17th Jul, 2020

Language Analysis Pinpoints How COVID-19 Is Changing Brand Communications

Just as certain words and phrases tend to resonate more in real life–think of the difference between “have the report ready by noon” and “please have the report ready by noon, thanks in advance!”–certain emotions consistently outperform others when it comes to engaging customers and encouraging them to take action. From 2018 to 2019, Attention and Achievement were two of the strongest emotions, motivating more people to engage and act than any other emotions.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.

The global health crisis has changed how companies “speak” to their customers because the larger social context and fundamental tenor of communication between people has changed. The fear and uncertainty of the pandemic was palpable and showed up in how people engaged with each other, physically and digitally. Consumers are closely watching brand communications and demonstrating loyalty to brands who are saying “the right thing.” 

Language analysis from Dec 2019 to June 2020

The Persado Content Intelligence team analyzed over 500 AI-powered client campaigns that encompassed over 32,000 message permutations comparing December 2019 to April and June 2020. The goal was to pinpoint exactly what was causing the shift in language effectiveness as a result of COVID-19. The analysis highlighted specific ways that emotions–and the language that articulated those emotions–changed as a result of the pandemic. Emotional language is the single greatest driver of performance when it comes to most communications—and messages sent during COVID-19 are no exception. People respond best to messaging that they can connect with, and the emotions that engage us now are different than they were in late 2019.

December was all about business as usual

December 2019 is a healthy proxy for the old “business-as-usual,” when words that evoked the emotions of Gratification, Safety, Luck, and Attention performed best. This was a time when eating at a restaurant, shopping in an actual store, or sending our kids off to school were part of the foundation of everyday life. Interestingly, the Trust-based emotions of Gratitude and Intimacy were middle-of-the-pack performers back in December.

By April, Trust-based emotions are top performers; Attention the least effective

At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. in April 2020, language related to Attention performed worst, while Trust-based emotions such as Intimacy, Gratitude, and Safety performed best. This type of emotional language spoke to the need for empathy and understanding of the changed social context. In April, engaging customers was less about attention-grabbing language and more about care-focused language. While it sounds obvious, there are subtleties and nuances related to what words and phrases actually tap into these care-focused emotions. Messages such as “From our home to yours,” “We’re offering a bit of comfort,” and “Checking in” capture these Trust emotions to promote connection to the customer.

In June, Attention and Achievement-focused language made a comeback

The emotion of Achievement has always been a strong performer, and its reappearance as the most effective emotion in June indicates an emergence from the crisis phase of communication and a slow progression toward an expanded ability and desire for consumers to engage with brands on the very early path to some kind of a new normal. Attention-focused language also rebounded from last place back to the fourth spot, which it held in December 2019. A sense of reward and gain embodied in the language of Achievement is resonating at a time when people are just starting to venture farther afield and brands are running special promotions framed as “wins.” People are craving this feeling of achievement because they have less access to it now. For brands that want to strike the balance between empathy of communication and performance of content–and be truly customer-centric–align your words and the emotions you use with where customers are in their journey of recovery. After all, being told “you’ve earned 25% off” is more satisfying than being told “25% off is happening now.”


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