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Content Production During Quarantine: How Brands Can Keep Creating, No Studio Required

John Degray, Associate Creative Director
Liz Furze, Associate Creative Director
April 30, 2020

High-quality digital content has become a core pillar of marketing for modern brands. It’s how you reach new audiences, engage with your existing fans, hone your message, and express your brand’s unique values and personality. It’s how a new brand emerges from chicken-scratch on a whiteboard as a living, breathing online entity. 

At AMP Agency, social content creation is our bread and butter, so to speak, and we’ve built out an in-house studio capable of producing top-notch stuff for the brands we work with, from follow-along recipe videos to stop motion lifestyle layflats to jaw-dropping beauty product photography. We learned to measure the impact of our work and evolve accordingly; we adapt to the always-shifting landscape of best practices (4:5, no, 9:16, still images, no wait, everything video!). 

Then COVID-19 hit. And all of that changed.

Suddenly, brands across the board have been forced to approach their content strategy from an entirely new angle. In some cases, content created months in advance might now seem irrelevant, or the entire strategy may feel off. At AMP, we’ve been challenged to create the caliber of content our clients have learned to expect from us...but without the tools and processes we’ve become accustomed to. And it’s not just an ‘AMP’ challenge. It’s an ‘everybody’ challenge. 

We’ve learned a thing or two from the last few weeks of coping with this crisis as we strategize along with our clients to deliver content in a whole new way, while our studio remains dark in our Times Square office and our employees are scattered throughout New York City and beyond. Of course, we’ll all continue to adapt as the crisis and its aftermath play out. In the meantime, here are some strategic ways that brands can re-think content production during a time of uncertainty.

Look Back 

In a world of pay-to-play, unless your pockets are bottomless (if you’re one of those clients…call us?) there are plenty of eyes that haven’t seen your content from the past year. Chances are, lots of dollars and time went into that work. This is the perfect time to reflect on your past content calendar, assess your output, and consider how you can adapt it for right now.

We always start by asking a few questions: What worked? Why did it work? Would it work again? What would need to change? 

Sometimes, this solution can be as simple as resurfacing old content and running it again with refreshed copy. For Welch’s Fruit Snacks we were able to update old creative by swapping in new packaging and put the ads back into market with updated, more tonally aware copy.

welchs-4

Or, if your past content doesn’t feel relevant now, simple edits can often help breathe new life into your existing assets—no production required. That might mean adding some updated art cards or a new text overlay. It could also mean experimenting with the ad format—can you translate older Instagram feed assets into Instagram Stories, or update a few existing ads to run as one collections unit? 

When it comes to video, try combining high-performing assets or re-cutting a spot to create a new story arc. We’ve worked with recording houses to do completely remote sessions with our voice over talent to update our scripts on the fly—no sound proofing required!   

Re-using content might not be the solution to all your social needs, but it’s a low-touch way to take what you’ve already done and up-cycle it into something fresh. So before you rush to create all-new everything, take some time to peruse your inventory. Just like going through your closet, you might find a piece from last season that just needs a little re-working to fit your current style.

Look Inward

Okay, but what if your content from last April just won’t work right now? Don’t fret. It turns out there’s a small army of passionate creators right at your fingertips…your own team. 

Right now, depending on your workflow, employees may be feeling restless and eager to find new ways to contribute to business. The internet is on fire with the quarantined masses showing off their newfound love of breadmaking and their perfectly choreographed dance to Blinding Lights. Chances are your staff is discovering new skills, new passions, and new dance moves just like the rest of us. So embrace it. Encourage them. And then feature them.

Has anyone internally expressed interest in creating content for you? Or are they already creating interesting content for their own personal brand? Handing the reins over to your team is an ideal way to champion some of your brand’s biggest fans. Plus, consumers love to know the insider scoop. That might mean sharing a carousel of recipes your employees are making, a video of a makeup look they’re trying out, a snap of their stay-at-home #OOTD, or a blog post on how they’re approaching childcare while working during quarantine.

Feeling adventurous? Go Live. It took a pandemic for brands to really embrace Instagram’s live feature, but it’s having a moment and we are here for it. Live Q&As are a simple way to let consumers engage with your brand in a way that feels bespoke, and get to know the humans behind the brand. For example, for our coffee client Lavazza, we partnered with their in-house trainers to launch a live series around helping consumers elevate their at-home coffee experience beyond traditional drip coffee.

