Business

Celebrity content marketing lessons from a pandemic

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When it comes to content marketing, we live in extraordinary times. With cutting-edge tools such as live video, VR and AI at our fingertips, we can give our community behind-the-scenes access to our company, people and products.

We can showcase our best customers and bring our brands to life.

But what if your business had to close all of its physical locations? What if your people couldn’t go anywhere?

And what if your community was distracted by ... something? Not a little something. A very big, pandemic-level something.

These are the questions that content marketers find themselves grappling with in the midst of COVID-19. In the blink of an eye, we went from having the tools to do anything to a hobbling array of limitations. At least, that’s what it can feel like.

But what if we flipped that thinking the other way? Twitter co-founder Biz Stone once said, “Constraints inspire creativity. When are backs are against the wall, we come up with some amazing things.”

Where can we look for inspiration? If you flip the through the opening pages of that famed marketing handbook “Us Weekly” — hey, what else is there to look at in a waiting room? — you’ll find a section titled, “Stars — They’re Just Like Us!”

These pages feature celebrities doing “regular people” things such as walking down the street and getting groceries. However, these days, despite their fame and means, celebrities have our same quarantined constraints.

And some are using this as an opportunity to create some amazing content of their own.

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During this odd interlude, we can learn some valuable content marketing lessons from celebrities working within these same limitations.

Create what your audience is looking for

Actor John Krasinski didn’t start a weekly web show in the middle of a pandemic to mug to the camera like his character Jim Halpert from “The Office.” Nor did he do it tout his Jack Ryan action-hero status.

Instead, in the midst of all of the bad news, he saw that what many people were hungry for was some good news. And that’s literally what he’s delivered with his aptly titled video series, “Some Good News” or “SGN.”

Featuring homemade title cards crafted by his children and set in his home office, Krasinski’s weekly show features a roundup of happy stories about creative kids, salutes to health care workers, unique ways to celebrate graduates and more. He also has concise weather reports from the likes Robert DeNiro and Brad Pitt.

While special appearances from famous friends might be out of your reach, you, too, can find ways to serve up more of what your audience needs right now.

Note: This might not necessarily be exactly what you sell. Ask yourself instead, what do they really need right now and how can we help?

For example, Don’t Panic Management is a team of virtual assistants. However, they saw that the small businesses they serve need help applying for government relief programs, so they started creating content around this.

Homemade content can be relevant, special

On a recent episode of his WTF podcast, host Marc Maron talked about watching episodes of “Saturday Night Live At Home,” saying these shows were “touching.”

With segments shot by various individual cast members at home on their laptops and phones and featuring costumes from closets and cameos from kids and pets, SNL “At Home” shows how you can push our quarantined limitations to produce creative content.

In a recent episode, cast member Kate McKinnon shot an installment of her long-running “Whiskers R We” cat adoption sketch at home on her phone. Normally, this would feature several cute cats in studio introduced as McKinnon quips things like, “A cat is a smile with hair.”

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The “At Home” installment features McKinnon in a homemade version of her costume with hand-drawn signs and her one pet cat playing nearly a dozen cats thanks to camera filters, mustaches and face masks.

SNL initially announced it would end their season early due to COVID-19. A few weeks later, the cast came back with their first “At Home” show.

They recognized the power of the moment and the outsized impact homemade content can have.

Another example of relevant, homemade branded content is a new ad from L’Oreal Paris, with spokeswoman Eva Longoria dying her gray roots at home in a video she shot on her iPhone. When you get hung up trying to make something polished and perfect, you often miss the opportunity to make something relevant and special.

Get creative with collaboration

Another SNL “At Home” sketch introduces characters struggling with the new normal of Zoom meetings shot with — wait for it — Zoom! The recent “Parks and Recreation” reunion special developed an entire half-hour script around a series of virtual meetings between Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson and others, all shot at home by the actors using iPhones.

We can use the same tools we rely on for virtual meetings to collaborate with others on content. Many already use Zoom and Skype for podcasts and videos.

You also can get creative in your content collaboration as actor and stunt professional Zoë Bell did. She challenged celebrity friends such as Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie, Drew Barrymore, Rosario Dawson and Zoe Saldana to help her stage an elaborate fight scene.

The resulting video stitches together individually shot fight scenes from the phones of 38 different actors and stunt workers to create one big knockout fight. The viral video garnered over a million views in just a few short days.

Just because we can’t get together doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate. Whether you’re simply using Zoom or storyboarding out something more elaborate, involving others always expands the reach of your content.

Yes, the content creators profiled here are celebrities. But they’re also more than that. They’re creative artists and problem solvers.

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A frequent refrain in the early days of blogging and content marketing was, “think like a publisher.” This served as a reminder to write like a journalist, schedule content and publish regularly. However, with our current lockdown limitations, we should amend this as a reminder to think like creative artists — those who’ve used these limitations to spark bold, interesting new ideas for connecting with others.

What can you create that people need? Can you do it right now — today? From home?

Can you creatively involve others?

Thinking like a creative artist means focusing less on what you can’t do in these unusual times and more on what you can.

Nick Westergaard is a marketing strategist, keynote speaker and author of “Band Now” and “Get Scrappy”; nick@branddrivendigital.com; @NickWestergaard.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.