Once Upon a Time… Experts dissect Digital storytelling during COVID-19

digital storytelling in COVID

With the digital medium witnessing a flurry of content amidst the lockdown, we get talking to a few experts on how digital storytelling during COVID-19 can be restructured and polished to suit the requirement of the current situation.

Most of us thought that with minimal resources this year’s Mother’s Day won’t bring much chatter; we were in for a surprise when equal participation and double the enthusiasm by brands were seen as they weaved musicals, stories and narrated tales around motherhood. Digital storytelling during COVID-19 has only evolved.

Digital Storytelling During COVID-19

Although traditional ad spends might have taken a hit, digital has kept conversations going. According to the recent KPMG report, the pandemic and the consequent disruption could have a serious impact on Media and Entertainment sectors, posing challenges for traditional media but leading to a long-term upward shift in the integration of digital into everyday lives.

Amidst changing consumption patterns, consumer behavior, and a flurry of brand storytelling on digital, creative experts pitch in to share their thoughts on the mantra for effective digital storytelling during COVID-19.

Digital Storytelling – Enhance Communication?

The lockdown has led to a disruption in the supply-chain and investments, with the sales channels of many industries blocked & the consumption of many industries doubled, where does the messaging stand? First and the most essential step is to acknowledge what has changed for the consumer –

Attention is high, time is abundant and sharing provides social glue with personal comfort.

According to Sahil Siddiqui, AVP – Creative Strategy, WATConsult, one fundamental of digital storytelling i.e. communication sharpness, remains unchanged. “However, craft has taken precedence given the reduction in creation tools. Being effective with a smaller execution and a shortened creation cycle is vital. Ask yourself, if instead of a single big bang creative cutting across all TG segments, can you make multiple smaller engagements effectively possible”.

Dabur Red’s recent campaign, #ChabaateyRahoIndia conceptualized by Thinkstr showcased how our teeth do the actual Work From Home. The idea behind the campaign was to put across a clear message – Dabur Red is with you in these difficult times. The campaign also managed to tap the insight of constant snacking that everyone is going through.

On the other hand, Preetham Venkky, President, 22feet Tribal Worldwide thinks that during these unprecedented times, brands should go beyond Storytelling and focus on truth-doing.

He shares, “As the first port of call, where possible, use your existing infrastructure in whatever shape or form to produce products or extend services that can be used to protect and ease lives during the on-going pandemic. Focus and spend time planning for what you need to do than the stories you need to tell”.  

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For instance, Dyson used their product team to design and develop a ventilator system for COVID-19 patients. They frequently create content and keep the world updated about their progress. “While brands do have a role to play, it can’t be a limited adaptation of business as usual. The engagement playbook needs to be rewritten,” adds Venkky.

Experts agree that brands need to stay sensitive to consumers’ needs and wants at this point in time. “They need to have a firm finger on the pulse of the consumer and weave their tales in digital storytelling keeping in mind what they read”, opines Harish Bijoor, Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults.

The celebratory economy is dead today. Stories, therefore, need to be less celebratory, and more rooted in reality & emotional needs of the consumers. 

Bijoor notes, “That does not mean that storytelling needs to be morose and boring, it just means that story-tellers must snip their wings a wee bit and manage their flights of fancy with some degree of control that respects the phase the consumer is going through today”.

Most brands have paused all their paid marketing planned for part of Q1 and Q2 of this year. It might be for 2 reasons – either they are fearful of offending and being accused of taking advantage of an unfortunate situation for corporate gain or they estimate their business being seriously impacted by the crisis and budgets have been cut.

Madhura Ranade, Head Branded Content & Partnerships Isobar doesn’t think consumers do not want to hear from brands. “They do, but only when that communication is comforting and reassuring and provides information about what brands are doing to respond to the pandemic.” 

This can be done through multiple ways – through content that the brand puts out themselves, or they choose a credible partner to integrate their message into the content being created.

