the crisis, and how the business is working with its customers during this time.
The less popular themes were thought leadership, public health & safety, leadership, and employee relations. For many organizations, producing thought leadership, public health & safety, and leadership content might have been seen as inappropriate if their brand didn’t have some type of authority to speak about COVID-19.
It also seems that brands shied away from employee relations content during a quarter where there were a record number of layoffs.
Now that you have an idea of the content themes focused on in Q1, let’s break them down by industry so we can see what different types of businesses wanted to talk about regarding COVID-19.
Airlines Created Content Around Crisis Management and Public Health & Safety
Airlines were hit as hard as any sector by COVID-19, which is why over a quarter of their owned content was related to crisis management. Unlike other sectors, it was also important that airlines produce content related to health and safety, as people wanted to understand the risks related to travel. An example would be this post by United Airlines.
Themes that airlines didn’t produce content on included information/education, risk management, employee relations, and leadership.
The Auto Industry Showcased How They Can Help During This Crisis
Crisis management was also a popular topic for automakers—another sector hit hard by COVID-19. In addition, roughly a third of the owned content produced by automotive companies was related to community/collaboration and philanthropy/support.
This is likely related to the unique position of automobile companies to aid in relief efforts by producing medical equipment. For example, here’s a post by Ford on how they’re building 50,000 ventilators to help coronavirus patients.
We did not find owned content by automobile companies related to risk management, public health & safety, and leadership.
B2B Brands Published Content on a Wide Variety of Topics
As previously mentioned, B2B companies produced more content in Q1 than any other sector. But the owned content produced by B2B brands in terms of topic was extremely diverse.
This is because B2B brands operate in a wide variety of industries, offering them the opportunity to speak authoritatively on a myriad of topics.
Businesses Related to Finance Aimed to Explain to Readers How The Crisis Will Affect Their Money
The world of finance has been in flux for over a month now, so it makes sense that consulting, finance, and tax brands would be focusing on the impact COVID-19 has had on their industry. Simply put, people want information on what to do with their money, and these types of brands are well-positioned to provide that content to them.
Consulting, finance, and tax brands did not put out content on themes related to community/collaboration, or public health & safety.
The Energy Sector Focused on the News
The demand for oil has plummeted since the outbreak of COVID-19, leaving the energy sector in a precarious position. Most of the news related to energy since the outbreak of COVID-19 has been about a potential deal between OPEC and Russia that would help stabilize the market. For this reason, much of the content the energy sector has been putting out is related to this news.
We did not find owned content from energy businesses related to business continuity, impact assessment, risk management, operational impact, or thought leadership. Overall, the energy industry produced the least amount of COVID-19 content over Q1.
Financial Investment Brands Put Out Content Related to What Investors Should do With Their Money
Similar to consulting, finance, and tax brands, financial investment companies put out content related to COVID-19’s impact on the market, as well as what investors should be doing with their money to mitigate their losses.
This sector shied away from content related to public health & safety.
Insurance Companies Explained to Customers How They Would Continue to Assist Them During COVID-19
Insurance brands have been affected in a wide variety of ways. Both individuals and businesses want to know if their insurance covers COVID-19 or a “force majeure” event (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract). For this reason, insurance brands have been focusing on putting out content on how they will continue to provide service to those affected.
Topics that insurance brands did not publish content on include thought leadership and employee relations.
Personal Finance Brands Sought to Inform and Advise
Personal finance brands sought to deliver news to customers on how COVID-19 was impacting their finances, as well as explain how they would continue to support them during the crisis. A good example of the content being put out by personal finance brands is this blog post from Betterment, which details how the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, recently passed by Congress, will impact individuals.
The personal finance sector did not put out content related to public health & safety.
Healthcare Companies Leaned on Their Expertise
Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are perhaps best equipped to talk about this crisis, and they spent Q1 producing lots of news content and public health & safety information around COVID-19.
Because pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are in a unique position to help individuals, they also produced a lot of content around community and collaboration. A good example is this blog post by Oscar Health on how they launched a COVID-19 testing center locator.
Pharmaceutical and healthcare brands did not produce content around impact assessment.
Retail and Ecommerce Brands Showcased How They’re Helping
Retail businesses are like automobile businesses in that they are in a unique position to help during this crisis. That’s why they’ve been producing a hefty amount of content related to community and collaboration—such as this post by Brooks Brothers on how they’re producing hospital masks and gowns in their factories.
Retail and ecommerce brands are also putting out a lot of content directed at their employees during a time when hundreds of thousands of retail workers are losing their jobs.
The retail and ecommerce brands we researched did not produce content around crisis management—one of the only sectors not to do so.
Technology Brands Explained How Their Services Could Help Others Impacted
As previously mentioned, technology brands put out COVID-19 content related to how they were proceeding with operations, and any impact their business was experiencing due to COVID-19.
This is useful for consumers relying on technology to continue working, or who want to stay in touch with friends and family. An excellent example of owned COVID-19 content is this resource center created by Zoom, which features tutorials on how to use Zoom, blog posts about working remotely, hosting virtual events, telehealth, and more.
Content By Telecommunications Brands Focused on Meeting Increased Demand
Like tech, telecommunications companies are seeing an increase in demand as reliance on the internet for both work and leisure has never been greater. In response, telecommunications companies have created COVID-19 content around how they’re focused on providing a strong and reliable network for consumers. Here’s an example of this approach by Verizon.
Telecommunications brands did not produce content around impact assessment, thought leadership, public health and safety, or leadership.
How Should Your Brand Approach COVID-19 Content?
Overall, this data provides us with some important takeaways.
The first is to stay in your lane. As you can tell from the COVID-19 content being produced in different sectors, brands are only creating content around topics they feel they have the authority to talk about. Deviating from this approach can come off as tone deaf or insensitive.
The second is that, if your brand already produces a lot of content, keep doing so. Even before COVID-19, B2B, tech, and finance brands put out a ton of content. If they ceased to do so during COVID-19, it could look as if they’re panicking, which would erode consumer confidence.
Furthermore, brands that don’t usually put out a lot of content should start putting out more during a crisis. A good rule of thumb is, if your business has been affected in any way, or if you have useful information to provide, you should be publishing content about it.
As we head into Q2, we’ll be looking to see how COVID-19 content themes and volume change. Will there be a transition away from news content to content related to recovery and rebuilding? Will COVID-19 content volume continue to spike? We’ll be watching closely.
For more news and insights into crisis content and communications, visit our COVID-19 resource center.