What type of stories should brands be telling in the COVID-19 'new normal'?

I’ve always been drawn to film, and as far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to work in the industry.

As time has passed, I’ve come to realise that maybe this passion is more about telling stories. Stories that incite an emotional reaction are just fascinating.

People have always been innately drawn to stories. Great stories help us make sense of the world and forge connections with one another. They are our teachers.

And when we’re separated from each other, it’s stories that bring us back together. Today, we’re all searching for stories that help us make sense of what's happening out there. We want silver linings, things to be thankful for, to see how people are making a difference.

Right now every brand is considering how to best communicate with the people that matter most to them. Those that are successful will do it with a strong story that creates an emotional connection with people.

And although I’ve seen a lot of brands trying not to take a misstep, while communicating with empathy and sensitivity, the reality is there’s already a lot of COVID-19 wallpaper out there.

So, what type of stories should brands be telling in today’s ‘new normal’? And how do you stand out? The best place to start is to look at what people are craving right now.

Togetherness

Don’t get sucked into the temptation of that ‘we’ll be together again’ story. It’s an obvious, overdone route. What I find most inspiring is seeing people connecting to their communities in ways we’ve never seen before – daily street workouts, people shopping for their elderly neighbours, DJ sets from balconies. Human creativity and perseverance are inspiring and, told well, can be completely heartwarming.

Inspiration

How do I take care of my health and wellbeing? How do I get my sourdough right? How do I teach fractions? How do I not kill all these house plants I bought (seriously someone help me)? This is a space where brands can add real value in both their actions and their communications.

Distraction

Let’s be honest, we need some distraction from our current reality. We need humour, fun and entertainment. If that tone is appropriate to your brand, embrace it. Those who do this well will be rewarded with fun, shareable stories that unite people through laughter.

If these stories are what we need, then film is the perfect medium to deliver them.

In the age of social distancing, large-scale film shoots just aren’t possible. As a filmmaker, I embrace that challenge. It’s these creative constraints that will lead to stronger filmmaking and more emphasis on telling great stories.

Approaches to film that stand out at the moment include:

User-generated content – it’s raw and human. Its strengths lay in telling stories with genuine authenticity and sharing an unpolished truth.

Animation – one of the most versatile mediums available. It can distil complex information quickly. It can be funny. It can delight. It can bring to life human stories even without using real people.

Reinventing content – The gigabytes of footage sitting with your agency could present an opportunity to reinvent old footage into new stories. More so than stock footage, the material you’ve already shot is bespoke and likely much more human than the ‘high-five/hand-shake/point at screen’ I see time and again in stock footage-based films.

We aren’t limited to these options, either. Different executions and combinations of these can help us to create something unexpected, something different, something that gets noticed, and something that allows us to tell great stories.

If you’re going to do it, do it quickly. We’re living through something of a 24-hour news cycle’ of communications. So do it, do with clear story, and do it now.

Samantha Gunn is senior creative producer at Weber Shandwick


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