Need more inspiration? TBWA Singapore produced a heartwarming spot for their client Ikea created exclusively with TBWA staff members. Nordstrom has done an incredible job of utilizing their internal team on Instagram TV, showing off a cocktail recipe from one of their store bartenders, a self-care tutorial with one of their beauty directors, and a yoga series with a member of their marketing team. Our own client, Sam Edelman, recently launched a weekly series called Moodboard Mondays, featuring the inspo their staff is pinning in their Instagram saves. 

Screen Shot 2020-04-30 at 1.20.18 PMChances are your staff is full of creative minds with diverse talents. Featuring them brings authenticity and humanity to your brand—and will only bring you closer to your consumer. 

Look Outward 

When you’ve got goals for your brand and a distinct vision for your social media feed, sometimes DIY content won’t cut it. But how can you bring outside resources in to help your brand when professional production is at a standstill?

We usually see influencers as a way to reach audiences. But what if we shift to see them as micro production studios? Influencers can be extremely affordable one-person operations, capable of crafting high-quality content with the talent fees baked right in. Creators across YouTube and Instagram are accustomed to working with limited resources, often shooting at home on their own equipment. Try to find lesser-known influencers whose visual aesthetic aligns with your brand’s and partner with them to create the custom content you need.

Alternatively, you might not have the resources right now to create custom content at all. That’s where your fans step in. Asking questions and creating hashtag buzz on social media isn’t just a best practice to engage your audience; it’s a way to generate more content. Take inspiration from clothing brand Maje. They use Instagram Stickers to ask questions of their audience, and then re-posts the answers with a simple image. It’s a low-lift way to show some brand personality and build affinity with their audience, and it’s something they can replicate again and again with success.

Contentproduction

You can also try setting a challenge for your audience on TikTok or elsewhere on social. For our client Just For Men, we launched the #letsgrowtogether challenge around the insight that lots of men are using this opportunity to try out the quarantine beard (some more successfully than others). We cheer them on, and re-purpose the posts we receive across social media and re-post to Instagram.

JFM-2 For Lavazza, we asked fans to share their WFH setup (plus their daily coffee, duh) using #LavazzaAtHome to win bags of coffee. It was a chance for us to collect images to encourage consumers to drink more Lavazza at home. We reshare those images across our channels and give fans some love at the same time.

Lavazza

Finally, when in doubt, curate. In a recent piece on the rise of the curator, Strategy Exec Ana Andjelic writes, “Modern aspiration is not about having money to buy things, but having taste to know what to buy. That’s where human curation comes in, and why it’s increasingly considered both a differentiator in fashion, food, travel, wellness, [and] design...” In short, curation is an expression of your brand’s point of view and distinct niche. Re-posting found images and video from other sources allows for brand storytelling and can help you develop an atmosphere around your brand. 

Woman-focused coworking space The Wing does an excellent job of this, posting stills from films or shows that evoke the image of a well-rounded, culturally savvy woman with a wicked sense of humor, no doubt their intended audience. See also the oft-hyped Supreme, which solidifies its NYC cred with gritty photos and footage pulled from history

Look Good - But Not TOO Good

As Creative Directors, we’ve spent years trying to elevate our brands. We labor over the minute details, from lighting to props to pantones, all in pursuit of perfect visual consistency. But that desire for spot-on perfection has been replaced with a greater need. We’re all craving authenticity, vulnerability, and honest connection more than ever. Looking at the world through brand marketing goggles feels insensitive and, frankly, inappropriate. And as a gesture of solidarity with our collective feelings of fragility, the content your brand releases right now doesn’t have to be so polished—and in fact, it shouldn’t be.

Consumers have become forgiving and are willing to look past less professional production in hopes of seeing a greater impact or a more human message. If your brand is doing something important to help those affected by COVD-19, don’t be afraid of putting out an awareness video that’s not up to your normal audiovisual standards. Your audience won’t mind. At AMP, we’ve turned employees’ kitchen pantries into makeshift studios to record voice-over so brands can update their messaging quickly in the ever-evolving landscape. Sure, the sound quality isn’t flawless, but in the era of COVID, the greater sin is appearing tone deaf. And in fact, it can be really refreshing to see brands release content that has a more personal feel.

Across social media, we’ve been inspired and delighted to see our favorite Sesame Street characters take to Zoom playdates (filmed on an iPhone), or the Bon Appetit gang moving from the glossy BA Test Kitchen into their own home galleys. We loved the moving montage that Facebook put together using both user-generated and photojournalistic footage to intro the Facebook Community Health Platform. This content feels all the more impactful because it reminds us that we’re all in this together—we’re all stumbling through the novelty and the inscrutability of quarantine and doing the best we can. So as a brand, don’t be afraid to let your guard down. Shoot on an iPhone. Record on your laptop. Show your consumers you’re right there with them. 

