The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way content is created, says Shutterstock’s Flo Lau, who lists the five trends expected to endure after it wanes.

Travel restrictions, worldwide lockdowns and a marketing shift to digital – the pandemic has changed, if not fully transformed, the way that content is sourced and created.

Many of the changes may have come about out of necessity but they are not just quick fixes. As with the adoption of hybrid work, we often don’t recognise the benefits of something until we live it on a daily basis.

We see these five trends enduring long after the effects of the pandemic have become less acute, requiring marketers to be more flexible and agile in the way they work.   

1. Remoteness leads to more inclusive work

The disconnected nature of the past 18 months has reminded us that collaboration is a key factor in any successful commercial creative process, even if it does happen remotely; the process of content creation cannot thrive in a vacuum.

Broadly speaking, too often, creative teams receive a brief, shut the door and try to come up with a deliverable for the marketer or other stakeholders. The end result might be satisfactory but it could often be made better by avoiding the silo mentality and ensuring that everyone is on the same page from the beginning.

We are starting to see a shift towards a more inclusive creative process. This means involving marketing stakeholders in proceedings from the start and engaging in a dialogue – a back-and-forth of ideas – rather than a formal presentation. This helps ensure mutual understanding and that expectations are aligned.

At Shutterstock, we have seen our productivity increase by almost 20% year-on-year since we adopted an approach based on inclusive creative partnership. This was measured by the number of tasks completed in March 2020 versus March 2021 by the same headcount. This approach not only saves time and minimises last-minute changes, it also ultimately results in a more rounded creative product.

2. Streamlined and spontaneous content

The pandemic has been disorientating but it has also driven us to find innovative solutions to make things work. Lockdowns and social distancing made traditional content sourcing exercises, such as filming and photoshoots, difficult if not impossible. Shutterstock’s recent diversity report revealed that 37% of global marketers say travel and lockdown restrictions have adversely affected their ability to source for diverse content, and 25% stated that they have been unable to localise content for individual markets. This has forced people to look elsewhere for raw material and discover creative ways to manipulate existing assets. As a result, the process has become streamlined and the end product is more energising.

Of course, this does not mean live shoots and staging will go away. But it means that marketers now have a legitimate alternative that is faster and less expensive. At the same time, marketers must be mindful of the rise of short-termism, which is the flip side of spontaneity. We are seeing more work that feels less strategic than before due to increased pressure on brand teams to meet sales targets. Retaining a sense of strategic clarity and the bigger picture is essential to the development of meaningful work. 

3. Enhanced editorial sense

Productivity is up but so is objectivity. The realisation that campaigns can be produced in a shorter time frame, combined with a renewed sense of reflectiveness about the general state of the world, has prompted people to create work that is more editorial in nature and reflective of reality. Brands have become more serious about finding ways to present themselves compellingly in the context of current events. It has also led them to seek out photographic and video material that is reflective of reality. This does not mean that it has to be in documentary style but it does need to be believable and relatable.

This understanding has spiked under lockdown and through social movements around the world, as people take comfort in knowing that they are not going through these life-changing events alone. Kohl's 2020 holiday campaign, for example, captured the power of positive connection during the pandemic, while Etsy’s 2020 holiday series spoke about acceptance, diversity and inclusion, and the constraints of the pandemic that we can all relate to.

For too long, marketers have felt the need to present idealised images of people that exclude the bulk of society. Consumer expectations have shifted and marketers are advised to ask themselves repeatedly whether their work truly represents the diversity of the people they are trying to speak to.

4. Video and 3D come to the fore

As a provider of raw material for creative usage, we are seeing a considerable increase in demand for both video and 3D content. We expect this to continue given the effectiveness of moving and interactive imagery in holding people’s attention, and the sheer volume of content marketers at many brands are expected to produce. In terms of video, people seek out footage comparable to something they would commission themselves and which they are able to make their own.

Recent news around Facebook investing in building a metaverse has also stirred conversation among marketers, with the social media platform recently launching the virtual reality working environment Workrooms, taking a big step to expand its audience and usage of VR. Similarly, in the advertising world, we see productions using different types of 3D renderings, some more cartoonish, like Doordash, and some more realistic, like IKEA.  

Increased interest in 3D content reflects the unstoppable climb of online and social commerce. Put simply, marketers and creatives are time-poor, and building 3D content is difficult, requiring expertise that isn’t always readily accessible. The good news is that creating it from scratch is often unnecessary.  

5. Democratisation through flexibility

Content creation is becoming standard for SMEs as well as multinationals. This is likely to become more widespread as they realise their potential to address business objectives and as the barrier to entry becomes lower. A steady flow of creative assets is needed to establish a robust and well-rounded brand identity.

For individuals and many smaller businesses, a flexible content subscription model that allows them to scale up or down according to need can make all the difference in their operation. For marketers in this sector, the prospect of creating quality content has become less daunting and more exciting.