Empathy is key in the new normal of brand messaging

The global challenges of the novel coronavirus have impacted nearly every industry, business, storefront and consumer. Much like how the tragic events of 9/11 changed travel as we know it, it is reasonable to expect changes to safety regulations, consumer behaviors and business practices to meet those new demands and expectations.

As a copywriter in advertising, finding the right words for businesses struggling to strengthen or maintain their consumer relationships during this crisis has its own challenges.

Most advertisers refer to consumers as “the audience.” Being a former actor and all-around “ham,” this terminology appeals to me, but I also know that audiences can differ quite a bit. Not every audience enjoys Shakespeare. Not every audience likes opera. And I honestly have never found anyone who freely admitted liking the musical “Cats.” Instead, I tend to think of audiences as “seekers.” What are they looking for? What will make them feel better? What’s going to make them excited? What is going to motivate them emotionally, intellectually or even spiritually?

With the inundation of panic, fear and general anxiety blaring from every broadcast channel and shared through every social media platform, it may be safe to assume that audiences are seeking something solid to hold onto during this time of ambiguity—something that will ground them and help them to take a moment to breathe.

Brands who exercise empathy for these seekers can strengthen their audience relationships, but it is probably wise to keep some things in mind when laying out your messaging strategy during this crisis.

  • Acknowledge how your audience might feel.
    Anxiety, fear, frustration and so many other negative emotions can be attached to times of ambiguity.
  • Validate their emotions.
    Let them know it’s OK to have strong feelings during this stressful time.
  • Offer something that may bring them comfort.
    If it is something your brand is doing, even better. If you can only offer kind words of hope, then do so, but try to back it with some meaningful action.
  • Sell products or services softly.
    Strong sales language could be perceived as opportunism and may damage your audience relationship.
  • Avoid words or images that might “sting” during this crisis.
    Phrases like “spread the word” or “make this go viral” could be perceived as clumsy or tone-deaf. Photos or footage of large gatherings of people could spark heartache among viewers. Be hyper-critical of your message, and scan your images with an empathetic eye.
  • Don’t be afraid of humor, but make sure you know what makes your message funny.
    This is a great time to laugh with each other over the shared experiences and challenges that come with isolation. This is a terrible time to laugh at anyone, so be sure the source of your humor is a shared experience and not a voyeuristic one.

I have little doubt that as our economy opens bit by bit and new safety regulations are enacted, a new normal will emerge. We’ll be frustrated by the changes. We’ll complain and reminisce about how things used to be, and eventually we’ll get over it and move forward. It’s really the history of our species, if you think about it. The brands that continue to exercise empathy and offer thoughtful, innovative solutions through this transition will continue to build affinity among their audiences.

As the adage goes—
We cannot control the winds,
but we can always adjust our sails.

by André du Broc, Sr. Copywriter

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