And Above All…

This is, admittedly, a tough time for brands—because it’s a tough time for everyone. And while we sometimes forget it, there are humans behind every brand who care and want to do right by their product, their consumers, their employees, and their society all at once. 

Our ultimate advice: be genuine and provide value. Consumers are seeking meaning and action due to the heavy nature of our current cultural climate. If your brand can’t make a big splashy contribution to relief efforts, or if COVID-19 messaging just isn’t really relevant to who you are as a brand, remember it’s okay to be quiet on social media right now. Take a step back and orient your efforts toward where you can truly create impact for your brand and your consumers. That might mean focusing on customer experience or employee relationships rather than content. Just remember: if a tree falls in the woods and you don’t post an Insta story about it…it still fell. 

Doubtless, the situation will continue to evolve, and so will the way we communicate as brands. Embrace the uncertainty. Let your teams be creative. Loosen the reins. And above all, be true to the soul of your brand. If you’d like to talk more about how your brand can navigate the presently murky waters of content development, we’re excited to continue the conversation. After all, murky as those waters are, we’re all floating in the same boat.

Related Posts

What DTCs Are Missing As They Open Physical Stores

Benjamin Y. Seldin,  Strategy Director In the years leading up to the current pandemic, Casper, the bedding brand, was in the midst of opening 200 stores across North America. It was among a number of direct-to-consumer companies (“DTCs”) opening physical stores at a rapid pace. While these brands are likely now reconsidering expansion plans, this trend will not disappear. DTCs experience awareness and a surge in online sales in markets where they open a physical location. From the design of their stores to the purposes they serve, I’ve noticed commonalities in how DTCs treat brick and mortar. And I’ve wondered: does their digital origin produce a particular approach toward physical stores? So, right before the pandemic, I journeyed through a bunch of them, most of which are recent additions to Boston, to investigate.  I found most share an emphasis on product demonstration and prime location – as well as a shortage of personality. It’s like they applied their focus on user experience in the digital space to the physical one. But that strategy is fading in digital, and it is in real life too. So in the following, I’ll identify how DTCs are missing personality as they enter brick and mortar and offer suggestions for improvement and greater opportunity.   Let’s look at some examples We’ll begin outside the DTC world with Filson, the heritage clothing brand that started in 1897. In speaking with a sales rep there, I learned that before the company opened a store in Boston’s gleaming new Seaport District, Alex Carleton, its Chief Creative Officer, took time scouring New England for unique antiques to fit Filson’s rugged, hip American aesthetic. The result is a quirky space with a larger-than-life wooden bear at the entrance that both greets and frightens customers, and dressing rooms that could be guest rooms at the Ace Hotel.  When compared to Away, the DTC retailer that later opened next door, Filson’s store contrasts greatly. Away is sparse, efficient, and transactional. It mainly encourages customers to test its flagship product, a well-designed suitcase. Similarly, the shoe brand Allbirds, famous for using wool, features wool swaths to touch and detailed explanations of the material’s benefits. Indochino, a menswear company, displays a wall of fabric swaths to exhibit color and variety. For these DTCs, product demonstration is paramount.   Location, location, location Like the real estate adage says, location is also a big factor. Many of the DTCs I visited are in Boston’s Seaport District. Maggie Smith, head of marketing at the neighborhood’s developer explained, “co-tenancy continues to be a main part of the conversation…there’s a transition going on, from brands wanting to know traditional real estate metrics to those that are more consumer-driven; [before moving in] they want to know the social clout of the place itself.” In normal times, the Seaport District bolsters its social clout with pop-up villages including rows of local retailers. The pop-ups benefit from the legitimacy of the larger players, and the larger stores enjoy the freshness of the pop-ups.    Single products DTC stores are often built around single products. This approach can feel contemporary in the online world but incomplete in the physical one, where even brands using the showroom model (with just a few sizes for each item) still offer a full line. Casper understands the value of a full line and expanded a while back from a single mattress to a spread of sleep-related products that fill its brick-and-mortars. It went even further as it recently prepared for IPO, attempting to become “the Nike of sleep.” It assembled a “sleep advisory board” and instituted internal policies to rally around quality sleep. While it faced an uphill battle in a competitive environment, this was the right play, albeit a bit late in the game.   Advice and opportunities for DTC brands If you’re a DTC using this period to plan brick and mortar expansion, here are some ideas. Pick your moment. If you don’t yet have a full product line, consider a pop-up store in a choice location first. Let personality lead design. Dig into what makes your brand’s personality unique and reflect it in design. If your brand doesn’t have much personality, start by developing one. Connect product to personality. Even functional elements should convey personality. Consider how Apple’s genius bar took what historically was a routine service and made it a branded centerpiece that embodies the brand’s charisma. Think big and small. What makes Filson’s Seaport store impressive isn’t just the things you first see like the big bear. It’s the details like dressing room fixtures and antiques that unveil themselves the more time you spend in the store. If product-first DTC’s aspire to last over a century like Filson has, they should use brick and mortar to help us get to know them and not just their products. Personality signals a company’s identity and purpose. It also helps foster customer relationships, which will be key in weathering this storm and others ahead. To learn more about how personality grows brands, click here.

