Businesses, from Fortune 500 to SMBs, have historically leaned on static, boilerplate guidelines for brand voice and customer communications, born out of a conscious effort to standardize and maintain consistency across channels and platforms alike.
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial injustice conversations, however, have moved forward-thinking and conscientious companies to take a detour. Many are foregoing the traditional, by-the-book approach to social engagement and brand voice. Recent events have led to a unique pivot; more than ever, companies must use empathy, authenticity and even informality to engage and interact with their fans, employees, customers, and critics.
For many this is new territory—but territory that must be entered to break through in a meaningful way today. Here are three considerations for adjusting social voice to elevate and enrich brand identity in today’s landscape.
1. Be Aware and Genuinely Empathetic
There’s a feeling of overall discomfort, uncertainty and anger. Consumers are feeling a sense of exhaustion with the myriad challenges we’ve faced in the last several months. That’s why leading brands must lead with empathy, establishing strong relationships by genuinely listening, addressing customer needs and making drastic changes when necessary, whether that’s via website copy, marketing collateral, social media, live chat, or customer support calls.
A customer-first mindset is more important now than ever, and brands need to activate a customer-first philosophy across departments to ensure they’re aligned on the same underlying goals, messages and metrics. Customer success leaders must drive a sense of urgency around empathy and compassion across all touchpoints in the customer lifecycle, including new customer onboarding and training.
2. Be Authentically & Socially Active
Social media is a powerful medium for brand expression, but many brands default to being promotional and self-serving and have historically stepped back from social, political, and casual discussions in fear of alienating key customers, investors, or the public domain at large.
The active social justice discussions (in parallel with the remote work environment) have changed that. Brands need to bring more boldness and authenticity to their own social voices, ensuring that customers and followers know they have a sense of awareness and understanding—from the Black Lives Matter movement to gender equality and everywhere in between. Digital marketing, brand marketing and customer success teams need to work closely to establish new, clear guidelines for engagement surrounding sociopolitical topics and initiatives.
Brands must also participate and proactively respond to social movements and calls for action, in effect associating their brand with good. This begins by closely monitoring social brand conversations, understanding the issues that matter to their audiences and responding quickly and fairly. If they don’t do that, and follow through with action, backlash can be swift—consumers and customers alike have actively called out brands that provide a run-of-the-mill response to ongoing social conversations.
3. Be More Engaging and Informal
Brand voice shouldn’t be mistaken for formality. On the contrary, informality is inherently authentic and honest. Syntax is a natural part of language.
Brands can’t continue the same drumbeat of formal product messaging, exploitive commercial tactics, and self-serving promotions. Consumers (especially millennials) want more out of brands than just the standard line and the latest coupon code. They’re looking for brands to break through the “fourth wall” and engage on a human level.
Social accounts fundamentally represent a brand’s identity. Establishing a sense of character can be a powerful (and refreshing) signal to exhausted, overstimulated consumers. This can take several different forms, including conversational posts, elevating individuals’ voices, live streaming, ask-me-anything-style Q&As, interviews with executives that have historically been inactive on social and increased use of real photography and videography in advertising (versus stock imagery or clips).
To ultimately pass the digital sniff test, brands must activate a 1:1 identity that goes beyond a company description and product marketing messaging. Cheekiness, cleverness, conversational language, and creativity will be invaluable tools to help brands differentiate themselves and imprint trust. Brands also need to closely monitor consumer sentiment on an ongoing basis. By capturing how consumers are feeling in the here and now, they can reverse engineer sentiment to adjust messaging, so it breaks through and connects with its target.
Revisiting brand voice is important for all brands in today’s landscape. It’s also especially important for consumer brands in the upcoming holiday season, when traditional advertising and brand marketing conventions will be drastically different in response to the pandemic and we are likely to see brands deploying even more aggressive social campaigns to establish a real, authentic identity that is engaging, sensitive, honest and effective in driving growth and sales.