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Content Marketing

How to Create Content That Isn't Tone-Deaf

Economic uncertainty and social unrest are changing buyer behavior. Your brand’s messaging needs to adapt to the times and build trust with your audience.

16 mins read time
Wendi Williams
Wendi Williams

Jul 07, 2020


Economic uncertainty and social unrest are changing buyer behavior. Your brand’s messaging needs to change with it. Relevant content acknowledges cultural context and furthers the conversation with its target audience. The result is unshakable brand loyalty because of the meaningful connection your content creates.


Good Content Attracts Customers with the Right Message

Graphic displaying how the right message to the right person at the right time equals happy customers

Forget everything you think you know about content marketing. Instead, think of content as conversations or how you communicate with your customers and prospects. Actually, scratch the word customers and replace it with people, because that’s the heart of marketing. You’re trying to make meaningful connections with people to influence their decisions. How? By letting them know you get them and the goals they are trying to achieve. Not even just their goals, but their dreams and aspirations. You know them so well, that you even know their quirks and the annoying obstacles that get in the way of them achieving that goal, AND how to remove the roadblocks.

That’s what good content does. It addresses customers’ doubts and objections, removing bottlenecks in the sales pipeline. According to a 2018 CSO study, 90% of B2B buyers are willing to engage earlier in the sales process when sellers exceed expectations by providing value. The best way to provide value is with relevant content that illustrates how your service is the answer to their problems. Good content attracts people like the smell of a hot apple pie wafting in the air. It opens the door for more conversation with prospects, erm people, so they can follow the scent of sweet success cooling on the window sill.      

The purpose of content marketing is to continue the conversion with customers at every stage of the buyer’s journey. It's critical to send the right message to the right person at the right time. If you send the wrong message to the right person at the right time, you signal to buyers that you don’t know what their problems are and can’t help them solve them.

Getting the messaging right requires you to know your customer’s goals and the pain points that stand in the way. 

Dangers of Tone-Deaf Marketing

Social media empowers consumers with knowledge and a platform to hold brands accountable. In the age of cancel-culture, we are all exposed by Facebook and Instagram and called to be more transparent, whether willingly or not. If you don’t understand what your customer cares about and why it’s important to them, you risk losing your audience with irrelevant content. 

Some brands avoid taking a stance (or even the appearance of taking a stance by proxy) on cultural issues in fear of alienating customers and losing money. On the flip side, create a tone-deaf campaign that fails to address the elephant in the room or your own internal shortcomings, and your brand is dragged on Twitter for being disingenuous.

Both action and inaction seem risky. Doing nothing appears to be the default response of marketers paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision or saying the wrong thing. Here's the problem. If you don't create the narrative of what your brand is doing in response to the current events, then your customers are in the dark and left to fill in the blanks.

You have to address the external factors affecting their business because they’re creating a new set of problems for your customers. Ask your clients how their business is being affected by the coronavirus, shut-downs, reopenings, social-distancing, riots, and rises in unemployment. If you don't understand where their head is at and what their fears and concerns are, you can't approach them to offer them any valuable content let alone ask them for a sale.

Brands Who Got the Messaging Wrong 

There is a risk in addressing social issues in your marketing campaigns. We all remember the 2017 Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner that was pulled after receiving criticism for minimizing the Black Lives Matter protests. 

Woman handing a drink to a police officer

Marketers have to take the time to research social trends to understand their impact before championing a cause. Fast forward to 2020, both tech and B2C companies are putting their money where their tweets are by donating millions to groups fighting against racial injustice.     

Twitter post from EA Sports

Some brands still struggle with producing appropriate content in 2020. In celebration of Juneteenth (June 19, 2020), Snapchat released a cringy filter that allowed users to break chains with a smile to represent the end of slavery in the United States. Sounds similar to Pepsi downplaying a major social movement in 2017.  

