Pandemic times are not “unprecedented,” if we know the history of the Spanish Flu, the Bubonic Plague and others. But Covid-19 has shown us up close that pandemics have an extraordinary effect on the world of communications and marketing.
For instance, Terry O’Reilly dedicated a wildly entertaining and informative episode of his CBC radio program to “Marketing in the Time of Covid” on “Under the Influence” (February 18, 2021).
My colleague (and former coach), Steve Slaunwhite, blogged recently on ways in which Covid has changed copywriting. He says that rules of the game “have been altered. Perhaps permanently.” His observation that Covid has caused copywriting to “become more relevant, authentic—even caring” resonates with me.
Yes, we continue to write copy that tries to persuade and ultimately close sales. But now, more than ever, conversational copy, which I find draws on storytelling, matters. The conversation outperforms any effort to pitch.
In fact, heavy pitching in pandemic times will only sound tone-deaf to the buyer. So how can copywriters and entrepreneurs address these uncertain times in our writing? Steve gives five tips, which I develop further, below.
- He recommends that we update our understanding of our target buyers, or “buyer personas”: Ask yourself who they are. “If they were created before March 2020, they’re way out of date.”
Spend some time reading and asking your customers what they’re thinking about, what worries them, what their “hopes and desires” are. Steve says that their answers will be different now than they were, one year ago. Customers and prospects may even be buying differently.
I’ve heard from the CBC and from trends in my local community that some people, not only in northern and remote Canadian communities, but also here at home, deal with pandemic risk by buying many of the amenities of life through Amazon: For some of these buyers, not enough stable providers (and deliverers) of food and goods have persisted, through the past year.
Now Zoom has become a means of hiring service providers, whereas earlier more in-person methods (or a combination of virtual and actual) were used.
Steve asks: “Does your marketing copy reflect” these kinds of changes? It needs to.
2. Learn to write conversationally: This is not news and yet I regularly see copy online that does not flow well. It reads, as Steve says, “stiff and formal.” I rebranded my business, Storytelling Communications, in 2018, focusing on the importance of communicating in ways that quickly resonate with human readers–both thematically and in tone.
Consider that copywriting and marketing greats like Steve, as well as Nick Usborne, Michael Katz and giant, Seth Godin (the latter partnered with Bernadette Jiwa), have all developed training materials that teach conversational copywriting through storytelling.
- Build facts and details into your writing: Why? Uncertain times make people crave for certainty. I’ve noticed recently that terms like “bedrock,” “foundational,” “flagship” and “landmark” have circulated more in online news than I can ever remember! We often feel better just for reading those words.
Steve recommends inserting facts, details, useful knowledge from highly credible, authoritative sources. Make sure your statistics are up to date. (We need to update website copy from content that’s four or five years old.) Also, cite “plenty of testimonials.”
- Be very realistic about the benefits we tout and any outcomes we quote. Experienced copywriters know that we can write persuasively but still must be honest about benefits and expected outcomes. Otherwise, we have no credibility. Steve writes: “What has changed is that buyers are being extra cautious and scrutinizing the claims made in marketing copy much more closely.”
So we must write convincingly, but not overlook that we are being realistic (honest) in how we describe benefits and promises.
This reminds me of the anger of an accountant I know, who voiced his frustration to a nearby assistant, that a salesperson of their recently purchased photocopier was “a bald-faced liar” for promising a higher volume of copies than the machine produced. The salesperson’s credibility was shot—and won’t easily, if ever, be recovered.
- Reward your reader for reading your marketing copy: So we must not “pitch” or push in a hard-sell way. Steve knows that “pitch fatigue” can undermine the effectiveness of marcom copy.
He recommends an “alterative approach,” of including within a promotional email a few tips on how to make the most of the product or service: This “makes the email exciting and helpful to the buyer, whether they buy or not.” Salespeople call this “adding value with every contact.”
Consider that companies as diverse as Vistaprint and FlexJobs (and many more) have sent me promotional emails in recent months that tell how to improve one’s resume, job interview strategies, etc.
But remember the evergreen power of storytelling (used by civilizations from cavemen to millennials), especially in pandemic times, to hook the reader.
To summarize, then: Covid times force us to be on top of our game as copywriters and entrepreneurs, more conscious and self-aware of our clients and prospects than ever before. We can avoid falling into a “tone-deaf” state if we update our understanding of our target buyer; learn to write conversationally; build facts and details into our copy; are realistic about benefits or outcomes; and add value to our audience, rewarding them for reading our writing.
Covid challenges us to be more nimble in our mindset, as promotional writers.
Copywriters and entrepreneurs who merely crank out copy or promotions in age-old ways will be left out in the cold.
And now it’s your turn. Do Steve’s five tips on how to update our approach to marketing in Covid days resonate with you? Please share on my “contact” page. I’d be delighted to hear from you.