All Things Creative

Date: 6 May, 2020

Stringing together a sentence from alphabet soup

Liam Olding

By Liam Olding


In just a few months, the way we think and communicate has been thrown out of whack. It’s time to look at how to find our voice within the uncertain, high-stress spaces our world has become. Can we use our brands’ messaging to both speak and listen? How can we show empathy while leading our consumer to safety at the same time? Did someone mention soup?

By now we’re all getting to know this Covid-19 soup bowl pretty well. In one way or another, we’ve been in it for weeks now. Months even, if you prefer a flair for pedantry. And navigating the madness of it all is testing us in innumerous mental ways.

We’re experiencing the different stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance) during our status quo. The thing is, we wake up each new day and run through each of those stages of grief from the beginning. Every. Single. Day.

As brand marketers, managers and custodians, this puts us in a tough position. How do you communicate to someone who is oscillating between feelings of grief, anxiety and meaninglessness? How do you build a brand’s standing and affinity in such a case? How do you empathise, sympathise and still find a way to add value to a consumer’s day in a single piece of communication? How do you string a sentence together from the proverbial bowl of alphabet soup?

There are many ways a brand could approach this. And far be it from me to act as if I know all the answers, but here are a few ways that I feel could help brands find the right space to play in to get their customers onboard.

Try being as human as possible. “We empathise with you and understand where you are because we are there too”. Where we as brands can, let’s try to think as humans first and marketeers second. I’m in no way advocating putting your bottom-line to one side but if we can be smart with a little heart, we should. Here’s a good example of exactly that.

Try being a pillar of support for your client-base and the population at large. If we can give people something to lean on, something to form a basis of normality and routine within their up-and-down Covid-19 world, we’ll be seen as a port in the storm, a constant that can show them the way in good times, and bad.

Try being optimistic. After all, both optimism and pessimism are contagious [Dr. Gordon Livingston (2010)], and if you want anything to go viral around your brand, it should be optimistic.

Learn from the past where possible. We have a storied past from which we can learn. Lean on how language was used to bring people together in tough times that have passed. Short of using propaganda, find a tone of voice that shows empathy and positivity. Use empowering language. Keep it as simple as possible. Why use “social distancing” as a term when you could ask people to “stay at home” instead? And of course, we can always use our current plight as a common enemy to fight against to build a better world tomorrow. Here’s an interesting read on how brands used their voices to become part of the war effort.

Try to listen as much as you talk. It’s difficult at the best of times, but if we can find the right balance between saying too much or being inward focussed and listening to how others feel during these times, we can support them as much as they need.

That said, you should absolutely try to say something. Saying nothing is often worse than saying the wrong thing. Put a message out there using some of the tenets above. Tell people you’re here should they need you. Tell people tomorrow will be better because we’re in this together. Tell people the truth. No-one was expecting this but we’re all fighting it as one.

Of course, we’re finding new things out every day at this point. And I’ll be the first to admit that there’s probably one hundred other tips out there that we could look to when trying to find a voice in the chaos that is our world right now. But so long as we continue to work together towards navigating the crazy soup bowl we’re currently wading through, we’ll be able to help those around us make more sense of it all. And that, at the very least, means our voice will carry to those who need it the most. Then again, if all else fails, at least we’ll have some soup.