Pandemic puts marketing authenticity to the test

By Cathy Colliver


Louisville, Kentucky, USA


When everything around you is bananas and marketing feels beyond the point, this is when marketing authentically is put to the test.

First off, here’s why I said “bananas” instead of “unprecedented.” Hero’s Journey came up with 30 creative alternatives to the word we’ve all heard so much it’s starting to lose its meaning. My favourite casual synonym: bananas. My favourite formal synonym: complicated. When in doubt use a thesaurus for the one you feel least turned off about and use that instead of “unprecedented.”

Now more than ever, brands need to put their full, authentic selves forward.
Now more than ever, brands need to put their full, authentic selves forward.

Why start with sharing that tip? When you’re trying to market with authenticity, it’s best to not speak like you’re giving a formal speech. “Unprecedented” is about as formal as you get, so unless you’re in the finance or investment management world, an alternative is a good idea — especially after two months of hearing that word over and over. Let’s remember to be more human.

Second, look at some interesting examples of how brands are incorporating the current situation into their brand advertisements and messages. Marketing pro Katie Martell always tells it like it is, and she has some interesting analysis around demonstrating action and speaking to how the brand can help.

Third, remember to think about your community and how you can form trust. Ann Handley from Marketing Profs gave a stellar keynote for the now virtual Content Marketing Conference. Miss it? You can get free digital registration to access recorded content through the end of May.

Handley reminded us it’s important right now to reach out to your community and deepen existing relationships, focus on a combination of short-term actions and long-term leadership, and always be relevant and highlight stories about people to earn trust.

For news organisations, we’re all going through much the same. As ad revenues decreased, we still saw audience engagement increase because people turned to us for relevant, local news and information. It’s in that latter area where we are continuing to demonstrate how news media companies can help when the world is a wee bit complicated.

We serve our communities by providing news that’s relevant, timely, and meaningful. In doing so, we continue to build on the trust we’ve already established with our community of readers. In many cases, news media companies are even seeing increases in subscriptions (print, digital, or complete access). That means a lot, especially as journalists work their tails off while putting themselves at risk or work remotely in makeshift spaces at home to deliver trusted, local news.

My own local news brand within USA TODAY NETWORK, the Courier Journal, in Louisville, Kentucky, had a magical moment recently as the Pulitzer Prizes were announced. We won the Breaking News category for a series of speed-of-light investigative stories on last-minute pardons from an outgoing state governor.

Editor Rick Green did something important as he publicly spoke about how proud he was. He thanked the people who made it possible: the multi-disciplinary newsroom team and our subscribers who value our news enough to pay for it.

Then, he asked the newsroom to put together a piece about how the Pulitzer Prize-winning work came together. This shared the story of the people behind the work so that our community of readers could have a deeper experience of what went into the reporting.

While that was not done for the sake of marketing, it’s a great reminder. We connect most deeply with our community of readers and advertising clients when we seek to help them and share stories of the people who make it happen. After all, marketing boils down to telling stories of how you can help.

Banner image courtesy of Mircea Iancu from Pixabay.

About Cathy Colliver

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