Fair Exchange: Covid-19 & marketing language
by Erna George. Social distancing requirements make connecting with others more challenging and marketing, too, requires more consideration in terms of context and approach. No longer do you have the warmth or the interconnectivity of face-to-face, such as popping over to a colleague’s desk to get input and/or to influence.
Marketers will now, more than ever, need to employ the full array of language (words, visuals, tone, frameworks and others) to make an impact and to work effectively. Much of this has always been important but now, as we live in more bubbles, it means the difference between shifting the dial positively or negatively.
The first lesson is one that I hope we’ll remember when we are back in corridors of offices or boardrooms: be succinct.
Being relegated to screens for what often feels like too many hours makes everyone less tolerant of or able to take in long stories. When that one slightly word-loving colleague starts on their explanation or presentation and spends just too long on a thought or a slide, suddenly your chair feels harder, your mind wanders and your ability to stay connected is that much tougher.
If your stories aren’t to the point and engaging in an environment where the screen stands before you and between you and others, you’ll be less effective. Even discussions in research have had to become more focused with only a few big questions — take lessons. Declutter the thinking and find the best way to tell the brand story.
While the screen as the medium has become more important than ever, distance grows, so the stories you tell need to be more expressive — with or without you. Screens are cold for us social beings and not everyone will make your meeting; the document must be simple so as to relay the meaning to the audience and the reader. You’ll need to get a picture of how to tell the story and put this framework together to lead people through it.
Think about using a framework or template that is easy on the eye; when thoughts are encapsulated in similar layouts, it’s easier to ‘read’. Like a busy picture frame interferes with how we see the photograph, a well-structured framework allows your messages to be clearly seen eg logo always top left, titles the same size etc. Include relevant pictures, graphs and tables and, of course, this means a few slides.
This doesn’t mean each slide is crammed with 23 sentences plus a table and a graph. Either start with the big “so what” or end with it and, if you can’t tell it simply, you’ve not cracked the problem or solution. Your language of words and visuals must be focused on fewer and bolder ideas. Make choices.
[Templates must never become a crutch. You must use the background and the sizing but tailored to fit and tell your story, which you must always consider. You still need to decide what meaning you will convey and, if the template doesn’t work, find another one, design an alternate or include supporting slides.]
Marketing language matters internally and externally — the tone, relevance, medium and actual terminology:
- Internally, different organisations use different marketing terminology or place different emphasis on these terms. Does everyone understand what actions deliver increased penetration v. enhanced relevance? Know the terminology and know how to explain it to others. Salience could mean nothing to non-marketers so be able to clarify it to rally agencies, sales teams, executives and more.
Brilliance at basics (such as brief writing and reverts) will be critical as the luxury of multiple face-to-face sessions with agencies isn’t yet always feasible. Work with your agencies to determine how best to share and work together. It’s tougher to convey tone and meaning across online tools, especially when bandwidth makes leaving the computer camera on an impossibility. Know what you’re chasing and be clear that the full team are chasing the same thing; clarity and universally understood terminology will go a long way. Of course, check that all are on the same page.
- Being where consumers are at and speaking to them in language that matters most to them now is what will deliver the goods and win hearts back (if they’re lost). The screen is most at play here, too. While the panic of covid-19 has reduced, we’ve lost touchpoints such as events and even in-store time has been impacted. Understand what’s relevant to consumers and where they’re most comfortable and receptive to getting these.
Occasions and needs have shifted and will continue to change; ensuring your messaging and placement keep up with this is critical. I’ve seen many agency presentations on driving engagement over screens, so ensure your agency is on top of the latest (music, visuals, best media/platforms and language that drives two-way conversations). Research, listen and stay up to date with the language of the day to tailor how to connect best with consumers in the right moments.
If screens are the way for now, we’ll need to tailor our language tools to this.
- Be flexible and nimble but, above all, be focused with succinct and impactful messages internally and externally
- Learn and ensure cohesiveness in the language tools of your company, agencies and consumers worlds to ensure effectiveness
- Remember, for internal teams (marketers and beyond), to connect outside of screen time — a quick personal phone call or check in goes a long way to sustain relationships and drive collaboration.
Erna George is managing executive: at Pioneer Foods. Fair Exchange covers business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.