What (Not) to Say: Content and Comms During a Pandemic

By Sean Filidis

What (Not) to Say: Content and Comms During a Pandemic

It’s no secret that COVID-19 is causing massive disruption to businesses. Nobody knows how long this is going to last or if the severity of it will get worse before it gets better.

Today we’ll discuss some actionable advice that will allow you to adjust and re-calibrate your marketing to be more effective (and sensitive) during the pandemic.


Look for a silver lining

Ensure that your messaging reflects what’s going on in the world right now. Create a new message that’s honest and caring. One that directly addresses your customers’ questions and concerns regarding this pandemic.

A great example of this is Nike. Shortly after Americans were advised to stay indoors unless it was necessary, they released this: 

“If you’ve ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance. Play inside, play for the world.” 

This is a hopeful and encouraging message. It puts a positive spin on lockdowns and shows people an opportunity. Carrying a similarly positive message can help soothe customer's anxieties.

Avoid humor

While it’s a good idea to look for positivity, it can be taken too far. For example, you should avoid humor in your marketing materials as it can come across as insensitive. It’s far better to be too serious than be sorry, even if it deviates from your normal fun loving, excitable, brand voice. 

This doesn’t mean everything needs to be full of doom and gloom, but keep the wise cracks to a minimum. 


Avoid Insensitive Words

It seems obvious when you’re reading it in a post like this, but it’s all too easy to forget the potential issues with some commonly used marketing words in the age of COVID-19. Things like “Killer deals” or “It’s gone viral” for example should be avoided for the foreseeable future. Words that are as seemingly innocuous as “Gather” and “Event” can also have some unintended connotations and should be avoided where possible too.


Assess marketing campaigns

Go over your current marketing campaigns and make sure all of the copy relevant and updated to match the current COVID landscape. Ensure that there are no inappropriate posts that were scheduled before the pandemic started that might be seen as insensitive in the context of the “new normal”.

We don’t want to “call out” any brands in particular here, but there were several examples of this happening around Halloween. Their copy was either written by someone who hadn’t thought of the backdrop of COVID-19, or more likely, was written and scheduled before the world got turned upside down.


Double check the content of your scheduled emails

One of the oldest methods of digital marketing (that is still very relevant today is email marketing). It’s stood the test of time due to its incredible efficiency, scalability, and perhaps most notably, its ability to be scheduled.

In the age of marketing automation, it’s not unusual to have a drip campaign scheduled several months in advance (sometimes years). It’s entirely possible that you wrote emails that were perfectly acceptable at the time of writing, but the language used is now no longer appropriate in the context of COVID-19.

Be sure to check all of your previous email campaigns for any copy that could be seen as inappropriate given the circumstances. 


Keep your blog content Informative

Your blog should continue to be as active as it was before the pandemic. It’s important for people to see that you’re still operating at a time when so many brands are shutting their doors, and a regularly updated blog is a great way to show this. But it’s important to remember to keep an eye on the tone of your posts.

You should focus on informative, compassionate, and collaborative blog content during these strange times instead of overly self-promotional posts.

For example, if you’ve just smashed your previous years targets and want to write a blog on it, do it softly. It’s perhaps a good idea to write posts like this with a humble and gracious tone, instead of a “We’re #1!” approach. 

Countless other businesses (including some competitors) might be struggling or shutting down right now through no fault of their own. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating a success, but a celebratory style of writing that would normally be considered acceptable may come across as insensitive and overly gratuitous in the context of COVID-19. 

Additionally, you should think about the types of questions your customers will have at the moment and try to pre-empt them with your blog posts.

If your company ships products, common concerns relating to shipping delays or safety concerns are going to be at the top of the list for many customers. They might also take an interest in what adjustments your business and employees are making due to the virus.

As long as the content you write is relevant and addresses a key concern, you’ll keep customers engaged especially when the focus is on helping rather than trying to sell them something.


Cite your sources

If you do put information regarding COVID-19 on your website, you should do so responsibly – which means not providing any kind advice of your own. Instead you should just point people to the CDC or WHO (or similar national organization). 

Don’t cite random websites, even places like WebMD and Healthline that are usually reliable sources should be overlooked in favor of government agencies. Advice changes quickly, and you should be providing a link to the direct source, not a 3rd party, regardless of their reliability.


Avoid time pressure language

You should avoid using time pressure promotions and you should moderate the language you’re using. Things like “Limited Time Only!” or “While Stocks Last!” might be seen as insensitive at a time when normal purchasing patterns are turned upside down and panic buying has been front page news.


Create community instead of being combative

Marketing traditionally is filled with words that can be considered confrontational, demanding, and combative. Things like “Take advantage”, “Don’t miss out!”, “Final offer!” “Fire sale!”, and the seemingly universal “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” are high pressure, semi aggressive phrases – and they should be avoided.

You should be trying to create a sense of community, and support with your copy, not pushing people in a certain direction. Instead consider using language that is inclusive and compassionate. Talk about things like “Contributing” “Connecting”, “Playing a role”, “Teams”, “In it together”, and “Providing assistance” to come across as a softer, more supportive brand in the current climate. 


In Conclusion

Take a step, re-evaluate, and then make adjustments that will get people responding positively to your marketing channels. A successful business is often about relationships and there’s no time that’s more apparent than during this current uncertainty.

Due to COVID-19, more and more people are looking for answers and safety. By providing both in your new marketing materials, you’ll be spreading the right kind of message in the calm respectful tone that the world needs right now...

And you’ll potentially increase your revenue at the same time too.

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Sean Filidis

Sean is a B2B content strategist specialized in streamlining customer journeys, creating sales and marketing alignment, and producing personalized content experiences that resonate with modern buyers. LinkedIn profile

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