14th May, 2020

Trust-based Emotional Language Engages More Customers During COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed how we communicate and the words we use make that clear. As people across the planet #stayhome to #flattenthecurve, they looked for opportunities to maintain connection in the context of social distancing. Words that conveyed the warm emotions of Intimacy, Gratitude, and Safety offered that connection and produced the most successful messages for the full month of April 2020. (Note that when we ran a similar analysis for Mid-March to Mid-April, the Trust-based emotions were heading toward the top but not yet firmly in command of the top 3 spots, as they are for the full month.)

Trust-based emotions like Intimacy, Gratitude, and Safety now top the list of high-performing emotional language.

Businesses, take note: Performance is way down for the emotions you relied on to engage customers pre-COVID. Attention, a former solid performer, is now running dead last.

Attention, a former solid performer, is now running dead last.

Instead, April saw a group of emotions that usually perform at the middle of the pack step up to encourage action in a way that honors the changed social context that is COVID-19.Trust-based emotions like Intimacy, Gratitude, and Safety now top the list of high-performing emotional language, with Intimacy markedly outperforming the other two. In this environment, messages like “From our home to yours,” “Comfort, your way,” “Find some time, just for you,” and “Buy a family meal, give a family meal,” capture these Trust emotions to promote connection to the customer.

What’s next?

As brands look forward to May, there is hope that better performance will arrive along with the warmer weather, holidays like Mother’s and Memorial Day, and the easing of some social distancing. To encourage customer activity while remaining sensitive, we expect brands will continue to lean on the Trust-based emotions, with a creative twist. Some approaches we’re seeing include concepts like:

New beginnings

Popular in fashion retail, brands are embracing an optimistic outlook by presenting spring/summer as a restart worthy of the fresh look. Messages like When summer comes, you’ll be ready for it, or Make the day brighter” hint at positive change you can affect.

Personal expression

For those who draw confidence from dressing well or doing their hair with flair, working from home can sap a real source of pleasure. Some brands are acknowledging that with fashionable face masks made with high-tech fabrics, which can be worn as part of a pairing with a blouse or top to give a sense of individual style. Many are following in the footsteps of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands like TOMS and Bombas by donating masks with every mask purchase.

Celebrate good times…at a distance

As nice-weather holidays approach, people are ready for barbecues and brunches, even if the social distancing regulations still discourage them. Lockdown fatigue is building. Brand messages are encouraging alternative ways to celebrate upcoming events with new rituals, such as “Don’t let distance stop you from spoiling mom” and “Virtual Gifting: Easy as 1-2-3.” 

About the analysis

This analysis is based on a review of more than 370 campaigns run in April 2020, encompassing 40,821 language permutations.


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