Business Unusual

Our use of words is more important than ever

April 24, 2020

2112 Communications


Words are powerful. The written word has saved lives, communicated powerful ideas, preserved traditions and memories, and so much more.

Words are powerful. The written word has saved lives, communicated powerful ideas, preserved traditions and memories, and so much more.

And while we may not be directly ‘saving lives’ in the marketing industry, we must always be aware of the words, language and tone of voice we use with our audiences. The events of the last few weeks have put this sharply into focus.

Our audiences’ worlds have changed, and so should the language and tone we use in our messaging.

We’ve pulled together some initial thoughts to help during these unusual times.

Know the voice of your brand

But before we go about changing our language and tone of voice, it’s important to remember what kind of language works for our business. Any changes we make in this new environment need to make sense for our brand and not just attempt to copy what others are doing.

For instance, we don’t have to start every communication with ‘In these troubling times…’ just because we’ve seen a thousand other messages beginning with this phrase over the last few weeks. While it’s a well-meaning phrase we need to remember that business audiences can be cynical and if they feel they’re being fed something they’ve seen a thousand times already, they will switch off. Acknowledging what our audience might be experiencing is essential, but we can’t just throw an opening sentence in and then carry on as usual.

It’s time to remind ourselves what our brand values are. Our values are always informing the voice of our brand or business. They should come through in the content of our language and the messages we try to communicate. Now is the time to revisit those values and be aware of ones that might create problems in these times. For example, if one of your brand values is to be ‘Challenging’ or ‘Direct’, we might want to make sure we communicate these values in a way that isn’t insensitive.

What not to write

Much of what we should be aware of now is not what we write, but what we shouldn’t. We may have to be more tactful with our wording.

During this time, when everyone’s doing their best to look out for each other, it can be easy for businesses to come across as selfish. But we have to tread carefully. What we want to avoid is being so empathetic it starts to become patronising.

One effective way is to use language that has more of a collaborative tone, especially as we feel so physically distant from everyone.

Just like we would as individuals, we should steer clear of using too many ‘I’ statements. As businesses that means not focusing too much on ‘Our business,’ ‘Our mission’ and ‘Our product.’

“This ‘first-person’ tone has always been used as a show of confidence and self-belief. But in this new reality, it might come across as being too self-focused. It’s best not to use language that’s pushing messages onto people but language that invites them in.”

While it’s still important to project confidence with expressions such as “I believe,” it can be more useful to adopt a more group-focused language than it once was. If brands and businesses want to come across as leaders in their field right now, they should choose the language of leadership, which means avoiding overuse of self-focused statements.

Be thoughtful of tone of voice

Brands that revel in competitive statements or offbeat humour may want to think about adopting a more serious tone for the time being. While people certainly need a laugh at times like this, it’s not always appropriate for it to come from a place that is ultimately trying to sell us something.

Using the word ‘together’ and phrases like ‘all of us’ can go a long way to creating that same sense of belonging.

However, brands might have to realise that not saying much at all is the best route, if the communication isn’t of the utmost importance.

The rules of marketing haven’t changed. We just need to be more thoughtful about them. The key word in all of this is ‘thoughtful’. We are all being more thoughtful of our family, our work colleagues, our neighbours and brands and businesses are no different.

More than ever, we should focus on being thoughtful of who we are talking to, where they are, what they may be experiencing, and what they need from us. The words and language we use to fit are vital.

Richard Harris
Head of Copy, 2112 Communications

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