These are strange times to be in marketing.

It works exactly as usual zero Companies.

Regardless of what you do or what you sell – B2B, B2C, SMB.

Everything is suddenly confusing different.

What's next

What do the current times mean for you, your company and your customers?

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, explained in her SEJ eSummit keynote why you stand out from others in these times when you focus clearly and steadfastly on your story.

She also tackled seven non-negotiable things Got to do and best tactic to connect with customers now.

Here is a recap of their keynote.

Storytelling in a Covid-19 world

The COVID-19 is forcing us to be a little more creative with how we connect with each other.


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The same goes for marketing today.

We have new ways to get in touch with customers on a different level.

And the key to that?

Tell stories.

But not the old way we always did.

We need to rethink how to tell our stories during the pandemic.

The best strategy is a story

The best way to connect with someone is always a story.


This is because stories make things like solutions and applications much more accessible.

They make big ideas more human for prospects and customers.

There is no way to write or tell a story. But in its simplest form, a story has the following elements:

  • A hero we can identify with. The hero is not your product or service. It's your prospect or your customer.
  • A vicious challenge. The hero encounters a difficulty and needs help.
  • An epic battle for the solution. The struggle that you can help them get to the solution.

In the times we are currently living in, this fight is all the more epic as the outcome is not at all certain.


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We live in unprecedented times.

You've probably heard this a million times.

The result is far less certain and at the same time more is at stake.

We have no idea how this will play out.

The real struggles of our customers are different now.

That said, we have to rethink things a little, but not everything changes.

Two things haven't changed in the age of COVID:

  • Your purpose: Your why – why you exist – and what you do to help the people you want to connect with most.
  • The hero: This hero never changes. It is the prospect you want to help.

One thing changes and that is it how we tell the story.

Reminder: It's okay to market now

The marketing is currently more than okay.

We have a responsibility to keep going and to keep the world moving.

It's okay to talk about your own products and services.

It's also okay to talk about how they are most helpful to your customers in marketing.

Attention vs. Trust & affinity

Marketers spend a lot of time thinking about how to get someone's attention.

But that's the wrong way to think about marketing, especially now.

Instead, focus on how to gain your prospect's trust.

How can you be a partner for them?

When customers think about what solutions you have or how to tell this story, they think of you through two lenses:

  • Trust: "Do you understand my problems best?"
  • Affinity: "Do I like her?"

Trust and affinity are so undervalued in marketing, especially in the B2B area.

7 Non-negotiable Things Your Storytelling Must Do Now

Here are seven things you can do now to build that trust and affinity for years to come.

1. Scale companionship

You want to create that affinity and trust, not just with one person at a time, but in a broader sense.


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How do you use history to scale camaraderie?

Here's what Jack Daniels did at the start of this pandemic.

When everyone was banned, they took the opportunity to use this video to remind people that this is not about alcohol at all.

Instead, it's about how people communicate with each other – how they celebrate and connect with each other.

A message will appear at the end of the video:

Dear humanity,

Cheers to social distancing, social.

With love,


It embeds Jack Daniels' idea in the fundamental aspect of people's need for socialization.

People need to connect, and the brand can help with that.

IKEA talked about the same topics in their campaigns.

They passed their famous Swedish meatball recipe on to anyone who wanted it.


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Are you missing your IKEA meatball fix? We have created a recipe for you that will help you prepare this delicious dish from the comfort of your home. #IKEAmeatballs

– IKEA UK (@IKEAUK) April 20, 2020

Can't come into IKEA stores?

But you can still have your meatballs in the comfort of your home.

It is a simple but powerful gesture.

IKEA also gave instructions on how to build furniture fortresses for parents quarantined at home with their children.

– Big_lebowski (@mini_lebowski) May 16, 2020

IKEA reminds its customers that they are with you.

It's not just about them marketing for you, it's saying, "We're all together."

We've heard a lot about brands, but these are two examples of brands that really embody it, and that's the story they tell.

These two brands communicate and market customers as peers.


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Your messages say it all:

“We understand. We get you. We are also socially distant. We'll be quarantined right next to you. "

Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International, did a wonderful thing in April.

The hotel chain had to make some tough decisions to take many Marriott employees off.

You could have done what every other company out there did – just put out a press release.

Instead, Sorenson was put in front of the camera and gave this five-minute talk that they posted on Twitter.

He spoke from the heart about how devastating this is for him and the company.

A message to Marriott International staff from President and CEO Arne Sorenson.

– Marriott International (@MarriottIntl) March 19, 2020

The real talk from the CEO of this massive corporation was instrumental in the long-term development of Marriott.

It's a great example of what we hear all the time:

Show, don't tell.

Show your customers how you feel about something.

Think about how you will tell the story – the words and the voice with which you will tell your story.


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2. Focus on deepening existing relationships

Think about the larger story you are telling.

How do you actually deepen relationships with the people who matter most to your company?

MarketingProfs recently did this when they launched an exclusive Facebook group for paying members.

They wanted to give B2B marketers the ability to connect with each other in a place where they can support each other and offer resources.

