December 3, 2021

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How Can Brands Sensitively Market Products During COVID-19?

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It is oft believed that authenticity is the Golden Rule of branding. And at a time of worldwide confusion, uncertainty and upset, the idea of authentic communication — particularly between brand and consumer — feels wholly apropos, and may be requisite to brands’ continued success and survival.

“People want ‘real’ now more than ever,” says Jamie Elden, the chief revenue officer at Shutterstock, the New York-based provider of stock photography, footage, music and editing tools. As brands and retailers struggle to connect with shoppers at a time of crisis, Shutterstock is helping companies keep it real.

Here, Elden talks to WWD about empathetic messaging during the coronavirus pandemic, and the ways Shutterstock has helped companies rise above the chaos.

WWD: From the perspective of creative assets for marketing and social media, what are some of the logistical challenges that brands and fashion retailers face during the pandemic? 

Jamie Elden: Brands are faced with shifting their strategies to focus primarily on connecting with audiences digitally and socially. In addition, photo and production shoots are virtually shut down due to social distancing rules in place nationwide. They’re also finding previously planned campaigns and creative content strategies no longer reflect the reality of their customer’s lifestyles at the moment.

For example, to show a bustling mall scene without social distancing and wearing masks, or to showcase apparel on models or influencers in a crowded restaurant at this juncture can be mute to consumers. With these restrictions in place and quickly changing strategies, brands need new creative solutions, ideas, and messaging to deliver on campaigns while maintaining the highest quality standards expected in this sector.

Getting products where they need to be for a shoot, assembling the full production team, and going through rounds of post-production is far more challenging in quarantine. Working with influencers is also increasingly challenging when these brand ambassadors are also cut off from most of their aesthetic resources like settings, locations, and personal photographers which compromises quality and resonance.

Creatives are looking for imagery that delivers both continuity in a scene for existing projects that need to be completed, as well as entire narratives for new concepts. They also need content that fits the current mood of the nation, including people wearing masks, people inside, waving from cars, speaking from far distances or communicating through technology.

Shutterstock’s COVID-19 resource hub provides carefully curated fresh collections daily for those telling the story of the pandemic in their own way while maintaining brand equity.

WWD: How can stock agencies help brands hurdle these challenges?

J.E.: The number-one thing retailers and fashion brands are looking for right now is support in creating bespoke content quickly and beautifully. Brands aren’t looking for creative assets to be delivered in a couple of weeks, they need content turned around in a matter of days (and sometimes even shorter than that).

Shutterstock’s global network of over 1 million photographers, producers, cinematographers, and artists are providing diversity and flexibility in delivering what brands and retailers need when they need it with amazing results. We’re also seeing an increase in demand for content that looks more raw and user-generated (UGC).

Shutterstock’s resource hub includes tips and insights for creatives to help them navigate the new limitations including articles like Why Your Home Is the Perfect Place for a Photoshoot  or 5 Photography Tutorials on YouTube for Photographers at Home, which gives more practical advice.

WWD: How has the explosive growth of online shopping amid the COVID-19 outbreak impacted digital marketing?

J.E.: Brands are realizing that they need to depend on social and digital channels more than ever before for all facets of the shopping experience — from product discovery to upselling and beyond. They’re relying on their creative team to create compelling video content for platforms like Instagram and Snapchat with incredibly limited resources.

Shutterstock is empowering these retail marketers to create this content quickly with a diverse collection of over 330 million images and 18 million video assets with new content being added daily. Premium stock content provides a very different challenge to using material specifically shot for a script or creative idea and it’s been amazing to see how brands have inventively leveraged our content to create some incredible work.

It’s also been incredible working with producers and creators from new diverse backgrounds in allowing creatives to be creative.

WWD: How can stock agencies such as Shutterstock help companies meet these demands?

J.E.: Companies have had to pivot quickly from traditional marketing language and imagery to images that speak to the current situation. Most consumers want brands to reflect back on what they’re seeing and feeling around them.

Shutterstock is helping brands by producing high-quality photo and video content that can easily be integrated into brand pages, social media accounts, and retail pages to reflect back what consumers are feeling. Brands that aren’t doing this come across as disingenuous or tone-deaf in a world of change.

WWD: From a content perspective, what are some of the trends you see? How can brands market in a sensitive and non-tone-deaf way? What’s required?

J.E.: This is an extraordinary time in our lives. I believe the role of brands right now is to stand with and support all the families, communities and businesses that have been impacted by this crisis and have supported their businesses over the years. You can still show your latest brand collections in many traditional scenarios, however, make sure you also speak to the now.

Now more than ever, customers are looking to brands for positivity and to lead by example. People want “real” [now] more than ever. It’s a time for empathy: a time for brands to listen to customers’ new/changing needs and to engage in transparent conversations. This will enable us to move forward collectively and prioritize what is most important during this time, from protecting employees and creating social initiatives, to designing new services and products.

It’s a scary yet beautiful moment we’re living through, people recognize the hope, inspiration, and swell of kindness around them. When brands can tell that story with truth, with striking visuals and without being overtly selling, then they’ll meet consumers where they are right now. The unifying message of this crisis is that we’re truly all living it together so we can all relate to one another.

And — of course –—communicating all of this in the right tone is crucial, but it’s delicate work. The key to achieving this is by keeping messages authentic, heartfelt and real especially as online shopping is the new norm. Many also use it as an escape to look forward to a time when those new shoes will have a daily role again.

For more Business news from WWD, see:

Outdoor Brands Talk Coronavirus Impacts

Brick-and-Mortar, Digital Retailers Adjust Strategies in Wake of Coronavirus

Field Notes: How Fabric Is Helping Save the Planet

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