Brands can keep their consumers informed about how to get access to their products and services during the crisis among other information.

As per Rahool Talukdar, Sr Creative Director, iProspect India, the definition of the CTA button has changed. The new Call To Action is in the stories that brands can tell.

“Amidst all the scare and anxiety, this is actually a wonderful time for brands and their creative partners to say things they wanted to say. The consumer is captive and glued to all mediums, especially digital. Also, since sales and accessibility are down, this is a wonderful opportunity for Brands to say and show things that matter to consumers beyond just ‘product Sell’ ‘Discount noise’”,  he briefs.

Also Read: COVID-19: Brands unlock the potential of social media activations

Kind of content- What works?

Content and communication that is integrity-led, integrity-packed, and integrity-delivered will work better than anything else, according to Bijoor. The key operative word is integrity. In good times, one can stray away from the path of core integrity, but not in times bad.

Ranade lists two ways to go about this – either you dive deep into the COVID-19 conversations and talk about how your brand is responding to COVID-19 & for brands that cannot do that, collaborate with content creators or entertainers, and help consumers take their mind off the continuous news regarding the pandemic.

India Gate Foods paid an ode to old, yet beautiful habits we are turning to this lockdown in its campaign ‘India Ki Purani Aadatein Laut Aayi Hain’, distracting consumers through constructive content.

Similarly, Venkky too elucidated that the four fundamentals of content don’t change, they just need to be contextualized to the current times. Consumers still have the inherent need to be Inspired, Informed, Educated, and Entertained; albeit from the lens of the impact of COVID-19 in their current lives. “Focus or researching for unique human truths and leverage them in your communication,” he suggests.

In times of crisis, every piece of communication created carries an extra responsibility of being ‘essential’.

“’Value generating’ and ‘problem-solving’ – both phrases are seen not just from the consumers’ side but also from the brands’ side (most of them are hurting in some way) and should be the test for all content and communication now,” notes Siddiqui.

Adding to the list, Talookdar highlighted that Participatory content is the key. The kind of content which makes people feel that, Hey! these brands are with me in this. The ones that can keep things positive without being preachy.

Apart from challenges and funny videos that are doing the rounds, here is a real opportunity for brands to do genuine good. Give back to the society and the whole machinery.  

Effective Communication During Crisis- What’s the Mantra?

A creative piece gets created after hours of brainstorming sessions or multiple Zoom calls if we take precedence of the current situation. What if the content fails to generate the expected result and doesn’t ring the right note with the consumers. How do we keep the brand recall strong in times when the consumer is fed with hoards of content?

Digital Storytelling During COVID-19 needs to check itself against the touchstone of the current mood at play. “Pretend you are the consumer in COVID-Kaal as you create content, and you will not go wrong,” exclaims Bijoor.

Meanwhile, Talookdar asks brands to be sensitive to the situation. He explained further, “In trying to be creative, don’t rupture a chord anywhere that in any way affects the people or processes trying to save the world., literally

The best brands and strategies, at all times, follow their consumers’ lives and minds closely. Currently, the ‘consumer’ is going through a forced re-assessment of priorities and self-reflection in all spheres of life

“Brands that do a similar re-assessment about their own purpose will find a better reason to exist and become sharper communication entities in the media sphere,” feels Siddiqui.

Madhura too opines that it is time to bring people together to help bridge the physical distance imposed by social distancing by offering empathy, support, and reassurance.

Putting the spotlight on the significance of the content verification, Venkky highlights that factual and relevant relay of actionable information is key in successfully overcoming the pandemic. “If we were to summarise it as a single mantra:  Use brand content to influence behavior that drives consumer action for the benefit of the community,” he states.

It won’t be wrong to say that in the wake of the COVID-19, brands have to and indeed already have taken upon themselves to make their consumers feel safe and taken care of.

In conclusion, don’t preach but reassure, don’t sell but inform and educate, and keep the thread of COVID-19 woven through your story.