They also created two new specialty programs that anyone can join.

Another great way to deepen existing relationships with your community is to start a newsletter.

The inbox is one place that is grossly undervalued in the inbox by so many organizations.

Morning Brew has released this newsletter called The Essentials, a type of popup newsletter that helps humans navigate quarantine together.

Morning brew - the essentials

Why did you do that?


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Because this is an extension of their belief that newsletters are a great place to engage with audiences and to deepen those relationships with their existing subscribers.

3. Short term measures to reflect on new realities

What short term programs can you put in place that are there for the people now?

Jess Tyson, CEO of the virtual assistant agency Don & # 39; t Panic, chose to be there for her community by offering short, one-time engagements to people who needed help with very specific things.

Typically, this type of service is not generally available as it usually sells longer term commitments.

In this case, however, Don & # 39; t Panic Management said, "How can we actually be there for people when people are concerned about making long-term commitments?"

And so they came up with short-term solutions.

No contracts, no obligations.

My team and I are always looking for new ways to help. That's why @dontpanicmgmt has hourly packages for businesses that need extra hands NOW. Try it out: #SmallBiz #SmallBizRelief #Entrepreneur #virtualassistant #VirtualEvents

– Jess Tyson (@jessostroff) April 6, 2020


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4. Long-term leadership

What can you do now to demonstrate long-term leadership in your own community?

Toast is a Boston, Massachusetts-based company that sells point-of-sale and management solutions to restaurants – an industry that has been hard hit by the pandemic.

So Toast created this micro-site called Rally for Restaurants.

Toast rally for restaurants

The point was initially customer-oriented.

In the beginning, they offered consumers the option of buying gift cards from some of their favorite restaurants in order to give them a “microcredit” or some kind of lifeline as they describe it

It quickly developed into something completely different – they became a resource for restaurants trying to navigate these times.

Ask yourself:

  • How can you evangelize your own industry during such a time?
  • What do you think of what you are doing now as a longer term game instead of just serving your own business?


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5. An element of the unexpected

Don't do what everyone else out there are doing and be a copycat.

Many museums did virtual tours, but what the Getty Museum did was outstanding.

They urged their followers to recreate a work of art using objects that people found in their home and share them on social media.

We urge you to recreate a work of art using objects (and people) in your home.

🥇 Choose your favorite work of art
🥈 Find three things around your house ⠀
🥉 Recreate the artwork with these elements

And share with us.

– Getty (@GettyMuseum) March 25, 2020

So many great things came out of this that made the entire Getty collection more accessible.

Crisis fertilizes creativity.

Think about how you can do things differently.

6. Meaningful, manageable relevance

You don't have to be tall to do meaningful things.

You can do little things that are better suited to the size of your brand.

Ahava Leibtag heads the Aha Media Group, a content agency in Washington D.C.


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The Leibtag agency has set itself the task of making the language for the healthcare sector simple, clear and actionable – and that is exactly what they did when they rewritten the COVID-19 guidelines in plain text.

We have rewritten the # Covid_19 guidelines in #plainlanguage so that Americans can better understand them. See before and after. @CDCDirector @CDCgov @HHSGov @HHS_ViralHep @WhiteHouse @Surgeon_General @SecAzar

– Ahava Leibtag (@ahaval) April 7, 2020

7. People

Make sure you are presenting your customers and the employees who work in your company as best you can.

Rothy incorporated this approach into their marketing.


The top of every email talks about how thankful they are to their community before they start selling.

Below that, they are still selling their products, but they are doing it in such a way that they have already put it in context and already acknowledged that this is the world we do business in.


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Validate your community both externally and internally.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium posted this news on its homepage.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

It's a great appreciation for something we should all be thinking about.

Think about what your homepage looks like today.

Your homepage shouldn't look like it did six months ago when it all started.

Another way to present people is to ask about stories from your community and then share them socially as well.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium does this very well by showing drawings that have been submitted by people.

We made fun of all the art of Fintastic art that people drew from their favorite aquarium animals or scenes from our webcams! Here we have "Penguins" from Eleanor, 5 years, and "Cuttlefish" from Lincoln, 3 years. ❤️🎨

– Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) April 8, 2020


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This is an easy way to capture your community's voices at a time when visitors cannot be in the aquarium.

You can also use Instagram Stories to feature people through polls, quizzes, and questions.

The best story is a human story about a universal truth.

It's so important to bring people in.

One great thing about stories is that they make your bigger ideas a lot more accessible to people.

7 ways a brand story sets you apart

Here are seven things to remember in order to create a branding story that sets you apart.

  • Comradeship on a scale.
  • A focus on deepening existing relationships.
  • Short term measures.
  • Long-term leadership.
  • An element of the unexpected.
  • Meaningful, manageable relevance.
  • People.

Check out this presentation

You are now ready to watch the video of Handley's full presentation of SEJ eSummit.

Storytelling in a COVID-19 World: How Your Brand Story Can Make You Different From Others


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More resources:

Photo credit

Featured image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots by the author, August 2020


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