Google Search Trends Insights June 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for June 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. June 2020 Overview June 2020 was another month where keywords related to a current event news story. Of the 90 phrases we captured over the month, a third of them were news-related. Before the pandemic, the most popular keyword category was “sports”. In June, there were a few sports-related terms that we will examine later on in the article. Beyond news keywords, we saw a few holidays drive users to search as well as a few gaming-related phrases specifically related to PlayStation 5 or PS5. Here are our takes on the keywords driving the most queries in June 2020. Google Doodle The keyword that drove the most queries last month was connected to a Google Doodle. Marsha P. Johnson - 6/29/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Quoting from the Doodle Page, the illustration featured “LGBTQ+ rights activist, performer, and self-identified drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, who is widely credited as one of the pioneers of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States.” The timing of the Doodle was to commemorate the one year anniversary of Marsha being posthumously honored as a grand marshal of the New York City Pride March.  Google publishing this Doodle during Pride Month inspired us to view the 5-year trend for this phrase. Based on this graph, the search interest is continuing to grow for Pride Month, although the biggest jump occurred between 2018 and 2019. We believe that marketers should be aware of the increasing interest and align campaigns accordingly and authentically. June Holidays  Last month had a few holidays that drove users to Google to search for more information. There were three on our list that we wanted to analyze further to understand the year-over-year trends: National Best Friends Day - 6/8/2020 - 500,000+ queries Juneteenth - 6/18/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries Happy Father's Day - 6/21/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries The first holiday that cracked the top 3 most queried terms of the day was National Best Friends Day that brands like Starbucks and ProFlowers have used in ad campaigns. This year, the search interest for this lighthearted, social-media-friendly holiday hit a new peak. The volume isn’t large for this holiday as compared to other, more established holidays but it has been trending up over the past three years. It could be considered for content calendar planning for 2021. With the protests for racial equality and justice being in the forefront of peoples’ minds over the past six weeks, it makes sense there would be a very large increase in search volume around the holiday of Juneteenth: Looking at Google search trends data from 2004 to present, you can see that this year may have been a watershed moment for this holiday – and we may see more governments recognize it as an official holiday.   Lastly, Father’s Day had its top query day on the 21st. Father’s Day-related keywords also made the top 3 for the days of June 19 (Happy Father's Day - 1,000,000+ queries) and June 20 (Father’s Day message - 500,000+ queries). This year appeared to be a down year for queries related to this holiday as the peak occurred in 2017. Just remember, if there is any debate about which parent is more popular, check the data before you take a position. A Few Keywords Related To Sports In pre-pandemic days, most of the searches we collected were sports related but now they are a minor category of keywords. Here are the most queried phrases related to sports in June 2020: Drew Brees - 6/3/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Bubba Wallace - 6/21/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Cam Newton - 6/28/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Searchers were interested in what Drew Brees had to say in terms of other players kneeling during the National Anthem before games.  Bubba Wallace, who is a NASCAR driver, may have been the victim of a hate crime. Lastly, Cam Newton became a top searched sports-related query when he signed with the New England Patriots. It’s telling that without live games, sports queries have decreased over the past three months. With the major professional leagues set to resume play in July and August, it will be interesting to see if sports-related terms drive users to search like they did earlier in the year. Marketers should keep a close eye on sports keyword volume if live games resume. PlayStation 5 Is a Big Deal Sony revealed many details about their new gaming console and many people choose to learn more about it. PS5 - 6/10/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries PS5 Price - 6/11/2020 -2,000,000+ queries We have seen gaming become more popular as a keyword category over the months we have collected data. It seems the pandemic has driven more interest in gaming topics.  Marketers should be aware of this growing trend and see if it continues to grow at the same rate in 2021. Thanks for reading. Until next month.  

