Responsible Copywriting Guidelines for Brands in 2020

August 18, 2020

Here are some responsible copywriting guidelines to help your brand survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 is truly a game-changer for everybody. For marketers, it meant a total reworking and unlearning of some age-old strategies and finding something that works in this uncertain time. Aside from products and services, many are banking on the power of content to not only drive business revenue but also connect with their customers and prospects. And what’s one of the most important fuels of content? It’s copy. Therefore, regard for relevant and appropriate copywriting guidelines and tips have also risen.

During the early stages, we have advised brands to keep communication lines open in order to stay ahead with digital during this outbreak. But the situation calls for more than an open line of communication, but responsible messaging as well. After all, it is so easy to shatter intention with bad copy. Especially today, when you’re no longer just attracting customers and converting leads. As a brand, you’re now in a crucial position to provide more value. Here to provide assurance to people living amid an unstable economy.

And how exactly do you do that?

Ensuring Responsible Copywriting

In this article, we’ll be giving you some responsible copywriting guidelines you can follow. But before we jump into the more technical copywriting guidelines, here are some general rule of thumb worth remembering:

  • Start by rethinking your brand voice and overall messaging. Experts recommend brands to embrace a voice that’s unique to them in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. It’s one of the basic, working principles of branding. Doing that today could be tricky, however, especially if you’re a brand known for its biting wit and humour.
  • Keep an eye out for the language used during this time. As with the overall messaging, the use of appropriate language is also crucial. Your content may be better off without some words in the marketing lexicon—no matter how powerful and effective it has been pre-Coronavirus.
  • Be proactive. Communicating with your customers during all the stages of a crisis can and will impact your business. Taking a proactive stance means bringing the information to your customers, not just waiting for them to tap you for it.
  • It’s not always about what you’re communicating with the people, but how you’re doing it. Aside from what is being said, how it is communicated (in terms of language, tone, lexicon, and so on) is also crucial.
  • Finally, your writing must be responsible. You may mean well, but is it translating to your writing? This point needs more than quick spot checks to make sure that you’re not appearing too somber and/or opportunistic. Remember to focus on customers’ needs rather than your own. Being empathetic is a must, as well as staying true to the commitment you have to your customers.

(Communicating with your customers through emails? Here’s a crisis communication guide we’ve put together for you.)

Copywriting During COVID-19: Copywriting Guidelines for Brands

Inspired by one unnerving experience with turbulence, customer experience futurist Blake Morgan illustrated just how important it is to communicate directly with customers during a crisis (spoiler alert—the crew on her flight DIDN'T). Here, we look at five ways to do that.

  • “Safety-first” in vocabulary and tone
  • Appropriating CTAs
  • Weeding out insensitive words and phrases
  • Aspiring to be inspirational and helpful
  • Striving for accuracy

“Safety-first” in vocabulary and tone

Different places have imposed differing safety measures depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in each locality. While certain restrictions have laxed, it’s imperative to make sure that your brand considers safety above all else—and that you are responsibly reminding customers to do the same. You can do this by using words that reinforce and reiterate safety in your copy.

Here’s a list of words you can use:

“virtual”

“online”

“remote”

“delivery”

“online-only”

“contactless”

“home hacks”

“quarantine”

“distancing”

“isolate”

“stay indoors / stay home”

Appropriate CTAs

Call-to-actions compel customers to complete an action that is favourable for brands. Now, we’re not asking you to drop them altogether, but some common CTAs can be revisited so it works better for you during the time of Coronavirus. Since many effective CTAs are usually time-bound (think: “Limited time only!” or “It’s now or never!”), using these at this time can incite unneeded panic. Now’s not the time to convey urgency to your already distressed consumers. Because today, nothing’s more urgent than the pandemic.

Instead, use CTAs that encourage customers to connect with your brand beyond one-time transactions. Try to use: “Learn More”, “Click this Link to Know More”. Or “See What We’re Doing” or “Find Out How You Can Help”.

Weed out insensitive words and phrases

The pandemic has harshly impacted people as well as businesses—both big and small. And while it’s super unethical, some brands are exploiting fear in order to sell. Today, brands are walking a tightrope and for the right reasons. After all, it’s so easy to butcher one’s campaign even if their intentions are clean if they’re not careful.

Brands unrelated to health and the medical field are advised to avoid using triggering words so as not to stoke customers’ anxiety. For instance, marketing campaigns could do well without the following words: ‘viral’, ‘outbreak’, ‘infectious’, ‘contagious’, and ‘spread’. When selling or promoting, it’s better to avoid words that’ll make you sound opportunistic (‘profit’ or ‘advantage’).

Aspire to be inspirational and helpful

In the world of marketing today, brands are expected to provide more value than ever. To leave their customers with information that helps. Remember, it’s about how you can enhance customers’ lives. While things may seem somber, take this chance to stay positive without being dismissive of reality. Instead of being casual, aspire to be serious without being too somber. Enough to show that you’re not taking things casually and are serious about being on top of things for your customers.

Be mindful though; while it helps to keep an uplifting attitude, steer clear of ‘toxic positivity’. And finally, don’t overpromise things in an uncertain time as instead of being hopeful, it may backfire when unmet.

Always, always strive for accuracy

Finally, be mindful. Remember that your brand can inspire people’s actions, even before the pandemic struck, but even more so today. However, there is no better time than now to disseminate accurate data and information to people you can reach. Good copywriting is backed by straight facts that don’t hide behind false pretense and inaccurate data. Be extra careful on social media, where things are easily shareable.

To help minimise inaccuracy in this uncertain time, Canva came up with a “Coronavirus Awareness Collection” which is made up of a bunch of print and social media resources from the World Health Organization. Brands can use these resources for their own use without risking inaccuracy.

Uphold a copywriting standard that matches the zeitgeist.

Of course, the commandments of powerful copywriting still apply during this time. There’s no bigger message killer than the use of improper grammar. It could undermine your overall messaging and even push people to doubt your claims.

While stability isn’t promised, responsible marketing and copywriting is a must. So, to summarise, here are five things to remember when copywriting for brands in a post-Coronavirus world: consider safety, rewrite CTAs, keep away from insensitive language and lexicon, be inspirational and helpful, and always strive to deliver accurate information.

Know what to say and when best to deliver it with digital marketing experts who know what they’re doing. Drop us a line today!

For more information about the latest updates on Coronavirus, visit World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.

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