The Art of the Last-Second Content Strategy Pivot

Content’s inherent flexibility means that it can be an important tool when the best-laid plans go awry. Just as important: having the instincts to use it effectively.

By Geoffrey Director

While it might seem like we’re moving past the disruption of the pandemic, we’re not out of the woods yet.

During the spring of 2020, a lot of plans fell by the wayside—and a number of force majeure clauses in contracts were leveraged—as event organizers struggled with massive cancellations. That meant quick pivots to new approaches, many of which were put into effect in a matter of weeks or days.

Hopefully, that’s all behind us, but if the past two-plus years have taught us anything, it’s that there is always a risk that something could slide off the rails. That’s where having a good pivoting strategy—and content—comes in.

Think Strategically About Problem Solving

In some ways, your association is in a far better position than it was two years ago. At least now, you largely know what to expect with COVID-19.

But there’s always the potential for new types of uncertainty to emerge—think natural disasters, an event cancellation, a revenue shortfall, or even a messaging faux pas that puts your comms team on its back foot. A COVID-specific fix won’t help you solve those problems, and it still leaves you trying to build a game plan at the last moment.

Instead, consider building a high-level strategic approach that allows your brand to adapt to any eventuality. This brand strategy should be flexible, offering guidance on what’s in bounds, what isn’t, and how your tone of voice should adapt to a given situation. Instead of creating a rule book, think of it as cultivating an organizational-level instinct to fall back on when a problem arises.

Often, the framework for a brand strategy can encompass your organization’s DNA, and might look something like this:

  • First, this is what you believe to be true
  • Because you have these beliefs, this is what you value
  • As a result of those values, these are the problems you exist to solve
  • And since you this is what you aim to solve, this is how you respond

If everyone in your organization innately understands the brand strategy, they’ll have an idea of what to do in cases of uncertainty. Think of it like improv—if you’re trained in how to react, you can make snap decisions on stage. And that helps your team respond quickly and naturally.

Fast Action Without Strategy Is a Dead End

It’s probably obvious that you were far from alone in managing the dynamic shifts of 2020. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 83 percent of B2B marketers made quick changes due to the pandemic, and 86 percent expected those changes to stay in effect for at least the foreseeable future.

Quick changes can become problematic if they’re not coming from the right place, however. A band-aid might do more harm than a decisive measure.

In this context, a brand strategy can give you focus, directing your energy in a way that builds upon your existing goals. And by periodically revisiting your brand strategy—say, once a year—you can maintain this focus, so you’re not wasting time when you need to respond quickly.

A common thread among the organizations that excelled in 2020 is strong brand values. Odds are, they’re probably brands that you admire.

The Power of Adaptability

Once you know how to shift gears effectively as an organization, it can become a superpower helping you adapt to the world around you. The content itself is malleable, and hopefully so is your team.

One notable success story here at Manifest involves a major university client that had built a strong strategic rapport with our team, allowing us some leeway to experiment. One night, someone on the team was watching a TV show in which a major character died of a certain health condition. Soon enough, that condition began trending on social media and in search engines.

Immediately, our team sprang into action and produced content about the health condition, which gained traction on search engines. Within days, the content was reported on television and in other places, further boosting its visibility.

In a way, it was the result of offering a public service to an interested audience. But in another, it was the result of having all the right parts in place to deliver a quick response. A brand strategy guided by instinct—a loose framework that allowed for immediate reaction rather than second-guessing—set the stage to capitalize on a high-profile moment.

Whether you’re dealing with a doomsday scenario or a game-changing opportunity, your association will benefit if it can build content that adapts to the moment—even if that moment doesn’t feel like a lot of fun when it’s happening.

Geoffrey Director is senior vice president of intelligence at Manifest.

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