In response to nationwide stay-at-home orders, several online content providers have lowered their paywalls. Adjusting quickly to new consumer behaviors, brands including Netflix and The New York Times have made changes to their subscriptions. Considering the unprecedented situation Covid-19 has created, there might be benefits to altering your own content creation model.
Let’s take a look at some major shifts a few well-known brands have made recently and discuss why offering free content makes sense right now. It might even benefit your company.
Making Sense of a Free Content Strategy During a National Crisis
As the number of cases of coronavirus increased in the United States, content providers began to respond. In fact, within a week of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the situation a pandemic on March 11, 2020, many were already offering free content.
Unsurprisingly, Americans are spending more on groceries and less on other items as schools, restaurants, movie theaters, and other establishments close.
As a result, sectors such as tourism were forced to pull advertising packages for events that would be canceled or travel that could not take place. The impact has been weighty.
Digital ad spend is expected to be down 33% between March and June, while traditional advertising expects to see a 39% downturn. With that in mind, it might seem baffling that many digital news and entertainment providers have released free content offers.
Brands that are now demonstrating their ability to adapt quickly to the situation at hand will likely be the companies that manage to survive the pandemic when it comes to customer relationships. As the Harvard Business Review has noted, rethinking your value in the eyes of consumers is key.
Why Offering Free Content Makes Sense in the Current Climate (3 Key Reasons)
While many industries are adapting their facilities to help meet the demand for medical supplies needed to fight Covid-19, remaining relevant looks different for content providers. Let’s explore three ways providers might adjust and benefit from offering free content in the current climate.
1. Supporting Customers With New, Relevant Offerings May Generate Leads
Brands have recently had to reimagine their value to customers by focusing on content that meets their current needs. For example, in response to nationwide stay-at-home orders, HBO announced on April 2nd that several of their premium series would be available to stream for free:
The announcement was followed by a new #StayHomeBoxOffice tag that brilliantly plays off the company’s name. HBO emphasized to customers that their move was meant to encourage people to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
From a business model perspective, HBO will likely gain new customers through this offer. Keep in mind, content marketing typically costs less than other forms of advertising while generating three times as many leads.
Although HBO is not removing their paywalls entirely, offering select free streaming is a strategic form of content marketing that is likely to yield new subscribers and strengthen brand loyalty.
Comparably, digital marketing professionals can take a page from HBO’s book by exploring the following:
- Discounted services for small businesses suffering during the shutdown
- Free trials of packaged services
- Complimentary consulting sessions
- Free templates or schedules for social media posts
Offering to help small businesses or existing clients during a bad time can help build general goodwill and a reputation for professionalism and high-quality work. This may serve you well once the economy begins to recover.
2. Providing Essential Information for Free Builds Trust
In a crisis, access to information is vital to planning and sometimes surviving. This pertains to business and domestic situations. For that reason, some brands, such as Hulu, have prioritized certain informative content for viewers.
As early as March 20, the streaming service announced it would provide access to ABC News Live to all their existing customers, regardless of their subscription plans.
Hulu noted that it hoped to help combat misinformation about the pandemic and provide essential information to customers regardless of their subscription status. This is an approach you can potentially scale for your own clients.
For example, supporting your clients with links to information for small businesses or advice for moving physical shops online quickly can be a source of content for your blog or email newsletter. This can also help you stay connected to your customers.
Webinars are also a smart method for offering something to your clients in a cost-effective manner. This can help accomplish several desirable goals. For instance, you can further establish your expertise and give your clients an opportunity to interact with you in a different way.
3. Reinforcing Brand Loyalty with New Value Propositions Strengthens Customer Relationships
Establishing a value proposition for any company can take time. That’s why changing yours rapidly can be disorienting. However, several brands have made the switch fluidly. Amazon, for example, is offering free children’s programming.
As families not only in the United States but all over the world are experiencing new dynamics at home with telecommuting and homeschooling, Amazon honed in on what might be most helpful to their customers.
Two key demographics likely played into Amazon’s decision:
- The 51% of American households with Amazon Prime accounts
- The 40% percent of all households that include children
Marketers can take a cue from this and reinvest in gathering audience data. Think about offering content that your clients need most. You can use Google Trend data or your own analytics and keyword research.
Creating a special section of your website or newsletter with unique, free, and relevant options can help you build trust and gain loyal customers. Amazon has also done this by creating a Covid-19 blog to document all that it’s doing in response to the pandemic.
How You Can Respond to Changing Client Needs During Chaotic Times
Being able to reimagine the value you can provide to your customers is a key part of weathering a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic. There are a few components to keep in mind, including:
- Communication and transparency. These are always important in business but even more so during times of crisis. Your extra effort here can build confidence with your clients that you’re still available to support them.
- Creativity and innovation. This is an ideal time to get creative. If a client was resistant to change in the past, they may be more willing now to try something new. Think about HBO’s unusual move and how it’s providing value to their customers.
- Flexibility and adaptation. A common thread through all the examples we covered is adaptability. Moving quickly and strategizing for the current moment rather than succumbing to paralysis will also show your clients you’re the type of company they can lean on in an emergency.
Although prominent advertisers such as travel companies and tourist attractions are shuttered at the moment, there are still opportunities for digital marketers to shine. As ‘new normals’ emerge from the pandemic, you can showcase your own unique value to clients with relevant offers that address their current needs.
At a time when unemployment rates are high and entertainment might seem like a luxury, brands including Amazon, HBO, and Hulu are modeling new ways to serve customers. Offering free content is one method many brands are using to meet consumers’ needs and build loyalty. It also presents unique opportunities for innovative marketers.