Google Search Trends Insights May 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for May 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. Before We Begin This month’s article is difficult to write. When we started this project, we were trying to mine the top searched terms for marketing insights to share on our blog. April 2020 had some light moments, and the holidays that occurred in May 2020 did drive many search terms that we will outline below. But before we discuss Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day, we’d like to acknowledge that this month is different. Important topics related to racial injustice and inequality predominantly drove queries in May. So along with those keywords, we’re going to share a resource that Google put together to continue to provide users with information on these topics.  May Holiday Trends The first keyword phrase on our list that fell in the Holiday category is “Teacher Appreciation Week.” Teacher Appreciation Week - 5/3/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Looking at the 5 year trend for this phrase, you can see that search interest surged in 2020. We think this year’s spike was powered by two main factors:  1) Google changed their logo to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week on May 3rd as a part of their Google Doodle program. 2) The pandemic has taught us all how important our teachers are, especially the parents who have been helping their kids learn from home.  While we may not see as much of a jump next year, marketers can add the week of May 3 - 7, 2021 to their calendars as a prime gift-giving time period.  The second holiday phrase from our list is “Cinco de Mayo.” Cinco de Mayo - May 4th - 2,000,000+ queries Looking at the chart, the query volume is up from last year, but lower than a peak in 2017. The holiday has been criticized in recent years, as the promotion of the date started as an earnest show of patriotism but has transitioned to be a chiefly corporate celebration. Even without a pandemic, we wonder if the popularity of this holiday will continue to dwindle as the public’s attitude on the true nature of the celebration changes. The next holiday on our list is “Mother’s Day”, which appeared many times on our list. Mother's Day 2020 - 5/2/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries  Happy Mother's Day - 5/8/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Happy Mother's Day - 5/9/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Happy Mother's Day Images - 5/9/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Mother's Day - 5/10/2020 - 500,000+ queries This year, Mother’s Day was a multiple-day event with many queries occurring on the days that led up to the holiday. We do appreciate that there was a spike in queries the week before the holiday. We’re pretty sure people were checking to make sure they didn’t miss celebrating with the moms in their lives. Beyond that, the “images” query on the 9th is intriguing, as it appears that people were looking for visuals to wish someone a Happy Mother’s Day in lieu of a traditional printed card.  We thought that this query was driven by our new behavior due to the pandemic. When you may not want to go to a traditional store to browse cards, the solution could be to make your own at home. From the chart above, this phrase has had enough volume to be measured from May 2012 now. With its highest volume this year, this trend could be an indication that pandemic-driven behavior shifts may affect sales in the printed card industry for future holidays. Lastly, “Memorial Day” was a popular holiday phrase on our list. Memorial Day - 5/24/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries 2020 saw the biggest query volume for this holiday not only over the past 5 years, but also... ...the last 16 years. This slight boost over last year and 2016 could be driven by COVID-19, as people were searching for information related to the holiday. Marketers should note that this holiday has been gaining query volume since 2004 and should be a factor they consider in their plans for the year. Protests for Racial Equality and Justice‬‬ In May 2020, there were many queries that were related to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the protests that followed.   Ahmaud Arbery - 5/5/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Ahmaud Arbery - 5/6/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Ahmaud Arbery - 5/7/2020 - 200,000+ queries George Floyd - 5/26/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries Minneapolis - 5/27/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Minneapolis news - 5/27/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Minneapolis riots - 5/27/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Tim Walz - 5/28/2020 - 500,000+ queries Derek Chauvin - 5/29/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Protests - 5/30/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries From a purely analytical standpoint, the query volumes of these searches indicate that the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the world’s reactions to them, held great importance among the general public in May 2020. In the past, that’s the only takeaway we would share, as our primary goal of this blog was to merely report phrases, dates and query volumes as a record of how searches progressed over time.  But the queries on this list cannot – and should not – be viewed or discussed solely through an analytic lens. Because not only do these queries represent the murders of two men, but the systemic racism, oppression and racial violence against Black people that remains prevalent in our country today.  We at AMP Agency have been deeply affected by these events and stand in full support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As we continue to listen, to examine ourselves and our actions, and to do the work we need to do, we want to make it clear that any tool that helps us learn more about how we can end racial inequality is one we wholeheartedly support.  That being said, Google itself has understood the importance of this subject and has provided this helpful resource to bring greater focus to the queries related to these society-changing topics. Along with compiling keyword queries related to protests for racial equity and justice‬‬, this resource includes many different insightful visualizations and data segments that provide information as users search for answers on Google.  Thanks for reading. Until next month.