In March, we published an article about how brands were creating content related to COVID-19. At the time, the outbreak was still in its early stages in the United States, and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding what to do from a business perspective.
As a result, we saw a lot of content being published that focused on news and updates, crisis management, and business continuity. We detailed these findings in our Q1 COVID-19 content analysis.
Today it’s safe to say that we’ve entered a new stage of this crisis, where brands know a little bit more and can be proactive in their response. As a result, we’ve seen a shift toward content designed to educate and inform readers about different topics related to COVID-19.
One such form of this is “future-state” content. This is a piece of content in which a brand offers their take on how this crisis will change the world going forward. Recently we’ve been seeing more brands lean into this type of content—with varying degrees of success.
It’s important to take notice of how enterprise brands envision life after COVID-19. For one, major enterprise brands likely have some unique insight into how COVID-19 is changing the world, and have a responsibility to share what they’re seeing. Secondly, future-state COVID-19 content is the type of non-transactional content that we’ve seen work well for brands throughout this crisis.
Writing about what life looks like after COVID-19 can be reassuring to consumers while also arming them with practical advice on how to prepare.
But there are risks to writing about life after COVID-19. You could come across as insensitive during a time when many parts of the world are still greatly impacted by the pandemic. Conveying an outlook that is overly optimistic or overly pessimistic could also be seen as providing false hope or spreading fear.
But there are many examples of great future-state COVID-19 content that can provide you with a roadmap of how to create your own. Let’s take a look at these examples:
The first type of future-state content we’re seeing is the general prediction of what the world may look like based on the events impacting us right now, and how businesses can/should adapt. These predictions are made by senior leaders within enterprise organizations that have some authority to comment on these matters. Let’s take a look at three good examples of this type of content.
A World Remade by COVID-19 (Salesforce & Deloitte)
Our first example comes from Salesforce & Deloitte, who teamed up to author a white paper detailing four different scenarios for how the world might change over the next 3-5 years based on actions being taken today. The objective of the white paper is to “identify decisions and actions that will improve resilience to the rapidly changing landscape” and “move beyond recovering from the crisis, and toward thriving in the long run.”
The white paper argues that the severity of the pandemic and the level of collaboration between countries will drive the overall impact COVID-19 has on the world. It then goes on to evaluate the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political impacts that different levels of virus severity and collaboration will bring about. At the end of the white paper, the authors pose a handful of questions to readers to help them better determine how they may be able to plan for the future.
The white paper works as a piece of future-state content because it’s scientific in its approach and takes into account a broad range of possibilities. In this way, it shows the reader how the world might change in the future based on the actions we take today, without committing to one viewpoint. By exposing the reader to a spectrum of possibilities, and providing them with actionable insights, the white paper serves as a helpful piece of future-state content.
The Future is Not What it Used to Be (McKinsey)
In this “featured insights” article published by McKinsey, authors Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal provide seven predictions for how the pandemic will shape the future, and how business leaders will need to face these changes.
Among their predictions are more efficient supply chains, a renewed investment in crisis management, a spike in demand for contact-free services (i.e. ecommerce, telemedicine), more government intervention in the economy, increased scrutiny on businesses to do right by their employees, and more effective healthcare systems.
Like the Salesforce & Deloitte white paper, this article works well because it doesn’t commit to a specific viewpoint. Instead, it provides a list of possible outcomes based on information we already know and historical evidence. The article is designed to help readers plan for the future by telling them what that future may look like, while positioning McKinsey as a thought leader and partner in helping them navigate toward the future.
After the Coronavirus Peak, What’s Next? (Morgan Stanley)
This article, published in the “Ideas” section of the Morgan Stanley website, showcases a timeline Morgan Stanley has created that details when the pandemic will peak and when Morgan Stanley anticipates a “return to normal.”
The article explains that, while it seems we’ve almost reached the peak of the outbreak, there will be a very long recovery period, both from a health perspective and an economic perspective. Overall, the pandemic will not truly be over until a vaccine becomes widely available.
The article then details how the pandemic’s timeline will impact economic recovery, and what governments need to do to ensure a vaccine is widely available. The article is helpful because it leverages proprietary data and expert insight (the author performs equity research on large cap biotech companies). By laying out a potential timeline and backing it up with research, Morgan Stanley finds a way to provide its readers with value without trying to sell to them.
