How to Create Brand Messaging for the New Normal

The world has changed.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of life – from the way that we socialize to the way that we work, to what we wear and how we shop.

So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that how people see the world has changed as well.

Priorities have shifted. And, some things that we used to take for granted have become (at least temporarily) obsolete.

So, if your business is still communicating in the same old way, chances are good that your brand messaging won’t resonate the way it once did.

Whether you’re starting a new business or trying to grow an existing business, how you communicate impacts whether you build and grow a sustainable business.

Stronger brand messaging helps you to build a stronger brand.

Tip #1 Audit messaging for topics that no longer apply

If you’re writing a business plan for a business you plan to launch, you have the opportunity to build strategies for the new normal. New businesses face unique challenges, but this is also your opportunity to differentiate.

If you run an existing business, then you must assess how the post-COVID-19 world impacts your business.

Every business needs to adapt and evolve in order to thrive.

This has always been true.

In fact, just in 2020 alone, a record 46 companies with at least $1 Billion in assets have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Smaller businesses face even bigger obstacles and it’s even more important for smaller businesses to adapt in the midst of such pervasive upheaval.

So many aspects of daily life have changed since the coronavirus entered our lives. From the big changes – like working from home, school closures, and a vastly curtailed economy – to smaller changes like daily mask-wearing and extra hand-washing, our lives have been redefined.

Your brand messaging for the new normal must reflect these changes.

Here are a few obvious topics that may create friction with customers and prospects:

  • Large social gatherings
  • Physical interactions between people outside of their homes
  • Coughing or sneezing without covering the face
  • Face-touching
  • Crowded restaurants, offices, or stores

Does your legacy communication include recommendations or language that simply no longer apply?

Do the photos or videos on your website or those you share on social networks depict behavior that is no longer appropriate (or even possible)?

Customer experience expert Augie Ray shares this example of what not to do:

…a Sonoma winery sent me a message intended to seem comforting but instead sounded tone-deaf: “Our doors will remain open, the live music will carry on, and our staff would love to say hello and treat you to a cup of coffee.” Nothing conveys how much your brand cares for customers like telling them to violate CDC instructions that save lives amid a global pandemic.

It’s time to audit your current messaging and cull out any references to group events that can no longer be attended, and activities or personal practices that are no longer safe.

Avoid making statements that are out of touch with our current reality or you’ll look clueless (at best) or callous (at worst).

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Tip #2 Authenticity is more important than ever

Authentic business interactions have been in demand for some time.

This trend of prioritizing honesty and human connection has grown even more important as businesses adapt to the new normal.

We’re currently facing more large-scale, shared uncertainty than most people have experienced since the last world war. The pandemic has attacked multiple fronts – health, social interaction, finance, education, labor, and more. Its impact is hard to avoid.

And, as we previously pointed out:

Both anxiety and depression have risen significantly in the wake of the pandemic. In fact, occurrences of anxiety symptoms in 2020 have approximately tripled compared to those reported during the same time period in 2019.

Uncertainty and anxiety make people yearn for stability – for people and brands they can trust.

And, authentic human-driven business practices build trust. They reassure people that there’s a port in the storm.

And, the businesses that put their customers first, communicate with transparency and show their own humanity will earn customer loyalty.

As you update your marketing strategy, consider your brand and what it stands for. Then look for ways to engage with your audience over your shared common ground.

Social media marketing is a great channel for these kinds of more intimate interactions.

And, as you craft every new brand message, speak from a place of authenticity. Be honest about what your company is facing. Be open about the values that drive your business.

And, above all, be real.

For example, if you’re trying to create value with the way you price your products or services, it’s perfectly fine to leverage marketing psychology and principles like the decoy effect to persuade people to buy specific products or services. But, your pricing should be real and authentic. Don’t just create random products or service packages that feel inauthentic or contrived.

And, if you find that your brand identity just isn’t on track with your most authentic business, check out our free brand identity guide. It may be time to update your visual branding.

 

Tip #3 You can’t please everyone. So, don’t try

The pandemic isn’t just a matter of public health.

COVID-19 has been rabidly politicized in the United States and in many other countries.

So, public health decisions like whether or not to protect others by wearing a mask or sheltering at home have become charged by partisan messaging.

Don’t try to walk a very fine line and avoid offending anyone.

In our politically-charged new normal, the odds are that you won’t succeed. You’ll be best served by picking one side – the side you believe in.

We just finished talking about the importance of authenticity. So, do a gut check – or touch base with senior management – where does your business’s internal compass fall on pandemic-related issues?

You don’t have to make a dramatic proclamation. But, it’s important to know where your brand stands so that you can speak appropriately when hot-button issues come up and plan each brand message that resonates with the audience who shares your views.

Share your business’s stance on pandemic-related issues with anyone who will be writing copy, ideating marketing strategy, or handling customer support issues.

It’s important to share a consistent message on these high-stakes topics.

Tip #4 Avoid virtue signaling

Do you remember the deluge of emails that poured into your inbox shortly after the pandemic began?

You know the ones – the messages reassuring everyone ever precisely what each and every brand was doing to cope with the pandemic.

