Much has been discussed about the way the coronavirus is going to change our economies, politics and societies. It is also highly likely to change the way we communicate with one another.
A change in tone
The lockdown has given us more time for talking and listening. The tone of many social media posts during the crisis suggests we have become more honest about our fears and shortcomings. Watching celebrities in their own living rooms without their usual rehearsed polish has also contributed to a greater sense of openness and informality. And whilst the crisis has highlighted many divisions and inequalities in society, it has also revealed a higher degree of compassion, reflected in the ‘Stay safe’ and ‘Be kind’ mantras we are now so used to hearing.
A new style of corporate communication
So, will this more informal and compassionate style of communication change the language used in corporate communications and marketing? An analysis of internal and customer communications I was tasked with translating during March and April of 2020 would suggest this may well be the case.
Providing information on difficult subjects such as furloughing, factory closures, food shortages and job losses is no easy task. In order to deliver sensitively-worded translations, I spent some time studying communications issued by British companies and compiled a list of often-used phrases which I soon discovered reveal a more compassionate and personal tone. I wonder whether this trend is going to continue in corporate communication and advertising over the long term.
Hey, how ya doin’?
I am sure that marketing executives take a long time to decide the most appropriate greetings for their email marketing. Degrees of formality varied in the communications I studied, with many companies, including banks, opting for a less formal ‘Hello’ or even adopting this kind of quirky opening; ‘Hey Sarah, Are we toe tapping? Elbow bumping? Just a wave?’ A recent Twitter thread started by a copywriter informed me that some people find this kind of informality presumptuous and grating, so it’s always important to know your customer base well before hitting the send button.
Dear Mrs Hudson,
We hope this email finds you well and in good spirits.
We hope you, your family and your friends are keeping safe and well. We care
Many companies have been keen to emphasise that they understand how much it is affecting people’s lives and how difficulty uncertainty can be, as seen in these examples:
It's a worrying time for everyone at the moment, but for your banking at least, it's business as usual.
While the scale and impact of the current coronavirus outbreak remains unknown …
In the strange and ever-so-slightly scary times that the coronavirus has forced upon us, we are …
Some companies have done better than others in safeguarding their workers during the crisis. The reputations of those who were slower to send staff home have been tarnished considerably. It’s no wonder that the emphasis in many communications has been on health, safety and well-being:
Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our customers, and that of our team. Our priority is always the health and well-being of our team and our customers and we are doing everything we can to provide the right service to everyone.
We’re doing everything we can to balance the most urgent needs of our customers with the well-being of our people.
We’re here for you
A particular stand-out feature of Covid communication has been the language of reassurance. At a time of fear and panic, companies have used the opportunity to present themselves as solid and dependable.
During this worrying time, we would like to reassure you that maintaining our usual high-quality service remains our focus.
We are following the current official guidelines and taking all necessary precautions.
In light of the current situation, we would like to reassure our customers that …
As we all continue to navigate through these unique and evolving challenges, we want you to know that we are here for you.
In these difficult times, we remain relentlessly focused on providing you with the excellent service and support you have come to expect of us, and we thank you for your continued loyalty. Making it personal
To add weight to the messages, many companies sent their communications directly from their chief executives:
I wanted to personally reassure you that we have more food and other essential items coming to us from manufacturers and into our warehouses and distribution centres …
I wanted to update you on how we’re responding to the challenges of coronavirus and how we are ensuring we provide the best possible service at this difficult time.
Thank you for being a XXXX customer – and for the trust you place in us every day.
Bob (name of CEO)
We’ll remain by your side
A sense of order and permanence is important to us all during a crisis. Most communications end with a promise of regular updates:
We will continue to review the situation and update you with any changes as soon as we are able.
As a business, we will continue to monitor and review this approach in line with latest global developments and government guidance.
The situation is constantly evolving so our plans may change and if they do, we’ll let you know. A new advertising formula
The crisis has threatened the existence of countless companies from the local café to huge corporations. Appropriate marketing has been part of the battle for survival. Scheduled TV advertising campaigns had to be quickly shelved when the scale of the pandemic became clear and were hastily replaced by a now recognisable format; sombre piano music playing over footage of empty streets, keyworkers busy at their jobs and families in cosy isolation. This more muted approach has been taken to project a degree of sensitivity. Anything more blatant or brash could severely damage a company’s reputation, although some companies were prepared to take that risk. For example, I received an email entitled:
Corona sale! That's right we went there …
Another retailer chose to be a bit more subtle about it:
We realise shopping may not be your top priority in these unfamiliar times, but if you do need to replenish your favourite product you can still shop with us online.
The human touch
In the midst of the crisis, I was fortunate to receive some translation work for a fashion brand. Interestingly, there was no mention at all of the company’s products in the texts that were aimed at B2B and B2C customers. Instead, the company used carefully-worded content to promote their values. For example, the appearance of dolphins in the harbour in Trieste due to lower pollution levels was discussed to reinforce the company’s green ethos. Advice was also given on how to combat self-isolation blues to emphasise the company’s concern for the well-being of its staff and customers.
The cynical among you would be forgiven for thinking that this is just an example of a company cleverly adapting in order to weather the financial storm in the wake of the pandemic. This may be true to some extent, however, I prefer to see their approach as a move towards a more personal, authentic and less aspirational style of advertising.
Parting words are probably the most important in most corporate communications and it’s vital to strike the right tone, which have tended to follow a very similar pattern:
We hope that you remain well in these unprecedented circumstances.
Please stay well and look after one another, and we look forward to welcoming you in store again very soon.
Thank you for your time and stay safe.
I hope you and your families remain safe and well.
Take care and stay safe. We’re here for you.
Stay safe and well.
The aim of this post is to keep a record of the kind of language that was used in corporate communications during the Covid-19 crisis. It is likely to serve as a good point of reference when working on similar texts and will no doubt be interesting to look back on. I hope that the more understated and compassionate tone now adopted by many companies will be carried forward, and there’s one thing for sure, I would be extremely glad never to translate phrases such as ‘stay safe’ ever again.