Twitter post from Mark Luckie showing Juneteenth SnapChat filter

Tips to avoid cringy content creation

1. Read the room  

To stay relevant during uncertain times, your brand needs to align with the values and concerns of your target audience. Managers are coping with the economic and social disruptions from the coronavirus. People are distracted by the crisis and the market is not responding well to hard-selling. Decision-makers are proceeding with caution when it comes to adding on additional expenses. For many execs who are watching their budget, subscription services were the first thing to get cut or negotiated for a lower monthly rate. Counter customer objections with empathetic content that highlights how they can maximize the value from your services or offer them quick wins with insights to help them weather the economy. 

Social movements also play a factor in consumer attitudes and how they perceive brands. Two years ago, the public was against Black Lives Matter. After the murder of George Floyd, public opinion dramatically shifted in favor of Black Lives Matter. 

According to a 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 76% of Millennials prefer brands to speak out on issues they care about. The tricky part is knowing your customers well enough to understand their values. If you don’t know their values, you risk alienating your people and, worst-case-scenario, being denounced on social media.

2. Find out where your customers’ head is at

This is easy if you make a habit of talking directly to your customers. You may have a client success or sales team who regularly survey your clients. In normal circumstances, that would be fine, but circumstances are far from normal.

Now is the time you need to make yourself accessible to clients before they panic and cut ties. Pick up the phone and reach out to your customers. Go on FB live and engage with them. Host an “unwebinar” on Zoom with no slides. Just look at each of their faces and ask them, “How are you doing?”, “What do you need help with?”, and listen. After you have a fresh perspective of your customers’ current challenges, update their personas, and craft relevant content around them.

You can also engage in conversations on social media with posts that ask open-ended questions or poll your subscriber list to get topic suggestions for content. The goal is to initiate and engage in meaningful conversations. 

Linkedin post from Mark Schaefer asking about B2B companies
Salesforce Instagram post

3. Update your persona

Marketers need to understand the new challenges their B2B clients are facing. Some B2B clients are in survival mode and find the value proposition of saving money more appealing than growth. Other B2B buyers are seeking software to allow their employees to work from home and may need additional services.  

Covid-related content themes, source: Uncovering Content Trends, June 2020

4. Research Content Themes 

You can get insights on search and social trends on Advanced Web Ranking, Treendly, ExplodingTopics, and Google Trends. For example, if you’re wondering whether to use the keyword covid 19 versus coronavirus in your content, then a quick search on Google Trends will compare the terms’ search volume and interest over time.

Black lives matter Google search volume analytics
Google trends analytics showing trending topics

It’s important to understand the context around search trends. Social trends can evolve into search trends. A great example is “dalgona coffee” which surged after a Tik Tok challenge for viewers to make whipped coffee while stuck at home during lockdowns.

TikTok image showing whipped coffee trend

5. Get Feedback from Different Perspectives 

This includes being intentional about diverse hiring practices up to the C-suite. A content marketing agency like Pop’N Creatives can also help you craft campaigns that are pertinent without seeming opportunistic. If you’re not looking outside of your organization to get a fresh point of view on your content, then you can find themselves in an echo chamber, or worst, out-of-touch. 

6. Play the long game

Go beyond culture jacking by identifying ways your band can make sustainable changes internally and create better solutions for the future. If you rush to speak out against racial injustice or address your audience with a canned response about how “we are all in this together” your content may be perceived as pandering to the situation instead of sincere. Marketing exec, Michael Barber, said it best:

“Brands need to be prepared to back up their messaging and comments with actions from here. It isn’t enough just to be here right now. Play the long game.” 

Avoiding tone-deaf content comes down to one word: integrity. Brands have to go beyond empty promises of diversity and safety and ask themselves if their tweets of solidarity match their internal practices. If not, glossy content campaigns will only spotlight their own hypocrisy.


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Wendi Williams

After beginning her career in broadcast media, Wendi spent the next decade writing for clients in a variety of industries, including healthcare, business and tech. She’s been writing since she was 8 years old, and more than 30 years later, doesn’t foresee slowing down anytime soon. Her passion is using words to bring brands to life, and telling their stories in unique and engaging ways. She shares a life of wonder, curiosity and exploration with her husband, two children and pet lizard.

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