What You Should Be Saying: How to Write COVID-19 Messaging for Customers and Employees

May 12, 2020 | Agency Blog, Branding, Copywriting, Digital Media, Events, Public Relations, What Happens After | 0 comments

These are strange times for those of us who work in marketing and advertising.

In average times, much of our work is focused on persuading people to take action. You know, “Purchase” or “Watch” or “Click” or “Learn more.”

All that seemed like honest messaging in say, February. Last month even. But now the messaging that needs to be heard the most has an entirely different focus. And believe it or not, it’s shifted in the last few weeks.

Web Chat Audio: Messaging

by Vela Agency | #WhatHappensAfter

According to Mindshare’s U.S. Consumer Insights team, consumers are beginning to feel burnout over everything related to COVID-19 – from staying at home to all those heart-tugging “we’re in this together” messages.

If you watch the “Every COVID-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same” compilation video, you’ll get the idea. In the beginning, these commercials mostly felt right.

Now, they feel more like, “Please, not again.” Thankfully, messaging seems to have shifted more to showing appreciation for “the unsung heroes,” such as health care workers, teachers and the folks who are delivering everything from packages to ice cream.

If you aren’t sure how to shift your marketing message to what feels appropriate right now, you’re not alone. It’s a hard shift to make. So, take a deep breath and prepare to reset.

We’re not going to pretend to have all the answers on how to get the tone of your messaging right during and after a crisis the world hasn’t seen in 100 years.

But we can offer some guidance, based on navigating extremely uncomfortable times and uncertain waters, for clients in crisis situations.

 

Here are a few ideas.

Pause before you start writing (or posting or responding).

1. Pause before you start writing (or posting or responding).

In this world, it can be hard to allow yourself time to think. But getting your message right requires a lot of thought – what words to use, what questions people may ask, how your words may be interpreted. It’s better to get it right the first time so you don’t have to make clarifications, corrections or apologies.

2. Be as honest and transparent as possible.

Share as much information as you can with customers and employees. Be clear in what you need them to do, how they can help and what they can expect from your organization or business. It’s OK to take things one week at a time, and that makes sense in the current environment. Assurances that you’ll tell more when you know more are good enough for most people. Just be sure to come back, at least weekly, to let them know you haven’t forgotten them or your promise.

Be as honest and transparent as possible.

Be genuinely helpful.

3. Be genuinely helpful.

This is an easy thing to do, particularly on your social media channels. If you have an idea on how to help your customers, share it after putting it through this quick test: Does it help them more than it helps you? If so, that’s something that’s genuinely helpful.

Need an example of an effort that failed this test? Here’s one from Reese Witherspoon and her Draper James “free dresses for teachers” fiasco.

Another way to be helpful is to support customers in what they are already trying to do. Remember, we have research about what people are searching for online, which tells us a lot about what they are thinking and caring about. Make sure your content and messaging lines up with what they need; otherwise, it could come across as distracting noise.

4. Be genuinely empathetic.

This strange chapter in the history of the world has affected each of us differently. Many have lost loved ones. Some have gotten sick and are fighting to regain their health.


Many more have lost jobs, struggled to keep businesses afloat, worked way into the night after helping their kids with their schoolwork, or dealt with extreme loneliness and anxiety.

Recognize this in your messaging. It’s not a time to be focused on you or your needs. It’s also not the time to be showy or snarky, or boastful or begging. And unless you know your audience well and how they’re doing, be careful with humor. We all need it, but some people just aren’t in the mood for it.

Be genuinely empathetic.

Stick with your company’s usual tone, mostly.

5. Stick with your company’s usual tone, mostly.

If the tone of your company’s website, social media posts and other communications is generally friendly, this will be easy for you. If it’s not, there are ways to gently shift your tone for these usual times.

Let’s say your overall messaging is a little aggressive. It would be weird to shift to all love and compassion messages. You can make the shift, and adjust your messaging, by admitting that these are times for everyone to play nice and be kind. You can even direct a little snark at yourself. Or the coronavirus.

 

You can get back to your old style when this is all over. Or you might just realize that snarky isn’t what your brand is about anymore.

6. Segment your messages.

See “Be genuinely empathetic” above. When it comes time to shift your messaging to what feels appropriate, you need to understand what is important to your customers. This is something you should have been doing before COVID-19, and it’s even more critical now.


Anecdotally, you may think all of your customers are interested in heartfelt messages and comfy clothes, but data may tell you otherwise. Use analytics to uncover what they’re clicking on and segment your messages to different audiences accordingly.

Segment your messages.

Be ready to shift your COVID-19 messaging and to shift again.

7. Be ready to shift your COVID-19 messaging and to shift again.

If most of your emails and social media posts are about your current inventory, latest sale or biggest success, you may need to make an uncomfortable shift. And you probably need to do it immediately.

