The right words have always been an essential ingredient of effective marketing. So we can’t help but wonder how the lexicon may be changing, how the language of marketing content may be shifting as a result of COVID-19.
At Persado, which describes itself as “the AI platform of reference for the choice of words across the enterprise,” president Jason Heller is keeping an eye on how specific words perform.
Paul Talbot: What are a few of the worst words marketers are using right now and why?
Jason Heller: Former high-performing sentiments of ‘attention’ and ‘urgency’ language from December 2019 are now among the least effective for generating a customer response. Also out are words that use all-caps, exclamation points and superlative language.
Stop using ‘unprecedented,’ move on from ‘we’re here for you’ to ‘here’s how we can help,’ and go beyond ‘we’re in this together’ to talking about what you are actually doing.
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The new go-to’s lost their impact in a matter of days and a whole new language is emerging – the language of mindful, conscious communications. In other words, how to speak when whatever you say can be perceived as generic at best and tone-deaf at worst.
Since March, we’ve been focusing on sophisticating our language algorithms with what we call ‘mindful narratives,’ the language of optimism; the idea of home as a safe haven, a sanctuary; the hundreds of different ways of being empathetic in ways that truly resonate.
The challenge is how to connect the dots between this new caring and careful tone with your own brand voice without losing the essence of what you’re about. To find your own version of ‘how to speak’ in 2020, and how to not just survive, but grow as a brand amidst the chaos – and we know very well that the only way to achieve that is by looking at the data. Listen to your customers.
Talbot: How is the sudden pandemic-driven influx of empathy in today’s marketing content resonating with consumers?
Heller: The data is clear: What worked even a few months ago, generally is not working now. The less attention-grabbing and more empathetic language is working at creating more engagement and even creating commercial behavior.
For example, people want to be reassured that things will go back to normal, so marketers should consider language that offers comfort and even permission to step away and decompress.
Examples include, ‘a bit of good news’ and ‘permission to disconnect.’ Marketers need to strike a balance between empathy and performance so they’re ultimately supporting their customers and their businesses.
For example, a number of insurance companies are delivering automatic policy discounts to all renewals and recent policies as a way of showing customer support. The goodwill of this gesture will have long lasting effects, and the messaging surrounding these bold moves will make a big difference in how the gestures are received and the additional brand equity created during this time.
Talbot: The direct marketer whose business model is built on immediate response… has anything changed with a strong call to action which traditionally performed well?
Heller: Consumers are mentally in an entirely different place today than they were a few months ago. And they will be in a different place in 3 months, and again in 6 months or 12 months. It’s important to acknowledge that this is a journey. While the direct marketer’s playbook may not go out the window, many of the aggressive tactics are looked at as tone deaf right now.
The communications journey ahead follows the consumer mindsets, pain points and need states. So much dramatic change happened so quickly, and as you would expect, consumer behavior has changed just as drastically in the short term. A strong call to action is but one best practice in the direct marketing toolkit. What we learned is that the emotion in the language has a far bigger impact on performance, as well as perception right now.
Every CMO needs to take a step back and reevaluate how they’re engaging their customer. Broad and generalized marketing messages urging for action or invoking any degree of anxiety and fear aren’t going to work right now.
In December of 2019 the best performing emotion was Gratification, while in April 2020 the best performing emotions were gratitude and safety – so focus on language focused on trust and intimacy. This is going to look and feel different for every industry, and across customer segments who will emerge out of the crisis on a path to a new normal asymmetrically and inconsistently.