How to Guide Authentic Brand Content & Voice in the New Normal


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Written by Mike Hawkins, Co-founder and CMO of Riddle

COVID-19 hasn’t just changed how people buy and behave, it’s changed how they listen. In a sea of brands detailing their response to the pandemic, people have become accustomed to buzzwords and insincere messaging. While it’s expected for brands to tailor their voice to the changes taking place in the world, a few months of the same conversation has made it difficult to both be heard and taken seriously.

How can brands react in the crisis whilst remaining true to their values and cut through the noise?

According to market research from Twitter, 64 percent of respondents said brands should continue advertising products as normal in COVID-19, suggesting that consumers actually look to businesses for a sense of familiarity. Rather than develop a completely new persona, brands’ efforts are best focused on pivoting around the known and trusted voice they already have.

Just as you change your pitch, words, and speed depending on who you’re talking to, now is the time for companies to fully understand their audiences, and speak appropriately.

Here’s how:

1. Use Empathetic Language

If you’ve ever called an automated customer service line, you know how frustrating it is trying to communicate with a robot. The same applies to consumers, and more precisely, consumers who may be experiencing hardship, anxiety or a greater sense of mistrust during the pandemic. Brands that opt for cliche messaging, long-winded philosophical statements – as well as brands that don’t acknowledge the new conditions at all – are setting themselves up for a fall. 

A company consists of humans, and consumers respond best to brands that sound like someone they could bump into on the street. It’s not that you have to force it by using colloquialisms and slang, but rather that you create an empathetic exchange, speaking as one person to another. Not only does this technique help establish a rapport with consumers, it also shows your company prioritizes society over sales. 

Take a look at British tea brand, Yorkshire Tea. It’s well-known for its light-hearted tone, which isn’t something it has lost during the pandemic, but equally, has stayed tasteful and human. On National Tea Day, the brand announced that it originally had plans for something (presumably a big marketing stunt) but had to cancel. Rather than push the lost event, Yorkshire Tea shared a post saying ‘[W]e want to raise our mug to you. To those staying home. To those going to work. To those helping others. To everyone just getting out of bed to put the kettle on each morning.’

The no-frills, human language recognizes people around the world are existing with COVID-19. The message prompted a string of photos of raised mugs, and served as a reminder that some things, as small as having a cup of tea, are a welcome constant in the crisis.

2. Consider on-brand tie-ins for trending topics

A common mistake brands are making at the moment is getting caught up in discussions that don’t align with what their customers expect. It’s easy to start publishing blog posts about new technology helping curb the spread of the virus, but if you’re a clothing brand, those topics won’t necessarily interest your target audiences. Instead of chasing general surfacing trends, it’s important to stay in your lane and produce content that explores how the changes in the world are affecting your industry – the products, the workers, the supply chain, and so on.

Just as you change your pitch, words, and speed depending on who you’re talking to, now is the time for companies to fully understand their audiences, and speak appropriately.

That’s not to say that you can’t be playful, but that your content should clearly align with the area where you want to be known as an expert. Suddenly branching into other themes or adding throwaway references to COVID-19 will confuse your customers, and only indicate a lack of authenticity. 

Early in the pandemic, Skype shared a Facebook post reading ‘Learn how to switch your camera in #Skype and let your loved one see how cute your pet has gotten since last week’. The messaging works for a number of reasons. First, it’s conversational, something you would naturally say to a friend in conversation. Second, it’s informative, it announces that there’s a simple alternative to clumsily turning your laptop around while on a call. Third, it’s genuine – it’s not promotional or aggressive, it merely takes a common moment between people and offers a solution. And lastly, it’s a post from a video conferencing company about video conferencing; it’s not an awkward attempt to jump on someone else’s bandwagon.

3. Solve for day-to-day audience needs

There’s no doubt that the business landscape has been disrupted in 2020, however, your experiences, successes, and learnings have not. All the knowledge you had before the pandemic is still accessible and extremely valuable.

Now, more than ever, customers are looking to brands to provide the tools and expertise to guide them through the day-to-day of their professional and personal lives. One of the most valuable forms of content you can offer is anything that draws from you and your team’s processes, and shares your specialized know-how with consumers. Think of it this way: as a brand, you’re the engineer making sure things run smoothly, and your content is the instruction manual that lets people get to work themselves.  

InVision, the digital product design platform, is a perfect example. The company has recently shared a  free ebook for remote design teams in lockdown. The book includes actionable advice about productivity, management, tools, and reviews. The content details experiences of staff at InVision, as well as the company’s history. Of course, the book is impeccably designed, and has video and audio interviews to boot. What’s so great about this content is that it covers all bases, it’s useful, accessible, fun, and from an expert perspective. InVision has 700 employees over 30 countries, and no office – so, who better to dish out advice on remote work?

4. Create interactive brand touchpoints

It’s no secret that people are spending more time online and brands are rushing to leverage the shift. What many companies are forgetting though, is to have a two-way conversation with consumers, as opposed to repeatedly speaking at them. Quizzes and other interactive content can do wonders to engage your audiences and provide them with a channel to talk with you.

Quizzes and polls essentially ask consumers to participate with your brand. They give customers limitless time to express themselves, provide feedback or learn something. If designed correctly, a quiz can even encourage people to reveal subtleties about what they buy and why they buy it, which helps you and them understand their actions better. 

In June, Michael Kors launched a series of lifestyle quizzes on mobile to generate handbag recommendations for shoppers. The quiz has questions around things like users’ favorite sports and drinks, and once completed, suggests a bag and hand-painted customizations. This content is a clever way of allowing customers to tell the brand who they are, and in response, let the brand cater to different lifestyles. Customers don’t just feel like they’re being listened to, they also feel like what they’re saying is being responded to. 

5. Highlight the human touch

Research from Bynder found 57 percent of people surveyed believe COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on brand and marketing efforts, but that it won’t be transformative. It would be unwise to completely overhaul your voice and content for the new normal. A better solution is to expand on what your customers already know (and love) about your brand, show your human side, stay relevant, share your wisdom, and start a dialogue.

After all, those qualities are always welcome – whether they come from a brand or a new acquaintance through a zoom call.

About Mike

Mike Hawkins is Co-founder and CMO of Riddle, an intuitive quiz maker, and lead generation platform. Mike is a dynamic and versatile online marketing professional with the dual UK and US citizenship and extensive experience in F2P (free to play) social gaming, B2C web products, and marketing communications. Mike holds a BA in Political Science and an MBA, both from the University of California, Berkeley.