The next category of future-state content being published by brands is industry-specific advice. Whereas our previous examples showcased how the world might change after COVID-19, this type of content focuses on COVID-19’s long-term impact on a specific industry. Here are two examples of good industry-specific future-state content.
Luxury After COVID-19: Changed for (the) Good? (Bain & Company)
This article in the Bain & Company “Insights” section is similar to the Salesforce & Deloitte white paper in that it models scenarios for what the world will look like in the future. However, it specifically applies each of these scenarios to the impact they will have on the luxury goods industry.
The authors provide their readers with advice on how to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their business. This is one of many pieces of content Bain has published to keep their clients informed about how COVID-19 is impacting their business.
“All the content we produce is designed to keep our clients up-do-date with market trends,” says Giulia Baroni, digital PR and social media coordinator at Bain, when we asked about Bain’s approach to the article. “We hope it might help them and our readers to better understand how to navigate the market they find themselves in.”
This article succeeds because it aims to be helpful while leveraging industry expertise and proprietary data.
COVID-19 and Future Supply Chain Planning (IBM)
Another industry-specific example comes from IBM. This article analyzes the impact COVID-19 has had on global supply chains and how businesses will need to adapt in the future to avoid disruptions.
The article then goes on to explain how artificial intelligence (AI) can mitigate supply chain disruption and save businesses money. Lastly, it provides three strategies for strengthening your supply chain.
While the article provides unique insight and actionable advice, it also serves as a clever plug for IBM’s own AI technology. However, the report never overtly promotes IBM’s solution. Instead, it shows what a solution like IBM can do for your business.
This approach reinforces IBM’s value proposition while simultaneously helping the reader solve their problem—no small feat.
The third approach we’ve seen to future-state content is content that pertains directly to the business itself. In this format, brands are explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic will change the future of their business. This type of content may not have as broad of an appeal, but it’s still useful for consumers of your product or service.
However, if you’re going to produce content talking about your own business during this time, do so carefully. Self-serving content can harm your brand’s perception. Like the previous examples mentioned, you need to make sure you’re still providing your audience with value. Here’s a good example of business-specific future-state content:
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly Shares Thoughts on Planning for Future Demand Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic (Southwest Airlines)
This video, published on the Southwest Airlines website, features Southwest CEO Gary Kelly answering questions related to how Southwest Airlines is planning for the future. It’s part of an ongoing series of YouTube videos Southwest Airlines has been publishing each week in relation to COVID-19.
In the video, Kelly says he anticipates an extended recession and isn’t sure when Southwest will be ramping up services. However, he vows to stay prepared for whatever comes next.
The video works as a piece of future-state content because it allows Kelly to come off as relatable. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but promises customers he’ll do his best. By being real and transparent, Kelly reassures his customers that Southwest can be relied upon to do right by them.
During a time when airline travel is virtually nonexistent, that’s about all you can do.
In the coming weeks, we’ll see more future-state content emerge from brands across the business landscape. If you’re considering creating future-state content on behalf of your brand, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Write what you know: In all the examples used, brands only commented on a subject they felt they had unique insight on. During a time when misleading information could have serious implications, it’s important to only talk about things you have authority on—especially when making predictions for the future. If you can’t, it would be better to take a different direction.
- Provide value: The common thread with every piece of content we reviewed is that they all provided helpful information. That’s the key to all good COVID-19 content: provide value. Be sure to review all your COVID-19 communications to ensure that they are serving your reader, not just your business.
- Don’t overcommit: Nobody can fully predict the future, so don’t try to in your content. Instead, provide some perspective on what your business believes could be a few possibilities for the future, based on the current environment. By not overcommitting to a viewpoint, you avoid making false predictions, which could be harmful to your brand.
Keep in mind that any content predicting the future has a very short shelf life. Anything you say about the future today could be proven wrong the very next day. Still, if well executed, future-state content can be a powerful way to foster engagement and position your brand as a thought leader.
For more insights about COVID-19 content & communications, visit the Knotch COVID-19 resource center.