I’m Ellen, I’m a content writer, and I have a problem.
Up until recently, no matter what I drafted, be it long form or short, an industry trends piece or a listicle – I found myself starting with the same handful of phrases:
“The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything…”
Or, “Since March 2020…”.
Or, if I was feeling particularly fancy, I’d throw in something about adapting to a “post-Covid world”.
And the truth is, it’s getting old. Our audiences already know that everything changed in March 2020 – and they’re tired of hearing it. Yet, I know I’m not the only one who still finds themselves trying to frame everything I write through Covid.
When it’s time to move on
The pandemic was such a huge, all-encompassing event that everything fell under its shadow. Brands had to consider Covid-19 in their messaging because, quite simply, it would be weird if they didn’t.
But times now are changing. Two years on, there’s less need to couch content in sensitive, Covid-themed disclaimers or buzzwords. This raises some important questions:
- How can we re-evaluate our approach to content now that the need for pandemic messaging has passed?
- How should brands talk to their audience in 2022?
- And most importantly, when will I stop dropping ‘unprecedented times’ into draft 1 of every blog I write?
I’ve been thinking about these questions in a bid to rid myself of Covid-cliché sickness once and for all. So, I thought I’d share some tips that have helped me along the way:
Tip 1 – Avoid content marketing clichés like your life depends on it
Let’s get real. The first copywriter to type the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ was bang on the money. They were unprecedented times. But now in 2022, they’re just… times.
Thanks to Covid, marketers now face a barrage of brand-new cliches to navigate around. From ‘the new normal’ to ‘challenging times’ – these phrases are so overused they’re now practically meaningless.
We all know that our audience is barraged with content. You have to offer something new and distinct – something that offers real value. But if readers can play buzzword bingo in your blog, there’s a good chance they won’t be sticking around long enough to finish the game.
So, my first tip is simple: If you (like me) catch yourself in the middle of typing ‘unprecedented times’, follow these easy steps:
- Stand up
- Walk away from your keyboard
- Grab yourself a hot drink
- Think about what you’ve done
- Go for a walk/read a book/do anything that gets you inspired
- Return, ready to switch it up
Tip 2 – ‘Over-sensitivity’ is out
At the height of the pandemic it was all about sensitivity. With Covid-19 impacting so many of our lives, brands had to go the extra mile to ensure their content was appropriate – or risk looking tone-deaf. Two years on, Covid is part and parcel of our everyday lives and the time to skirt around the issue is over.
Now, I’m not saying you should throw sensitivity out of the window, (content marketing 101: sense-check your content, people). What I am saying is we don’t need to carry on talking about ‘the current situation’ or ‘today’s landscape’ just so we can avoid being too explicit about what’s happening. If there’s something you want to say, say it.
There’s no use trying so hard not to offend your audience that you end up saying nothing at all. The best brands don’t shy away from getting their voices out there, and we’ve already seen some great marketing that directly addresses the pandemic.
Just look at KFC’s blurred slogan campaign, which censored their tagline ‘finger lickin’ good’, alongside instructions to ‘ignore the slogan for now’.
It’s funny, appropriate and memorable. But somewhere, there’s a parallel universe where that punchy campaign never made it past the boardroom – because of the fear it might come across as insensitive.
In short: be like real-life KFC – don’t be like parallel universe KFC.
Tip 3 – We’re all only human
The times may not be unprecedented anymore, but they’re still a lot to handle. Political turmoil, economic crisis and the aftermath of Covid means that the goalposts can quickly change when it comes to messaging and brand voice.
The best way to deal with this? Be human about it.
Let’s be real, none of us really know what’s going on. Pretending your brand has all the answers is not only a touch misleading and patronising – but it also makes it harder to change tack further down the road. Things will inevitably change and you need to give your brand the wiggle room to change with it.
Just look at those brands who celebrated a premature ‘return to the office’ in 2020. Most were left looking like an unfortunate cross between being uninformed and wildly opportunistic. (cc: Dettol, whose ‘Keep Protecting’ campaign tried to encourage the public back to the office and ended up going viral for all the wrong reasons).
It’s fine to admit you don’t know how something will pan out – and it’s perfectly acceptable to say “Hey, this issue is a big one, and we don’t know exactly what’s going on right now, but we’re working on getting there and we’ll keep you informed. In the meantime, we’re doing X, X and X.” If anything, customers will respect your candour.
Remember the people who work on your content – and the people who read it – are human. Let them talk to each other like humans do.