Some of those emails provided useful information or offered a new product or service that brought real value.

But most did not.

And, that kind of empty gesture can backfire. It can be interpreted as “virtue signaling” – which isn’t great.

As Augie Ray presciently pointed out way back in March of 2020,

The problem with marketing messages that merely signal your brand’s virtue without doing anything further is that they waste customers’ time and do little to impact your relationship. In fact, messages like that do more to hurt brands because of what’s missing — anything meaningful for customers.

Virtue signaling is not authentic. It’s misleading and disingenuous.

And, it will irritate your customers.

So, don’t do it.

Instead, get ahead of the curve. Derek Goh of Kadence International, a global boutique market research agency, explains:

As consumers begin calling these campaigns out for being all-talk and no action, companies are realising the need to move beyond surface-level brand purpose and to start embracing what we refer to as purposeful design, creating products and services which allow consumers to make the world a better place.

So, is taking meaningful positive action for your world a part of your brand’s mission?

If it is, then by all means share that vision with your audience – but only if you have concrete plans.

Will you directly solve a pandemic-related challenge with a new product or service? Maybe you’ll contribute to a charitable cause or partner with an organization that is working to help more directly.

If you’re taking valuable action, then update your brand messaging, including every brand message, to reflect your goals. And, let your customers know how they can get involved.

But, don’t share messages that imply action that you’re not taking or care you’re not showing.

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Tip #5 Don’t assume customers know your brand

My dad loves a particular brand of cinnamon raisin bread. He eats it for breakfast every morning. But, since the pandemic began, he hasn’t been able to find it in stores. Or online. And, as a result, he’s tried 3 or 4 new brands, trying to find the closest approximation to his favorite.

Why should you care about my dad’s quest for a specific kind of raisin bread?

Because it’s just one real-world example of how normal buying patterns have fundamentally shifted.

Supply chains have been disrupted.

And, customers today often can’t find their favorite brands.

So, even the most change-averse customers have to try something new.

We’re in the midst of a large-scale brand loyalty transition. And, out of necessity, more buyers than ever before are open to purchasing new brands that they may not be familiar with.

Now is the time for every business to re-examine its marketing messaging to be sure that the messaging is accessible and welcoming to new customers who may not know them at all.

Review all of your marketing copy for assumptions – and get rid of them.

Your brand messaging (and the copy you use in each brand message to express it) must make it completely clear what you do, what unique benefits you offer your customers, and what sets you apart from the competition.

As customers look for their new favorite brands, your marketing copy must meet them where they are.

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Tip #6 Create consistent, strategy-driven messaging

In order to ensure that your brand messaging is effective, you should build a strategy and define certain key elements that will complement and help you communicate your brand messaging.

This is sometimes called the brand messaging framework and it contains these elements:

Brand promise

Your brand promise states what you actually do. It should communicate your vision and should target your customers and prospects.

Brand positioning statement

Your brand positioning statement explains how you differentiate in the marketplace and how people should compare you to your competitors. Brand positioning will influence both internal and external brand messaging.

Target audience

Brand messages should be focused on your target audience and market research. After all, those are the people who buy your products and services.

So, focus on their pain, their needs, and their desires.

And, consider how that audience expects you to communicate with them. A younger audience wants a more relaxed, playful tone. An older audience might prefer a more serious tone.

Mission

Consider and assess what makes your company special. Why does your company exist, and what values are essential? These form the foundation that gives you a solid base to build brand messages.

Voice

Brand identity may change and evolve as time and trends pass, but a brand’s personality mostly stays the same. Brand personalities typically include 3-5 key characteristics (like rebellious, empowering, and adventurous, for example). Knowing your brand’s personality will help you to develop your brand voice and tone of voice. And be sure you consistently use that voice everywhere, including in chat, marketing automation, and on social networks.

Your brand elevator pitch

How would you describe your brand in one sentence? How about in one minute? And, does everyone on your team consistently describe your brand the same way? Consistency is important so make sure you have a succinct, clear elevator pitch.

Your unique selling proposition

Ultimately, a unique selling proposition (USP) is what your business stands for.

For example, you could say that Apple’s USP is found in “user experience”: everything they do is meant to have the user at its core.

Figuring out what your USP is can take time, but it’s a crucial piece of your brand. Knowing what it is can help you create better brand messaging, solidify your brand promise, and will also help you to sell better to your target audience.

Your Action Item Recap

Let’s be honest. People have been thrown for a loop. And, many businesses are struggling to find their footing.

But, the brands that are flexible and adapt are the ones that will succeed.

So, remember these five guidelines as you craft your brand messaging for the new normal.

  1. Audit your brand messages for topics that are no longer relevant or appropriate in light of pandemic-related changes.
  2. Prioritize authentic, honest communication to build stronger customer relationships.
  3. Don’t try to please everyone. Decide where your business stands on potentially controversial issues and update your messaging accordingly.
  4. Avoid virtue signaling. Speak about pandemic-related issues when you have information of real value to share with customers.
  5. Write brand messages that are accessible and clear even to people who know nothing about your business.
  6. Be sure your messaging is consistent and driven by strategy.

 

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