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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.

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