The spread of COVID-19 has changed the daily lives and habits of millions of people worldwide, and businesses across most industries are scrambling to adapt.
Brick and mortar retailers, restaurants, and hotels—just to name a few impacted sectors—are hurting from a stretch of time without customers. Some could end up closing their doors for good. Other companies have seen a higher demand for their products and services. Productivity-related SaaS companies like Slack, Zoom, and Trello are seeing sales boosts because their business is crucial for work-from-home environments. Similarly, some direct-to-consumer brands are seeing increased demand from their ecomm storefronts.
In either case, these are challenging times—to say the least. There are various opportunities to improve (or damage) your relationship with potential customers through how you talk about COVID-19. How you address the current moment can “make or break” you.
As a marketer, there’s never been a better time to stretch your empathy muscle: you’re going to need it. With that in mind, let’s explore how to get it right (and some of the places it can go wrong).
Match Your Message to Your Audience’s Concerns
We, the marketing community, constantly harp on the importance of being empathetic. But what does that actually mean?
Generally speaking, being empathetic means that you are showing your ability to share and experience the feelings of others. (That’s the dictionary definition, anyway.) In marketing, this often comes down to creating (or reworking) your copy, campaigns, and offers to demonstrate a deep understanding of your target audience’s immediate concerns.
For instance, if you’re a SaaS company and your target audience works in the restaurant industry, be aware that most restaurants are losing customers and may not be able to afford your software. (At the very least, they may be reconsidering what tools are essential to their business.)
For this reason, the message you deliver should focus on helping your audience manage their time and money effectively. Remember, they need your guidance (and expertise) right now, not necessarily ways they can spend more money.
Take a look at the example below. Restaurant365 smartly added a sticky bar at the bottom of their homepage to provide resources for managing restaurant operations during COVID-19, with no sales-style messaging at all:
Genuinely providing assistance (and avoiding the hard sell at all costs) shows you care about your visitors, while still generating future leads and building a potential pipeline for when times are better. Plenty of brands say they want to help, but this is a good way of putting your money where your mouth is.
Where Should Your Message Be Placed?
If your message is about additional resources or a pricing change you’ve created to support your target audience, you can create a sticky bar similar to Restaurant365. These are especially helpful if you want your message to be seen on multiple pages of your site since you can set them up to appear in more than one place. (Sticky bars can also be used to make mission-critical statements about your status, like reduced hours or shipping delays.)
You’ll also want to create the resource itself, whether that’s a blog post, web page, or landing page. For instance, here’s an example created by the marketing wizards at Procurify to discuss special pricing, using Unbounce:
Procurify balances empathy and usefulness here in a way their prospects can appreciate. They’ve read the room, and it shows. Notice they avoid language around special “offers” or “deals” on the landing page. Instead of building hype, they make a case for their product’s usefulness. They also detail the waivers and extended terms for essential industries. And they even link to a COVID-19 resource center. (In other contexts, like their “Boost Your Workspace” contest, they even try to “spread a little joy” in a way that’s very people-first.)
If your product offers an immediate solution to the challenges of the new normal, you may also want to place that message front and center on your website. For example, Zoom has a slider on its homepage that portrays various messages and sentiments around COVID-19, without using the term “COVID-19” or “coronavirus.” (When you mention the actual term in the wrong places, it can seem as if you are leveraging the hard times to improve sales.)
You probably wouldn’t lead a sales call with, “Hey [Insert CFO or CTO name], I know the times are hard and Coronavirus may be impacting your business…” Similarly, in your copy, genuine empathy should come across in your voice and tone, without necessarily mentioning COVID-19. (As a matter of fact, a good way of gut-checking your copy would be to remove all specific references to the times. Then ask yourself, does it still seem in tune with people’s concerns?)
Slack’s page shows off their unique value prop (security and remote connection), all while using positive terms like “together” to convey empathy and understanding. Notice they also don’t write “We’re in this together” to avoid leading their COVID-19 messaging with a claim about themselves.
Communicating Empathy on Your Landing Pages
Being empathetic means you aim to understand the feelings of other people. It requires a deep awareness of your audience.
Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and ask these questions:
- What am I currently feeling?
- What are my employees currently feeling?
- How has the coronavirus impacted my industry?
- What obstacles are my business currently facing?
- What solutions am I looking for?
- What would I respond positively to?
- What would I respond negatively to?
Once you get a firm hold on the current needs and desires of your customers and prospects, you can address their emotions on your landing pages.
How, exactly, can you get a better window into how people in your target industry are reacting?
- Ask for feedback from your most valuable fans, who consistently interact with your brand across social, through sales, and via email. They are most likely to give you the best responses in regards to what to expect from the rest of your audience. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
- Don’t be afraid to run your messaging past other members of your team (or even other teams in your org) and get a second opinion. Play devil’s advocate and gut-check one another to make sure nothing you’ve written can be misinterpreted. You all share the same brand and want to make sure the brand voice meets your audience appropriately.
- Check what your competitors are doing. Do they sound tone-deaf in their messaging? Or are they doing a good job? How does it align (or misalign) with their existing branding? What would you change?
Unbounce wants to support you as much as we can during this uncertain time. Check out the COVID-19 Small Business Care Package for a roundup of useful resources—including tech discounts, government subsidies, and marketing tips to help lessen the impact on your business.
Using More Empathy in Your Existing Assets
Now that you understand your target audience and are aware of their thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the situation, use that information to upgrade your landing pages.
