How To Create A Virtual Hearth In Troubled Times

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During this pandemic, brands have an opportunity to build future loyalty by being helpful. As anxiety remains high, curating content can be a way for brands to show that they get what people are going through, and to demonstrate cultural savvy.

Brands can create a virtual hearth by providing or helping people find content they’re interested in, facilitating escape, creating a sense of community, or offering a feeling of purposefulness. In our new normal, there is more content than ever (from new streaming services to free virtual performances and classes), which can be overwhelming.

Here are some ways brands can create a virtual hearth:

Escapism with movies and music. The app TV Time points to the popularity of certain themes, including escape (73%), laughter (72%), and comfort (53%), over the last few months.

Movies that offer a “controlled world,” such as those from director Wes Anderson, are prescribed by one Seattle psychotherapist, according to the Wall Street Journal.  “It makes you feel that you’re in a controlled world, not the chaotic one you see when you turn on the news or look at your Twitter feed.”

Similarly, nostalgic playlists that bring people back to a “more stable, comfortable place in their lives” have spiked in popularity, according to Spotify.

Brands could curate a series of movies by mood, or offer a certificate for a free movie rental, tying their brand to peoples’ movie-night habits.

Fill the void with live events. Live events provide a strong sense of connection that is missing right now.

Music, for one, has a long history of spiritual healing and social bonding during times of disease, from Sparta to medieval Italy to the “balcony concerts” of today. Research has linked singing and listening to music to the production of the brain hormone oxytocin, which is also released during face-to-face social interactions.

Virtual concerts offer an intimate look into musicians’ dwellings, along with the ability to interact with the performer. Knowing that others are along for the ride adds to the sense of community.

Some of the pandemic’s most engaging live events have brought together music and experimentation at the same time, going beyond the traditional concert by collaboration with visual artists, for example.

Advertisers should opt for live virtual events to create a sense of connection and find ways to bring more exclusive access to an artist, with a Q&A or behind-the-scenes videos.

Some brands have already recognized the value of communal consumption, with Netflix Party and Spotify's prototype “Social Listening” queues.

Provide a sense of purpose. People are also seeking more ways to feel productive. More intellectual, documentary, or instructional content can also be a way to fill downtime. Brands can help people learn a new skill (cooking, exercise, photography, etc.), practice a language, or explore their next vacation destination.

Brands could partner with tastemakers to make recommendations and educate. There is also the need to help people discover/learn about passions without leaving home, like virtual AirBnB experiences.

Brands that create a virtual hearth by providing unique curated experiences will be the ones that people remember and feel loyal to in the future.