Content marketing is a powerful tool for building awareness, attracting your target audience and moving them toward purchasing decisions. But did you realize that content marketing during a crisis can be the secret weapon that helps your brand live to fight another day?

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most obvious example of crisis-based marketing in recent years. Countless brands adjusted their messaging, editorial calendars and content distribution in 2020, according to Content Marketing Institute data. Even years later, brands continue to see the value of content marketing in getting ahead of a crisis and responding to one.

Learn more about how to leverage content marketing during a crisis, the risks involved and how content marketing supports PR efforts.

How Can Content Marketing Help During a Crisis?

In a crisis, content marketing can help keep your customers informed and establish your brand as a trusted source of information. This crisis can be outside your control (a pandemic, a natural disaster), of your own doing (a scandal, a product recall) or somewhere in between.

And some crises aren’t about you at all but rather what your customers and clients experience. In those cases, they often go online for information and guidance on handling the situation. When you have a strong content marketing strategy in place, you can become a trusted resource sharing the latest information and best practices.

The right content marketing strategy keeps your customers informed and reinforces their trust in your brand. It also gives you credibility with anyone unfamiliar with your brand who sees how you respond to the crisis. In times of uncertainty, people gravitate toward brands they perceive as being trustworthy and reliable.

Here are a few ways content marketing can help during a crisis.

Providing Updates

Content marketing can update the public about evolving situations, such as your company’s response to an incident affecting customers. For example, you might publish a blog post explaining your response or policy changes, updating as needed. You might also use social media to provide quick updates and links to key resources.

By sharing what you know, what you’re doing and how you’ll change, you reassure customers that you take the problem seriously. Customers want to feel seen and heard, and content marketing shows that you protect their interests during difficult times.

Offering Valuable Products and Services

If your brand helps with crisis response, content can help you showcase new products, services or solutions that can assist customers. Clorox, for instance, wanted to provide useful resources and FAQs to consumers during the first year of the pandemic. The company used artificial intelligence tools to learn about consumers’ COVID-related questions. Then, Clorox developed content tailored to those top questions.

Sometimes revenue isn’t the goal, such as when a brand wants to support local customers after a natural disaster. In that case, your brand can create content directing people to relevant resources. This type of content marketing helps people and creates a positive association with your brand.

Demonstrating Your Values

Content marketing can help brands promote a positive brand image and build trust with customers and prospects. Sometimes a crisis — such as public criticism over a position you’ve taken — requires content that reiterates what you’re doing and why those actions represent your values.

When brands state their values, live them and use content to make the connection, they send a consistent message and build trust.

Getting Ahead of the Next Crisis

Content marketing during a crisis isn’t just about the immediate response. It also can be about demonstrating your thought leadership. Your customers and prospects worry about your industry’s risks, and they look to brands that take those concerns seriously.

This content marketing can take many forms. For example, original research examining the future of your industry can showcase your brand’s forward-thinking mindset. And podcasts featuring your executives with outside experts can create lively conversations about the big issues ‌facing your clients and customers — and center you as an organization prepared for the next crisis.

What Are the Risks of Content Marketing in a Crisis?

When a crisis hits, businesses understandably focus on survival. Marketing might seem like a luxury. However, content marketing is an important and cost-effective component of weathering a crisis — especially when the brand is at the center of the storm.

However, there also are risks associated with content marketing during a crisis. Your efforts could have little impact or even exacerbate your problems. Here are some of the main risks to consider.

Appearing Insensitive or Uncaring

In a crisis, people look for information and reassurance. They don’t want to be bombarded with sales messages or calls to action. Your content needs to strike the right tone, showing that you understand the gravity of the situation and empathize with your audience’s concerns.

There are many ways a brand can appear insensitive in its content marketing. For example, if your brand offers a product or service that’s especially helpful during a particular crisis, promoting it carefully can help people in need. But there’s a fine line between making people aware of your services and coming off as greedy.

Sometimes the crisis is that people feel angry at your brand. If you dismiss their concerns or get into an online fight, you won’t help anything — even if you believe you’re in the right.

Getting Lost in the Noise

During a widespread crisis, everyone fights for attention. It’s difficult enough to position your content marketing for longer-term campaigns. The challenge is even greater when you respond quickly or even in real time. Your content must be accessible, relevant and useful for the exact situation you’re trying to address.

Spreading Misinformation

In times of uncertainty, people look for answers. If you don’t have the facts straight, you could end up causing more confusion and anxiety. Make sure you only share information that you know to be accurate and that comes from reliable sources. Disinformation campaigns are only getting worse.

Consider whether you can verify or analyze the information. For example, if your experts are communicating about a potential product defect, you can be confident that the information will be vetted for factual accuracy and legal compliance. If you’re passing along a third-party’s assertion, you’ll want to be much more careful about attaching your brand reputation to theirs.

How Does Content Marketing Support PR in a Crisis?

We’ve previously addressed the question “How does PR support content marketing?” In a crisis, content marketing is the support system for PR and crisis communication teams. Here are a few ways you might use content marketing in combination with PR.

Amplifying Your Communication

Content marketing can get your message out to a wider audience — and more quickly — than traditional PR. For example, a press release is a valuable way to communicate important information through a trusted channel. But the reach of that PR is limited.

Content marketers can amplify that reach by posting different versions of that PR in multiple ways. A blog post, for example, can add context and a deeper explanation of your company’s views and actions. An infographic might serve as a valuable educational tool for your customers or the public at large.

While you want this content to be accurate and maintain brand standards, don’t forget to tailor it for each publishing channel. You want to reach audiences in the tone and format they’re used to.

Building Public Trust

Content marketing can help PR in its efforts to build relationships with customers and establish your brand as a trusted source of information. While PR conveys information, content marketing can use storytelling to show why that information is honest, transparent and helpful to your target audience. Many consumers will miss your press release, but they might see your social media posts, YouTube videos or company blog posts.

Humanizing Your Brand and People

Your PR team will communicate what your brand does in response to a crisis, but while that information is valuable, it can feel clinical — more like compliance than caring. This is where content marketing can step in to humanize your brand and employees.

Let’s say your brand is dealing with a supply chain crisis caused by a natural disaster. Your PR team might share contingency plans, apologize for the inconvenience and vow to do better. Content marketing can expand on that messaging by showing, not just telling, positive stories about heroic employees working to solve the supply chain problem.

When you show how employees go above and beyond, you communicate to customers that your brand is all about putting them first and making things right.

Don’t Wait for the Next Crisis

It’s never too early to start planning for the next crisis. Just as your brand prepares its operations for risk scenarios, your content marketing team should also get ready. Talk to stakeholders across the organization about the biggest business risks they anticipate — and how you could help them manage those situations better. Make sure you’re looped in with your PR team’s plans so you can amplify their message without stepping on their toes.

Companies facing a crisis focus on solving the problem, assuaging customers and preventing the issue from happening again. Help your leadership team realize the power of content marketing during a crisis as a core component of their response strategy.