We’re working with a client now to help them switch from messaging that promotes events that are dependent on when stay-at-home measures are lifted and if the venues it uses will be available. So instead of “sign up now” messages, we’re working on quick, educational videos that draw on the personal experiences of the nonprofit’s team members.

While these messages will not help secure registrations, they will definitely promote brand awareness by providing helpful, relevant information.

8. Review any ongoing or prescheduled messaging.

If you’ve scheduled out social media, TV or radio spots or print ads weeks or months in advance, you need to review everything ASAP, if you haven’t already. You need to examine each item individually to see if it is still appropriate to the current situation.

Review any ongoing or prescheduled messaging.

Pause before you start writing (or posting or responding).

1. Pause before you start writing (or posting or responding).

In this world, it can be hard to allow yourself time to think. But getting your message right requires a lot of thought – what words to use, what questions people may ask, how your words may be interpreted. It’s better to get it right the first time so you don’t have to make clarifications, corrections or apologies.

Be as honest and transparent as possible.

2. Be as honest and transparent as possible.

Share as much information as you can with customers and employees. Be clear in what you need them to do, how they can help and what they can expect from your organization or business. It’s OK to take things one week at a time, and that makes sense in the current environment. Assurances that you’ll tell more when you know more are good enough for most people. Just be sure to come back, at least weekly, to let them know you haven’t forgotten them or your promise.

Be genuinely helpful.

3. Be genuinely helpful.

This is an easy thing to do, particularly on your social media channels. If you have an idea on how to help your customers, share it after putting it through this quick test: Does it help them more than it helps you? If so, that’s something that’s genuinely helpful.

Need an example of an effort that failed this test? Here’s one from Reese Witherspoon and her Draper James “free dresses for teachers” fiasco.

Another way to be helpful is to support customers in what they are already trying to do. Remember, we have research about what people are searching for online, which tells us a lot about what they are thinking and caring about. Make sure your content and messaging lines up with what they need; otherwise, it could come across as distracting noise.

Be genuinely empathetic.

4. Be genuinely empathetic.

This strange chapter in the history of the world has affected each of us differently. Many have lost loved ones. Some have gotten sick and are fighting to regain their health.


Many more have lost jobs, struggled to keep businesses afloat, worked way into the night after helping their kids with their schoolwork, or dealt with extreme loneliness and anxiety.

Recognize this in your messaging. It’s not a time to be focused on you or your needs. It’s also not the time to be showy or snarky, or boastful or begging. And unless you know your audience well and how they’re doing, be careful with humor. We all need it, but some people just aren’t in the mood for it.

Stick with your company’s usual tone, mostly.

5. Stick with your company’s usual tone, mostly.

If the tone of your company’s website, social media posts and other communications is generally friendly, this will be easy for you. If it’s not, there are ways to gently shift your tone for these usual times.

Let’s say your overall messaging is a little aggressive. It would be weird to shift to all love and compassion messages. You can make the shift, and adjust your messaging, by admitting that these are times for everyone to play nice and be kind. You can even direct a little snark at yourself. Or the coronavirus.

 

You can get back to your old style when this is all over. Or you might just realize that snarky isn’t what your brand is about anymore.

Segment your messages.

6. Segment your messages.

See “Be genuinely empathetic” above. When it comes time to shift your messaging to what feels appropriate, you need to understand what is important to your customers. This is something you should have been doing before COVID-19, and it’s even more critical now.


Anecdotally, you may think all of your customers are interested in heartfelt messages and comfy clothes, but data may tell you otherwise. Use analytics to uncover what they’re clicking on and segment your messages to different audiences accordingly.

Be ready to shift your COVID-19 messaging and to shift again.

7. Be ready to shift your COVID-19 messaging and to shift again.

If most of your emails and social media posts are about your current inventory, latest sale or biggest success, you may need to make an uncomfortable shift. And you probably need to do it immediately.

We’re working with a client now to help them switch from messaging that promotes events that are dependent on when stay-at-home measures are lifted and if the venues it uses will be available. So instead of “sign up now” messages, we’re working on quick, educational videos that draw on the personal experiences of the nonprofit’s team members.

While these messages will not help secure registrations, they will definitely promote brand awareness by providing helpful, relevant information.

Review any ongoing or prescheduled messaging.

8. Review any ongoing or prescheduled messaging.

If you’ve scheduled out social media, TV or radio spots or print ads weeks or months in advance, you need to review everything ASAP, if you haven’t already. You need to examine each item individually to see if it is still appropriate to the current situation.

One last takeaway.

It is vitally important that you offer regular messaging as an organization or a brand. Just going silent will leave you unprepared for #WhatHappensAfter. In the next blog article, we’ll talk about messaging strategy for sharing and connecting with your audiences in the weeks ahead.

 

In the meantime, please get in contact with us if you need help with message content, timing or anything else.

Get your hands on the Vela Post-COVID Checklist

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