Here are some easy fixes you can start with:
- Switch out typical call-to-actions (CTAs) for more empathetic messaging. For instance, an aggressive CTA (“Buy Now”) could be replaced with one that’s a little more tentative.
- Change graphics to photos that include humans, while voiding cheesy stock photos of blandly happy people.
- Find a little humility. Include less copy that explains why your company so great. Instead, talk about how you meet your visitors’ needs, even in a time of crisis.
- When you don’t have the time to make major changes to your website, use popups and sticky bars to deliver empathetic messaging instead.
Let’s look into some real-life examples of how some big names are using empathy to reframe their existing messaging:
Switch your CTA to meet people’s needs
After COVID, Asana switched their header and the main CTA on their homepage to better address the challenging times. Back in February, their header copy focused on increasing business efficiency through time management and task tracking. (At the time, this made a lot of sense.)
February 1, 2020:
In April, though, Asana’s header section refocused on “keeping your team organized and connected,” no matter when or where they work.
April 22, 2020:
This is more than just a shift in words—it’s a shift in messaging that much more strongly relates to the visitors’ current feelings and the obstacles they face while working from home. Asana always offered these features, but they’ve highlighted them as a more direct solution to an immediate problem faced by customers.
For companies that already have a remote workforce and ones that are just starting out, Asana provides an immediate, actionable way to move forward.
Use real photo imagery and meet people’s needs
Similar to Asana, Slack switched their header section to include revised copy related to the WFH reality we’re all facing. In this case, Slack added real images of humans communicating and using the platform.
February 1, 2020:
More specifically, they replaced their header section, which showed what looks like bingo balls (your guess is as good as mine) with images of people interacting using Slack.
April 22, 2020:
The message about replacing email is gone. Slack also uses relatable language like “Let’s review at 1 pm EST,” “Working from home!,” and “Hopping on the video call” to better humanize their product (and hammer home how it helps bring teams together, even when they’re apart).
By revising the header in times when people face other challenges, Slack connects with visitors on a deeper, more empathetic level. This is an excellent example of how strategic savvy and being human can align to define a brand in times of crisis.
What Should You Avoid?
So, we’ve explored a few examples of empathetic messaging done well. But there are definitely certain tactics that have been popping up online (and they’ve been getting attention for all the wrong reasons). We’ve all seen ‘em in our Twitter feeds, but the worst offenders do stuff like:
- The casual coronavirus name-drop. Let me be clear, I’m not saying avoid the term altogether, but dropping it into every call to action and header that you have is not the answer. “SEO Proposal” should not suddenly become “Coronavirus SEO Proposal.”
- Using the coronavirus as a main selling point. Coronavirus should not be leveraged when selling. It comes across as insensitive and tone-deaf. Think about how you would feel if you were a restaurant owner, and someone leveraged the fact that your business is losing money to sell you a loan?
- Falling back on cliches. Since most of us haven’t done marketing during a global pandemic before, so it’s understandably difficult to find the right words. As a result, we rely on what we hear elsewhere. If all you’re doing is repeating messaging heard everywhere else, though, it won’t come off as empathetic.
This example below (it’s not a real one, but something we based on what we saw on some websites) shows a heading and CTA from an effective landing page published back in January. At the time, nothing about this messaging rang false. I imagine it would have been really appealing to potential customers.
January 16, 2020:
But then things changed, while the copy didn’t adapt in an empathetic way. Take a look below and see if you can spot the difference:
April 22, 2020:
Did you spot it? Suddenly the proposal is about “COVID-19,” without explaining why this will impact their audience. It feels abrupt and opportunistic, as if this company is simply using the term to get more attention and leads.
Here’s a better shift in wording that they could use in their header:
Current: Get an SEO Proposal to Counter COVID-19
New Header: Improve SEO Performance
Additional Subheader: Our team is ready to partner with you to improve your SEO performance. We’re all in this together.
Even something as simple as adding a more empathetic subheading can greatly impact how this page comes off. But this brings up another issue…
Try not to sound like everyone else. Companies everywhere are going through the same situation, so it’s possible to fall into cliches. As this brilliant Youtube compilation shows, the responses from big brands are starting to all look and sound the same:
You don’t want to end up on a video like this one, right? At best, it comes off as insincere—at worst, it might seem glib. Companies of all sizes are in a difficult spot looking for the right “message” to share without backlash, but it’s better to focus on the specific, positive ways your brand can meet your audience’s newfound needs and go from there.
Communicating with Empathy Can Be Easy
Building empathy into your landing pages isn’t rocket science, but it’s been sadly neglected in some cases. Here are a few steps to get you started:
- Think through your messaging and imagery. Are you hitting the right notes? Are you reading the room? Is there any potential to be misunderstood?
- Decide what action you want visitors to take. Your goals may be the same (conversions), but sometimes shifting your strategy from seeking direct sales to building leads will feel more appropriate.
- Be genuinely sympathetic to their current situation. Don’t ask things of your visitors they aren’t able to give you. And don’t expect them to respond well if you misjudge their priorities.
- Use engaging, human imagery. Lean on the desire for human connection in a time of social distancing. How does your business meet this need?
- Be ready to adjust if necessary. Watch your content closely and monitor any responses (whether in the comments section, via email, or on social media). When emotions are a little raw, you don’t want to alienate your audience simply because you’ve chosen the wrong word.
Above all, be a thoughtful human. Be a reliable brand.
By following straightforward guidelines to provide empathy on your landing pages—and marketing thoughtfully—you increase the likelihood of growing your brand equity and empowering your sales, even if you don’t see it just yet.