How to Avoid Sounding Tone-Deaf During Coronavirus Pandemic | Empathy

Customer Experience

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You’ll have had the email by now. 

“Hello customer from our email marketing database, 

During these unprecedented times, we’d like you to know that no matter what happens, we’re ready to sell you more stuff. Coronavirus presents us with an opportunity to contact you, so we’re taking advantage of it. You probably only ever bought one thing from us and forgot to unsubscribe, but that isn’t going to stop us from having a go at selling you things. Here’s a link to our site with a 5% off stuff you don’t need.” 

Tone-deaf, out-of-context email marketing is, unlike the present day, not unprecedented. But it’s become inexcusable. Right now, there’s one thing brands and businesses need to be saying: 

What can we do to help? 

That’s it. If your customers need to know about how you’re operating, then expand the message to: 

This is what we can and cannot do at the moment

Anything else is selling, and if there’s one thing people do not want to hear, it’s tone-deaf sales pitch. 

People before profit

If you need any more proof that now, more than ever, people really do care about how you talk and what you say, this special edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer finds that customers expect brands and businesses to change the record. The good news is that most people surveyed think brands are in a powerful position to help. But if brands put profit before people, then they’ve lost the trust of 71% of the 12,000 surveyed. 

It is not possible to pay corporate lipservice to COVID-19. It does not listen or care. Its effects are immediate, and the effects of business’ responses are immediately noticeable. You cannot manipulate it or people’s perception of how you act in response to it. You’re being helpful or you’re not. Either will be remembered. 

Understand your motivation

Regardless of pandemics, marketing should be about addressing a need, rather than pushing a company’s agenda. Today, people need lots of things. Reassurance. Practical assistance. Hope. And maybe even an element of business as usual. It’s good to know that the real estate agent is still working on making your house sale happen. It’s good to know that the supermarkets are open. It’s good to know that life carries on. 

So if you’re thinking about communicating with your audience, be honest with yourself about why. Why do you want to send that email? Is it because you have something to offer? Or is it because you feel like you should be doing something because everyone else is? 

Of course, your business feels like it’s there to help. Thing is, so does everyone else’s. But what value can you actually bring? From the biggest – Ford making face shields, Anheuser Busch producing hand sanitizer – to the smallest – tiny clothing maker and retailer SirPlus offering its shipping account to anyone that needs it – there are many inspiring examples of helpful. 

It is what you say, and how you say it

And if you can’t be helpful, don’t say anything. An ad for a burglar alarm popped up on a community neighborhood website, full of posts offering to do shopping for elderly people self-isolating or advice on which shops have toilet paper. The company’s message? You’re going to get burgled as the streets are quiet, so better buy one of our alarms. Exploiting fear will not endear this business to anyone. 

Tone and language are critical. This most human of crises demands a human voice, shorn of tone-deaf corporate speak, hard selling, and jargon. Get to the point. Stop optimizing and leveraging and start making things better and using your skills. Edelman recommends that “brands should communicate with emotion, compassion, and facts.”

Call someone who has nothing to do with your business and read what you’ve written to them. If they can’t understand what you’re trying to say, start again. 

What will you be remembered for?

In all of this, there’s a positive note to sound. This is a unique chance to make a huge difference, to be remembered for the right reasons. To do some good. People expect it: Edelman found an expectation among respondents that brands and businesses can and will help. In fact, 62% of consumers said they did not think their country would make it through the crisis without brands playing a “critical role” in the fight against the coronavirus. 

Because soon the question will not be, how did you survive the great pandemic of 2020? The question will be, what did you do in the great pandemic of 2020?