Why brand tone of voice has become both 'soft and fluffy' and more formal during covid

Why brand tone of voice has become both 'soft and fluffy' and more formal during covid

In July this year, I predicted on this very website that covid would force brands to communicate in a more human, less corporate, way.

My argument was that more of us are working from home, and when you’re sitting at your kitchen table in your pyjamas, with a cat in your lap, it’s weird to talk about synergising and leveraging things. The incongruity, once masked by environments full of officey things like printers and desks and water coolers, is just too obvious.

So was I right?

Join the glorious fluffolution

At Schwa, we commissioned a piece of global research asking senior brand and marketing people on all six continents some big questions about tone of voice in the time of covid.

One of those questions was: have you noticed a difference in how brands are communicating?

59% said yes (70% in the US).

So, if you’re me, and I am, that’s encouraging. Clearly something’s changed. But what?

The biggest consensus was that brands had become more ‘soft and fluffy’. 46% of people said so, and 61% in the UK.

Jackpot.

But there’s more. The next biggest consensus (37%) was that brands had become ‘really formal’.

So why the opposite camps?

Covid comms are, on the whole, full of bad news. If you’re writing to customers to tell them their booking’s cancelled, or you’re writing to employees to tell them they’re furloughed, it’s natural to want to hide behind formal words. In those situations, saying ‘We would like to apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused’ feels less exposing than ‘We’re really sorry’.

It’s the wrong instinct, of course. Sure, it feels less exposing for the writer. But the writer doesn’t matter. There’s only one of them.

What matters are the hundreds or thousands of readers on the other end. And the last thing they want is to feel like they’re being fobbed off by a robot.

So what about the other side? The fluffolution?

I still think a lot of this is the working-from-home factor. And I also think organisations that have a tone of voice are leading the charge.

Because a tone of voice isn’t just a set of guidelines. It’s a cultural change. It forces you to care about the language you use. To really think about how you come across.

In a crisis like this, if you think before you write, you’ll realise the damage of sounding corporate and robotic, and the power of sounding warm, kind, compassionate and, above all, human.