Lockdown lifting: How to keep your comms empathetic

Emily Thurston

16 Apr 2021

Communicating during Covid-19 has been tough.

Life has been hard. Emotions are running high. And brands have tiptoed around the everyday risk of alienating their audiences, by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

This is equally true in the tech world. However helpful digital tools have been, tech companies too have had to tread a fine line with their messaging to avoid pitfalls from scaremongering, to even seeming smug.

Understandably, many businesses have opted to play their comms safe and sombre.

But now, there’s change afoot. With lockdown lifting across the UK, the sense of relief amongst the public – and big brands – is palpable. The reopening of pubs and non-essential services in England marked a tonal turning point for many businesses.

Things are still moving very fast. So, what can we learn about continuing to communicate empathetically, even as times change?

Examples of empathy

The changes to restrictions in England on 12 April had a significant impact on the lifestyles of many people. It was an emotional moment – and three companies took the opportunity to engage with different facets of the national mood.

Innocent Drinks – celebrating the pull of a pint (or five)

Why it works: Chimes into the jubilant, celebratory mood.

Innocent’s offering is simultaneously a message about drinking responsibly – and a celebration of the joys of a few too many. It captures the giddy mood of many people returning to pubs and bars, with a refreshing sense of self-deprecation. And of course for many of us, singing Wonderwall during a pub visit – and telling total strangers they could be the one that shvesme – is eminently relatable.

Tesco – supporting a sector that has been hurting

Why it works: Rallying together to “do our bit”.

Supermarkets have arguably benefitted from pubs’ loss of trade – but Tesco’s message shows sympathy and grace with businesses that have suffered during the pandemic. The kinder tone is also underpinned by the acknowledgement that some people might not feel safe to go, validating feelings of their whole audience.

Heineken – refreshing the nation in more ways than one

Why it works: Offering a sense of renewal.

With this activation, Heineken captures the feeling of many people that the end to some restrictions is a chance to restart and renew. The messaging taps into the idea that the reopening is about more than just a drink with friends, but returning to normality. And this is all underpinned by the company’s signature good humour, with the hashtag #ShearGenius.

Writing with feeling

These examples all speak directly to a consumer audience. But writing with feeling is absolutely as important in B2B – and specifically tech – communications. We can have a tendency to default into formal, neutral language, even when discussing the most emotive topics. But of course, B2B audiences are people with emotions too.

Here are five simple tips for writing with feeling, as times change.

  • Define your audience – and how they feel

Every piece of content has to have a clear audience in mind, and details like demographics and priorities are really important for planning content. But your audience’s feelings, both personally and professionally, matter too. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how your audience feels about a particular topic – and how you want to make them feel. Feed this insight into your planning and execution, from messaging to tone, and you’ll have a better chance of creating a piece that lands.

  • Think of everyone to avoid alienation

With that said, remember that people are different and you might have a broad range in your audience. In technology, we’re often writing about issues that impact everyone from digitally native Gen Z audiences to the much less digitally confident. Even if what you’re creating is highly targeted, avoid content that could alienate or exclude – or, like Tesco, include important caveats.

  • Consider the big picture

Right now, Covid-19 – and changes in local restrictions – are front of mind. But remember there’s much more going on in the world, and that will attract more and more of people’s attention as we go forward. Remember that other issues, from automation to sustainability, can have a strong emotional impact, and apply that broad mindset to your content.

  • Be responsive

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last year, it’s that things can change very quickly. What resonates one day can clang horribly the next. (Speaking from personal experience, it really stung to see Christmas ads with large families the day after London was placed into lockdown in December). No matter how well-planned your content has been, sense-check it again at the time it’s released – and remember sometimes it’s much better to pull the plug.

  • Don’t be afraid to be hopeful

Things have been dark – and respecting people’s fears and pain has been incredibly important. But there can be just as much value in offering a more upbeat perspective. Content that’s optimistic, bright, funny and daft can be just as welcome after months of difficulties.

It all starts with empathy

Empathy is one of the most important communication skills. Whether it’s in B2C or B2B, empathy is how we truly connect with our audiences – and it should be at the heart of all of our content.

And of course, in tough times, people will remember what you said and how you said it. Capturing the mood right now, whether it’s being supportive, hopeful, jubilant or respectful, can make a huge difference to perceptions of your business.

Learn more about Covid’s long term legacy in our recent report