As marketers, we usually want to adopt an upbeat tone: positive, friendly, maybe with a little humour.
However, with the ongoing cost of living crisis, a tone of voice that once connected with your audience might come across as insensitive or crass. How do you adapt your tone of voice to show you understand what people are going through?
We all know the basics of the cost of living crisis: costs are rising sharply for everything from energy bills to petrol to food and clothing. Incomes are not rising to match the price rises, so people are having to live on less – causing hardship for those on low incomes.
Recent research by KPMG found that monthly costs were an average of £145.50 higher at the end of 2022 compared to the beginning. Consumers are buying more own-brand goods, switching brands or going to cheaper retailers, looking for discounts or simply buying less. A third of consumers are digging into their savings to meet basic living costs.
Changing your tone of voice: traps to avoid
There are a few major pitfalls to watch out for in changing your tone of voice:
- Failing to connect
Even with an amended tone of voice, marketing still has to help achieve your strategic goals. If you come across as too sombre and washed-out, you will fail to engage with your audience and risk wasting money on messaging that turns people off. You need to remember your core audience and messaging, even if the tone changes.
- Seeming inauthentic and insincere
Consumers can smell phoneys a mile off, so messaging that just says you care without demonstrating concrete action might seem superficial or inauthentic. When you talk about customer hardship, you need more than just words: what are you doing to help struggling customers, or have you launched an initiative to ease the burden?
- Inconsistency across messaging
A change in tone needs to be communicated across your organisation and applied consistently across channels. If one post is speaking sensitively about hardship, and the next has a jokey tone inviting people to splash the cash, the overall effect will be jarring.
- Failing to be distinctive
Every brand is trying to wrestle with finding the right tone in the cost of living crisis. There’s a real risk of playing it safe too much, meaning all marketing takes on the same tone and brands fail to be distinctive or original. It’s not enough to just copy what other brands are doing; you need to find your own way through that speaks to your audience.
Evolving your tone of voice: what to consider
So, if you are reviewing your tone of voice to make sure you respond to the cost of living crisis, what should you consider? Here are a few pointers:
- Use what you learned in the pandemic
In a way, marketing in the cost of living crisis is a replay of marketing in the COVID-19 pandemic: many people are going through pain and uncertainty and there’s a lot of disruption. Your brand will already have learned a lot about what works or doesn’t, so use your insights.
- Use data to inform your marketing
What are the trends in your customers’ behaviour? Are they buying differently, or is the profile of the average customer changing? Use data and research to find out what matters to your customers and where you should be focusing your efforts. Retention of loyal customers should also be a key priority.
- Avoid condescension
Anything with a tone of ‘it must be terrible for you’ could come across as insensitive: people living on small budgets really don’t need to be told to put on a jumper to save money. Don’t give advice unless it’s concrete and connected to your brand.
- Offer something positive
People facing financial difficulties don’t need doom and gloom to add to their woes. You don’t need to abandon humour in your marketing, just be careful not to be insensitive about spending and the hardship people are going through. If it works for your brand, you can offer something concrete as a solution such as a low-cost product or service.
- Be strategic
Evolution is better than revolution – you don’t need to transform your brand overnight. Kneejerk changes are more likely to alienate customers, so take your time to work out what the new priorities are and how your tone of voice should change. You also need to think long term – what comes after the cost of living crisis for your brand? Could there be changes now that lead to opportunities further down the line?
Not just about B2C comms
While we talk about the ‘consumer’ and the ‘customer’, let’s not forget about B2B communications in all of this. After all, behind these businesses are real humans, also facing the many challenges that the 2020s are relentlessly throwing their way.
From supply chain issues to worries about job security and the need to save business money, these concerns are very real, and what may be keeping your audience awake at night. So it’s important to tread carefully with your tone of voice in the B2B space too: positioning your brand as experts and thought leaders who are adept at efficiency and smart working can reassure your B2B audience that you’re on their side.
If you need help with content marketing that will hit the right note with your B2B or B2C customers, get in touch today using the contact form below.