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Does Anybody Actually Want Pandemic Thought Leadership?

Margot Gerould

Pandemic advice seems ubiquitous, but a lot of what we get feels cliched or exploitative. Here’s how to craft pandemic thought leadership that people actually want to read.

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the global economy, and almost every industry has experienced upheaval or disruption. It’s no surprise that industry leaders have a lot to say on the subject. Writing or speaking about anything besides COVID in the current climate can feel inappropriate or even impossible. 

That said, a lot of COVID advertising and thought leadership falls into one of two categories: cliched or exploitative (or often, both). Just look at YouTube creator Microsoft Sam’s viral supercut entitled “Every COVID-19 Commercial Is Exactly the Same.” Companies across the country are laying off workers at unprecedented rates, but marketing directors and C-suite executives are still content to repeat phrases like “now, more than ever,” “in times like these,” and “we’re all in this together.”

As CEOs scramble for something useful to say, saying nothing at all can feel just as inappropriate. Customers and clients want and need to know how companies are adapting to the ongoing crisis, and industry leaders and experts are curious about how their peers are faring. Truthfully, people do want pandemic thought leadership — but they want it to be meaningful.

Brands that can effectively meet the demand for thought leadership have an excellent opportunity to grow their platform and build meaningful rapport with customers and clients. So how can you strike the right tone and send the right message with so much at stake?

Telling the Right COVID-19 Story

It’s challenging to run an effective thought leadership program in the current climate, but it’s far from impossible. Here are a few tips on how to circumvent skepticism and effectively win over consumers:  

  1. Be crystal clear about your purpose. Now’s not the time for platitudes or abstract concepts. This is a pervasive problem with COVID-era messaging: rather than explaining what the company is doing to keep customers and workers safe, they settle for a flat “We’re here for you.” Before releasing more pandemic thought leadership into the world, carefully consider your objective — what do you want to achieve? What message do you want to send? What do you want customers to think, feel, and say about you after they read it?
  2. Keep your messaging client- and customer-centric. In reality, good thought leadership is never about you or your company — it’s about your industry, your clients, and their customers. There’s a temptation to make thought leadership a sales pitch, but now’s not the time. You can’t afford to come off as tone-deaf or exploitative. Minimize that risk by keeping your focus on industry insights, not your company.
  3. Refine your narrative. We understand that it can be extremely tempting to dive headfirst into the COVID conversation, but it’s wise to hold off until you’ve crafted a refined narrative. What do you see happening in your industry in the wake of the pandemic? What solutions can you offer, and why do you think your solutions will win out? Clear, nuanced, and authentic takes are preferable to vague reflections about how hard it is to do business right now. This is especially true if you’re hoping to publish externally — journalists hear a lot of pitches, and many COVID-era pitches sound exactly the same. 
  4. Play the long game. Back in pre-COVID times, you may have been able to get away with publishing articles all about yourself or your product — but that was then, and this is now. Brands simply don’t have the luxury to publish thinly-veiled sales pitches right now. Consumers are struggling with their health and finances, or mostly likely, both. Focus on building up your platform – or publishing thoughtful content to an existing platform – while saving the sales efforts for another day.

Creating Evergreen Thought Leadership

In some ways, the rules of COVID-era thought leadership are remarkably similar to the existing thought leadership playbook. Good thought leadership should never feel inauthentic, exploitative, or cliched. This is especially true when it comes to sensitive topics like a global pandemic.

To be truly effective, thought leadership should offer innovative solutions, unique insights into the market, and subject matter expertise. In this moment of cross-industry upheaval and global change, good thought leadership has never been more necessary or more appropriate.

Margot Gerould

Director of Brand Strategy

Account manager and strategist for healthcare, B2B tech, and services clients. Plant mom, amateur chef, and college a cappella survivor.

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