A distinct brand voice helps a company elevate its message and show the world who they are and what they stand for. As a historic moment unfolds around the COVID-19 virus, the way brands use their voices to communicate with us is more salient than ever.

Brands with strong voices can lift us out of our fears, reassure us that life will move forward and assist us as we embrace major change together. More practically, brands can drive clarity around important topics, like new safety practices, inventory availability or even business closures.

It feels comforting to us, as verbal branders, to notice the brands that are doing it right. The ones who have used their brand voices to connect with their audiences and express who they are in a meaningful, lasting way.

5 Communication Approaches We Love

Admit to Not Having All the Answers

While brands often have the responsibility of steering the conversation in their category, it is perfectly OK to ask customers what they want to hear.

Reformation, a sustainable clothing brand, chose a direct communication style to connect with their audience, ending an update with refreshing candor. “Lastly, we’re not exactly sure what is appropriate for a company like ours to be talking and posting about right now. What’s resonating with you? Do you still want to hear about new collection launches and sustainability related stuff…? Please let us know.” This created a refreshing moment of candor that felt on-brand for Reformation.

Restate the Brand Purpose to Frame Inspired Action

Some brands are using this time to reflect on their mission and values.

Target frames its steps to protect employees and customers by stating a core promise of the brand. Chairman and CEO of Target Brian Cornell stated, “…a commitment to help all families is at the heart of Target’s purpose. Our goal is to be here for you and keep navigating through uncertainty together – and we will do everything in our power to live up to that promise.”

Through this lens, Target’s actions, such as designating their early hours as a sanctioned time for the elderly to shop or enacting back-up care benefits for parents and caregivers, become proof points of its enduring purpose.

Address the Emotional Impact

Many brands are well-positioned to connect with their audience about the emotional impact this hardship is having on their lives.

Zola, a wedding registry company, primarily serves engaged couples. Right now, much of their audience is scrambling to make alternate arrangements or postpone their weddings.

Zola has sent several emails to communicate plans to support their audience, including setting up a help hotline to call for advice. One message rings clear across all channels: “If your wedding has been affected, we’ll do anything we can to help”.

The intentional use of the word “anything” subtly mirrors their tagline, “anything for love,” which is displayed under the signature of every email. Here, Zola is stretching beyond a registry to be a helpful resource in a challenging time.

Encourage Community Mindfulness While  Communicating Operational Changes

Retailers are uniquely challenged with making tough business decisions and communicating them in a sensitive way.

Retail and recreation company REI stood their ground as community leaders by calmly communicating the temporary closing of their stores. The brand, which is well known for their unique take on consumerism habits (most notably, their Black Friday #OptOutside initiative), framed their announcement as a thoughtful decision to protect the community, rather than their business, saying “…there are more important things than business right now—we owe that to one another.” The letter ends with, “be well and take care of one another.” It’s simple but authentic to the REI brand.

Find Moments for Thoughtful Playfulness—If It’s Authentic to Your Brand

Kin Euphorics, a non-alcoholic social tonics brand, is deeply rooted in social connection and finding enlightened, healthy ways to connect. Their brand voice has an undeniable playfulness, which they brought to life by renaming social distancing as “Solitude Scaries,” playing off the phrase “Sunday Scaries.”

This pinch of playfulness feels on brand and is a simple way to ease the intensity of the stressor and create a sense of community.

5 Voice Approaches We Could Do Without

While there are many examples of positive approaches to this crisis, there are a few voice don’ts we can’t ignore. At this time, please don’t:

  1. Leverage the crisis for profit. Brands that capitalize on the crisis to push a product or service will come off as insensitive and opportunistic. But tone is everything—consumers may not balk at a company gently suggesting clothes to relax in, but likely will at an airline offering a sale to encourage flying against recommended travel guidelines.
  2. Adopt a recklessly idealistic tone. Brands who adopt an unrealistically positive attitude can have a negative impact on their audience. Instead, choose empathy, authenticity and inspired action to raise spirits.
  3. Play the jokester. Brands who choose to break the cadence with overly buoyant, jokey tones will have a hard time resonating with audiences. During this sensitive time, jokes are less likely to land, which could put your brand at risk of losing loyal customers.
  4. Ignore the topic entirely. Some brands are reluctant to touch the COVID-19 crisis but choosing to stay silent can seem irresponsible and may even paint some brands as apathetic or out of touch.
  5. Over-communicate. Conversely, not every brand needs to send daily updates on its practices, especially those that don’t impact customers directly. This rule also pertains to non-COVID communications—it may be wise to market customers less frequently about sales or new products during this sensitive time.

Final Thoughts

Whenever faced with hardship, brands have an opportunity to connect with their audience to reassure and comfort. This pandemic has invited us to consider the unique and powerful ways brands can wield their voice to help us feel better—and move forward.

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