Copywriting in a time of crisis Thursday April 2, 2020

Unprecedented, extraordinary, crisis… this is a time when hyperbole doesn’t seem excessive. There’s no doubt that everyday life is very far away from business-as-usual. The road map is gone. The rules haven’t been broken: they’ve been thrown away. No-one quite knows what’s going to happen next. So, how does copywriting fit into all of this?

While extraordinary times call for an extraordinary approach, there’s also something important about staying consistent in the face of enforced change. Amid the huge health and economic shifts affecting everyone around the world, copywriting and business content have an important role to play right now. Because people – from employees to customers – need to be kept informed quickly and effectively.

Lockdown is in full force and your message could prove to be a lifeline. With most businesses now at one or two removes from their customers, employees and stakeholders, this is a time when carefully constructed content can make a vital difference.

I’ve seen lots of messages about the coronavirus and its impact on business operations, but many of them seem generic, impersonal and surprisingly vague. So, how do you keep your copywriting approach sensitive and effective in a time of crisis?

Be specific

The more specific you can be, the more people will understand the steps you’re taking to protect them. Make your message short and precise. Tell your readers what you’re doing right now to keep your employees and customers safe. Conversely, if you make promises or assurances, be sure to follow them through and prepare to update people if things change.

Make it personal

An initial statement about your response as an organisation to Covid-19 can be beneficial, but that’s not enough. Different groups and audiences have contrasting concerns and needs. How can you personalise your content – email, social media, blog posts – to really address the worries of specific audiences right now? This extends to making sure you don’t go into robot marketing mode. Like the story I heard yesterday about a much-needed order of essential groceries being placed with a local food business. Great, but while the person who made the order heard no news about the time or date of their delivery, they did start to receive regular email marketing updates from the company, with helpful suggestions about what to cook and eat… Not what they needed with quickly emptying food cupboards at home! That type of thoughtless auto-marketing really stands out in the current climate. Especially as the company itself did a great job and the food was delivered efficiently and early this morning.

Consider your tone of voice

If ever there was a time to carefully consider the tone of voice you’re using, this is it. Humour can be powerful but it’s far less appropriate at the moment. Are you confident that your message and tone of voice are aligned with where people are at emotionally and practically? On the other side of the coin, while hyperbole seems a natural tone for this period, this won’t do your content or your audience any favours. The best approach for now? Keep your tone factual and reassuring.

Find the balance

I couldn’t write this post without making a point about exploitation. I’ve noticed some comment on social media about certain companies misguidedly linking their products with the coronavirus in a way which smacks horribly of exploiting a global pandemic. It can be tricky to navigate the line between supporting customers and being perceived as taking advantage of a highly challenging time in everyone’s lives. The key here is to connect with your customers in an authentic way. Find the balance between helping others and helping your business.

Stay in touch

With all the potential risks of getting the messaging in your content horribly wrong as discussed above, it’s understandable that you might be tempted to stay quiet. You may even believe your customers won’t want to hear from you at such a difficult time. Ultimately, this is your call. But my advice would be to stay in touch. Approach it carefully. As with the story from earlier, don’t alienate customers by continuing your normal marketing activities as if life continues as normal, when for every person on the planet it won’t for some time to come. Whatever the status of your business – operating as normal, in furlough, taking a step back – let people know. Reassure them that you’re still working hard to provide the services they need. Keep people updated about changing opportunities and conditions.

Remember the call to action

The time for a well-placed and carefully constructed call to action? You are here. Now is when it means everything. Whatever format you use to communicate with your customers during this time, provide a clear and practical call to action. And support it with a proper plan. If you’ve provided a dedicated email address to allow customers to share their concerns, ensure the inbox for that address is checked regularly. If you specify the hours during which a phone-line is open, be sure to staff it during those hours. It’s all too easy to miss things when you’re working hard to keep your business healthy in challenging times.

Your words have power

Your content has the power to help shape the public response to this crisis. Be there for customers, offer them support and advice, be clear, be specific and, above all, do everything you can to help them stay safe.

To all those businesses working hard right now to provide the vital services and products that people need during this crisis: thank you.

Camilla Zajac, Green Light Copywriting, April 2020

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