Aditya Sheth

Understanding what not to do is often far more crucial than what to do when it comes to dealing with a global pandemic that’s affected the world in more ways than one.

And content marketing in times of crisis is no exception.

But as Queen once said, “The show must go on.” I’m going to outline some ways you can use content to prevent a PR disaster and build goodwill with both current and potential customers.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  1. Content marketing don’ts.
  2. Content marketing do’s.
  3. Venngage’s approach to content marketing in a crisis.
  4. Your customers need you.

If you’ve been looking for direction on navigating these murky waters using content marketing and avoiding common pitfalls in the process, this guide is for you.

I’ll share examples of companies navigating this crisis effectively and companies that aren’t and how Venngage is approaching content marketing in this crisis.

Let’s get started.

Content marketing don’ts

Want to approach content marketing in a crisis the right way?

Start by applying the “Jab, jab, jab, right hook” heuristic to your content strategy. What is jab, jab, jab, right hook? In simple terms: Aim to create 80% educational content and 20% promotional content.

Follow that up by eliminating the what not-to do’s. And conclude by putting in diligent work to follow the “do’s.”

Here are some content marketing don’ts to avoid in a crisis:

1. Don’t display a lack of empathy

The goal of content marketing is educating or addressing customer needs and offering solutions to alleviate their problem. That’s how new blog visitors turn into customers and customers turn into raving fans.

Customers can smell a lack of empathy from a mile away. If your content doesn’t demonstrate that you understand their pain points and aren’t offering tangible solutions to address them, your customers will simply tune out.

Empathy-driven content marketing requires you to identify your customers (and your larger audience), and regularly talk to them about:

  • What they’re struggling with.
  • Tips that might help them address some of their pain points.
  • What you can do to support them.

This is especially true for content marketing in a crisis.

It’s not about the generic “we’re here for you” or “tell us how we can help” cliches either. You should either provide actionable solutions or at the very least, put your customers at ease through reassuring or hopeful messages for the future through educational content.

This will require you to switch up your content strategy to account for changing customer needs. Brafton’s COVID-19 Hub is a great example of empathy-driven content aimed at helping customers (more on this later).

But here’s what content lacking empathy and promoted using email marketing looks like:

Disclaimer: Ritual quickly corrected their mistake by apologizing in a follow-up email – hats off to them. But, I hope this helps your company avoid making similar marketing mistakes.

You don’t have to even put yourselves in your customers’ shoes to be empathetic. You’re a customer yourself and just like anyone else, you too, are struggling in this crisis.

As a customer, how would you want to be communicated with? What kind of content, tone and message would put you at ease? Here’s a handy guide on how to “not” write your emails during a global crisis.

2. Don’t ignore the crisis

In this crisis, you’ve probably noticed two kinds of companies:

  1. Businesses taking the time to help customers and the community at large.
  2. Businesses chugging along pretending like it’s business as usual.

And just like me, you probably dislike the second kind of business.

Being silent during a global pandemic is not only distasteful but will also impact your brand’s reputation and make potential customers think twice about doing business with your company in the future.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a direct excerpt from H+K on how COVID-19 is changing consumer buying behaviour:

“Consumers expect brands to shift their business priorities and resources to appropriately respond and adapt to current challenges, even if it translates to suffering significant economic losses. Unsurprisingly, consumers expect brands to produce products that aid consumers with today’s challenges and communicate transparently to stakeholders. Beyond these expectations, consumers want companies to further support the crisis by donating a portion of sales to local hospitals and/or partnering with other brands to maximize the impact of their efforts.”

I’m not saying you should start plastering the word “COVID-19” on your websites, ads, billboards or social media content.

You don’t have to mention it by name. But acknowledge the fact that we are indeed going through a crisis in your content and messaging followed by reassurances or tangible solutions.

I can’t think of any example better than beverage maker Corona to prove my point. Even with the rare misfortune of sharing a name with a global pandemic, Corona has taken quick steps to remedy the situation:

In short: when the going gets tough, don’t stay silent about it! Talk to your stakeholders, investors, community and your customers at large about your plans for dealing with this crisis effectively. This brings me to my next point.

Content marketing do’s

Once you’ve avoided the don’ts, time to put in the hard work and start doing things.

Here are the do’s for content marketing in a crisis:

1. Do focus on educational content

In this pandemic, people haven’t stopped searching for information online, they’re just searching for different things now.

This means one simple thing: In these trying times, your audience has switched their priorities. They want to be educated and not sold.

And with keywords like “work from home” seeing 300% more searches in March compared to the same period last year, now is the time for creative search plays.

Which keywords are steeply trending up?

Can you create inspirational or educational content around ancillary but trending topics?

What content can you create now that will be useful to readers 6 months or a year from now? (Don’t forget to keep the slugs and headings evergreen so your content is still relevant even a year or two from now.)

Display empathy toward changing customer needs, keep SEO trends in mind during the content ideation stage and double down on educational content if you want your business to weather this storm.

