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How to write for your brand in this shitty new world

I don’t have time to write a long intro for this post. And you don’t have time to read one. So I’m skipping the warm-up – and cutting to the chase. Here goes: 15 bite-sized tips to help with your corporate comms, copywriting and content marketing in this shitty, unfamiliar world.

1. Yes, you DO need to change your content calendars and schedules

Did you spend the last few weeks of 2019 mapping out your blog topics, emails and social content for the year ahead? 

If so, go back to the drawing board. 

I’m not saying you’ll have to change everything. But you will need to scrutinise your subject matters carefully, asking yourself if they still apply – and how your audience’s priorities have shifted.  

And if you have automated emails and scheduled posts such as birthday offers you can’t fulfil, you need to cancel them. Quickly.    

2. Your content shouldn’t ignore the crisis (at least for the time being)

Not all your blogs, social posts, eDMs and media releases need to directly relate to the crisis. But by the same token, you don’t want to appear stuck in your pre-COVID-19 marketing bubble.

If you ignore the issue completely, you risk looking insensitive or tone-deaf. 

But whatever you do, avoid piling into the coronavirus conversation just for the hell of it. You need to give context – and make the relevance clear.  

3. If you don’t know what your customers want, ask them

Luxury or non-essential items like clothing, jewellery and skin products can seem irrelevant in times of crisis.

And you don’t want to appear tactless by trying to flog your ‘frivolous’ products like you have always done – as if nothing has changed.

But does that mean your customers want you to stop marketing completely?

There’s only one way to find out: ask them.

Asking for their guidance with questions like ‘Do you still want to hear about our new collections?’ or ‘Do you need a break?’ shows care and sensitivity.

4. Don’t send an email about the C-word just because  

‘Yay, another obligatory COVID-19 email blast!’ – said no one ever!

You want your customers to know you’re doing something or responding to the situation in some way. I get it. But if your email doesn’t add value or share new information, don’t send it. 

And seriously, if you think that your team’s regular hand washing routines or working-from-home arrangements qualify as valuable or new, you’re grossly mistaken. 

5. The ‘less is more’ principle has never been more important

Although brevity is always preferred, right now, it’s critical.

So before you send any email about this issue and the steps you’re taking to address it, spend time sorting the ‘nice to know’ from the ‘need to know’. Your audience only needs to know about things that directly affect them.

Also, make sure your writing style is super succinct. You need to be ruthless about ditching every redundant word, rambling sentence and gratuitous formality.

6. And please, please, don’t state the obvious

Don’t tell people that this situation is ‘unprecedented’. Don’t tell them that the impact on Australia’s economy is significant. And I beg you, don’t tell them that we’re all facing a lot of uncertainty at the moment.

By stating the obvious, you’re insulting their intelligence and wasting their time. Even worse, you’re probably adding to their anxiety too.

We really don’t need to be reminded how crap this all is.  

7. Find less intrusive ways to update your audience 

Even if you do have something new to share, sending another godforsaken email blast is not the only way to do it.  

There’s a fine line between keeping your customers informed and annoying them! 

How about placing a standard message at the bottom of all team members’ email signatures? Or adding a short sentence in the header or footer of your regular email newsletters?

These strategies will ensure you get your message across to those who are most likely to care – the people you are in regular contact with anyway.

8. But also consider a more personal approach

Businesses are sending out more than enough broadcast proclamations.

So why not connect with your most valued clients or customers in a more personal way? Call them. Or send a personal email to let them know they’re in your thoughts. 

I made a commitment to myself two weeks ago to call at least one client (or business partner) a day. Just to check in. And by reaching out to them personally, they know I care and am here to help (without me expressly having to say it).

Remember, talk is cheap. Especially when you send the same message of ‘care, help and support’ to your database of a million-and-one subscribers.

9. You can’t overuse the Q&A format

If you’re struggling to keep your crisis communications clear and logical, you can’t go past the trusty Q&A approach.

This helps you organise your thoughts and construct messages that are easy to read and scan.

But just as importantly, it forces you to think from your audience’s point of view – and shows customers that you’re in tune with their most pertinent concerns

10. Don’t relay or clarify stuff you’re not an authority on

If you’re an accounting firm, by all means, help me understand the government’s wage support package. And if you’re a real estate agency, please clarify my legal options as a tenant.  

But if you’re an insurance firm, I’m not interested in your tips on how to sneeze safely. And if you’re a beauty salon, I won’t be turning to you to read about Morrison’s new lockdown rules.

The takeaway? Don’t relay information from government or other authoritative sources about topics your business has no expertise in.

11. Certain words are no longer okay

There are certain words – some that were even considered ‘power words’ – that should now be avoided in your copywriting at all costs.

Consider how the bolded word in each of the headlines below takes on a whole new meaning in today’s COVID-19 world:

A simple formula for writing a killer resume’
‘How to make your ideas go viral in the workplace’
‘Free financial health-check on your property portfolio’  
‘Special deals to spread the holiday joy’
‘This little lifesaver will have your creativity flowing in no time’

12. Tone down the sales pitch

Call now! Act quickly! What an opportunity!

Overt sales messages and pushy calls-to-action (CTAs) may have their place. But not at the moment. Remember, the only truly urgent issue we’re all facing right now is the pandemic itself.

So if you’re selling a product or service that is especially useful in current times (such as home gym equipment or online training solutions), aim for a tone of helpfulness.

The worst thing you can do is look like you are cashing in on the crisis.

For example, ‘Take advantage of our remote training solutions now – before it’s too late!’ sounds opportunistic and inappropriately exciting. On the other hand, ‘Let us help you keep your professional development on track while you’re not in the office,’ shows sensitivity and respect.

People still want to buy stuff. They just don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to.

13. Actions speak louder than words

I know what you’re thinking. Vikki’s a word girl, isn’t she?

Yes, I do love words. But not empty ones.

I’m hearing lots of businesses telling their customers that they are their number one priority – with no actions to support the claim. So, instead of simply telling your customers that you’re here to help, just HELP!

Big brands like Disney, eBay and UberEats have led the way with their actions. But don’t assume that you can only afford to be generous if you’re a mega-corporation. I am sure you can think of one or two small things you can do to help your customers out.

For example, our client in the retail hearing aid industry knows how hard it is for their customers (who are largely elderly) to travel in-store to get their hearing aid batteries replaced. So they’re posting the batteries out instead – and waiving all postage fees.

14. Getting it right with your own people is just as important

More than half of the crisis-related email communications we’ve been editing for clients has been for internal purposes.

So it’s encouraging to know that many businesses do appreciate how important it is to get the message and tone right when addressing their staff.

And all the same rules apply. Don’t waste your employees’ time communicating stuff they already know. Keep it simple and succinct. And if you want them to know you care, show them.

Find ways to be generous with your own people too.

15. And finally, don’t go SILENT!

Budgets are tighter. Consumers have changed. The future is uncertain. We all know the realities.

But history has shown time and again that brands that keep marketing during a crisis come out stronger. So even if you are not operating in the same way (or even at all) right now, don’t go silent

Assuming you’re able to weather the storm, your resort will take bookings again. Your restaurant doors will reopen. Your events management business will ramp back up. And when these things do happen, your brand needs to still be relevant and top-of-mind.

Promotional emails from airlines, movie cinemas and travel destinations are still landing in my inbox. For example, I just received one from Daylesford Getaways wishing me a happy Easter along with the hashtag, #dreamnowdiscoverlater.

Protect your brand. Fuel it. Your comeback will be a lot easier.