How to communicate with empathy during times of change

Marlowe Jacobsen

Communications Specialist

22nd April, 2020

3 min. read

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant change and uncertainty for Australians. As we each learn to navigate our ‘new normal,’ it’s more important than ever to communicate with kindness, compassion and understanding.

Similarly, the way that brands communicate should also reflect our audiences’ changing needs. Communicating with your audience during this unprecedented time will require connection, authenticity and above all – empathy.

At Pixel Palace, empathy is one of our core values. We’ve put together our thoughts on how to communicate in a manner that is purposeful and perceptive, throughout this period of change:

Adjust your brand voice

Australians have a knack for laid back, casual conversation. However, the current climate means that some brands may need to adjust their typical ‘voice,’ in order to connect with audiences at a more sincere level. We recommend maintaining a brand voice that’s optimistic and constructive, and avoids making light of the challenges your audience may be facing.

From a practical standpoint, brands should avoid using inappropriate terms that may have new meaning in the COVID-19 environment. For example, terms such as ‘viral,’ ‘event,’ or ‘spread’ would be best avoided. Whereas, thoughtful words such as ‘contribute,’ ‘connect’ , ‘support’ and ‘navigate’ can help to reassure your audience.

Invite a conversation

Before COVID-19 occurred, your brand probably had numerous marketing campaigns in the works. Does your audience still want or need to hear about these initiatives? Or will new information cause fatigue and disconnection?

One of the best ways to understand how your audience is currently feeling – is to simply ask. Use your brand channels to invite a genuine conversation with your audience, and then listen to their thoughts and feelings. You may even wish to directly ask your audience what type of content is currently resonating with them.

Helpful reminder: Revisit any content you may have previously scheduled, to ensure that it’s still suitable for your audience today.

As an example, Reese Witherspoons’ lifestyle brand, Draper James, was planning the launch of their spring collection. To see whether her audience was still open to learning more about the collection, Reese posted this thoughtful and personalised note:

Change your calls to action

Clear calls to action are typically accompanied by a sense of urgency. For example – ‘buy now,’ ‘book today,’ and ‘don’t miss out’ are common CTA’s that should be adjusted in the current climate. The reality is that nothing is as urgent as COVID-19 right now, and changing CTA’s is another way to demonstrate empathy for your audience.

Whilst your brand should avoid CTA’s that could be misinterpreted as ‘capitalising’ on the situation – it is okay to reflect the changing needs of your audience. Use words that reinforce the importance of safety, such as ‘contact-free,’ ‘online,’ ‘delivered’ or ‘downloadable.’

Focus on contribution

Non-essential businesses will stay relevant to their audiences by shifting away from ‘conversion,’ and focusing instead on contribution. Can your brand contribute free resources for your audience? Is there a way to support the community that typically supports you? Finding new ways to contribute to your audiences’ lives will keep you connected for the long haul.

If you’re an essential business, keep your audience updated with the changes you’re making to safeguard community health. In doing so, be sure to use credible information from recognised health authorities. For up-to-date and accurate information, visit The Department of Health.

Final thoughts

There is no precedent for an unprecedented situation. Australians are continually adapting to our ‘new normal,’ and finding innovative ways to stay connected to one another. Likewise, businesses will need to re-evaluate and re-navigate their changing landscape, in order to serve audiences with empathy and authenticity.

We’re all in this together!