Brafton’s COVID-19 Resource Hub is the perfect example of doubling down on educational content and being empathetic toward current customer needs (which is to be educated):


Another example comes from Headspace, which used Instagram to educate followers on washing their hands and also tying their product in to make one light-hearted piece of content:

View this post on Instagram

Anytime can be a good time to relax your mind. Just add soap and water. Watch and wash.

A post shared by Headspace (@headspace) on

Pro tip: Not sure where to start? Here’s a handy guide on how to be “helpful first” in a rapidly changing environment from The Brafton resource hub.

2. Do provide company updates

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Above all else, now is the time to let your customers know about any changes to your business.

This doesn’t just apply to changing business hours or shipping updates. This is a great opportunity for your business to be empathetic to your customers and their changing needs.

Levi’s parent company is the prime example of company updates done right:

Start by thinking about how your business can help your customers in this time. Especially people who have been directly affected by this crisis:

  • Can you give them free shipping?
  • What about free access to premium tools to support customers operating local businesses?
  • Can you create a hub of educational content that can help your customers navigate this crisis effectively?

Whatever you can do to help, now is the time to do it. Once it’s business as usual, customers will remember you as the one who helped them rather than tried to sell to them.

The end result? Improved customer perception and trust in your brand and by extension: increased sales.

There’s plenty of company update examples but the one I admire most comes from Brafton themselves. Here’s a letter from their CMO, Jeff Baker:


Content marketing isn’t all about writing blog posts or recording webinars. In times like these you should use content as a PR and comms channel to encourage two-way communication with your customers.

Venngage’s approach to content marketing in a crisis

How have we dealt with the crisis? Maybe I’m biased, but I think we’ve done a decent job at following the do’s and straying away from the don’ts.

Not only that, we’ve taken measures to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on our business as soon as it was declared a global pandemic.

Here’s some things we did immediately:

  1. Spoke to our users. We sent out surveys and spoke over the phone to understand their pain points in this new environment.
  2. Started tracking search trends. Staying on top of SEO trends and creating content around ancillary topics (trending keywords and ideas).
  3. Doubled down on content. Instead of playing it safe, we decided to go all out with publishing new educational and inspirational content.

But here’s a few other reasons why we’re thriving as a business – namely, this two-pronged approach:

1. The jobs to be done framework

“People don’t buy, they hire products to get a job done.” This is essentially what Jobs to be Done (JTBD) means.

For example: Let’s pretend your company sells an online meeting tool. You run a successful blog where you talk about how your tool helps customers run productive meetings.

Customers find your blog online, sign up and start to use your product for online meetings.

The crisis hits, the world is forced to work from home and your product becomes even more important now.

But you’re not an average content marketer. You dig deeper, and after some research on Google Trends you notice the term “webinars” surging in popularity.

If you were to think from a JTBD perspective, you’d realize your product can also be used to conduct webinars.

You add webinars as a possible use case for your tool across your blog and landing pages. And voila!

You’ll now also acquire customers who want to hire a tool to help them conduct live webinars.

Focusing on marketing your products based on the jobs to be done allows you to be far more dynamic for growing product adoption and scaling your business.

We’ve written about jobs to be done and how to apply it to your content strategy in our search trends research study.

2. The GRAP Framework

Created by our content team at Venngage, GRAP is a simple acronym to help you remember the fundamental parts of building an effective content strategy.

Without all four, generating consistent results from your content and pivoting your content strategy will become quite difficult:

Goals: If your goal is to drive brand awareness, you need to create viral content. If your goal is driving traffic, you should create keyword-optimized content. One piece of content won’t do it all.

Research: In this stage you use the data and consumer behavior to make data-driven decisions about how to create and promote said content. Example: creating highly-relevant outreach lists.

Authority: Your authority is determined by how you’re perceived by search engines, social platforms and your audience. The more authority you have on a subject matter, the easier it will be to rank for keywords related to your expertise.

Promotion: This refers to actively promoting your content online. Promotion could be anything from link building to driving traffic or increasing your Instagram followers. Without promotion, you’re not going to see any results from content marketing.

Learn how to use the GRAP framework to build a bulletproof content strategy here.

Your customers need you

COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. And until the dust settles, this is going to be the new normal for a while.

Eventually marketers are going to move on and approach content marketing like they always have. Until we do, keep these best practises in mind:

  • Avoid the don’ts: If you avoid the not-to do’s, you’re already 90% there.
  • Focus on the JTBD: What other jobs can customers hire you to do? Make those jobs prominent in your content and messaging.
  • Apply the GRAP framework: A content strategy that doesn’t account for goals, research, authority and promotion is doomed to fail.

There’s really no definitive playbook on content marketing in a crisis. We’re all pretty much figuring things out as we go.

Sharing what we’ve learned with one another in navigating this crisis can help other companies do things differently (or avoid making costly mistakes in the first place).

Listen to your customers, hear what they say and deliver what they need. Even if all else fails, empathy and customer-driven content marketing won’t.