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Marketing During COVID-19 | 16 Essential Copywriting Guidelines

Updated: May 12

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected all aspects of our lives, including marketing. Even if your business is not health-related, you are most likely incorporating the pandemic into your content and messaging. All businesses are trying to navigate exactly how to stay relevant while also appropriate during such an unprecedented time.


COVID-19 has not only shifted business trends, but also consumer priorities and the entire marketing landscape. The goal of this guide is to help you adapt your messaging accordingly so your business can continue purposeful, quality communication with your target audience. Let's start with the most important one:


1. Being sensitive


COVID-19 has impacted individuals on a personal level world-wide, so the risk of inadvertently coming off as insensitive or even exploitative is currently higher than ever. And with social media communication at a peak, one small mistake could mean far-reaching and long-term consequences for you and your business.


2. Better too serious than sorry


While it’s normally common and effective for brands to keep a conversational tone, it’s best to steer clear of using humour or wit to accomplish that right now. Even being overly casual can be off-putting. Your content may not be as colourful or aligned with your brand personality, but it’s far better to be more serious than you want to be than to be more sorry than you can express. Vancula Agency recommends keeping a positive, inspirational, and helpful tone. Avoid being humorous, witty, or casual.


3. There’s an appropriate manner to make light of the situation


Being more serious doesn’t mean being somber. One can still manage to stress the bright side; all while knowing the difference between positivity and humour, and between being uplifting vs dismissive of the situation.


4. Be mindful of insensitive jargon


One now knows not to use overt puns, but keep in mind that there are several words and phrases that prior to COVID-19 were completely harmless. For example:

  • Killer (as in a “killer deal”)

  • Contagious (“how to create contagious content”)

  • Health or checkup-related terms (“give your budget a pulse check”)

  • Spread

  • Contagious

  • Infectious

  • Viral

  • Gather

  • Event


5. Take a neutral or supportive stance


If your business is still operating, be careful with your positioning. For example, mortgage brokers, “Take advantage of the low-interest rate now!” conveys an inappropriately exciting message. On the other hand, “Let us help you navigate the unstable economy” offers security and respects the gravity of the situation.

  • Use: “contribute,” “connect,” “play a role,” “navigate,” “cope,” “respond”

  • Do not use: “capitalize,” “advantage,” “offer,” “gain,” “profit”

  • Be careful with: “opportunity,” “make the most”


6. Think contribution, not conversion


Should you categorize as one of the businesses that can only operate during Lockdown Levels 1-3, there are still ways to stay relevant. However, one’s motives should not be to get more business, but to continue offering value to your audience. Everyone is trying their utmost best to say afloat right now, so think contribution, not conversion.


7. Ensuring accuracy


Now more than ever, taking the extra steps to stay accurate will help you to maintain the trust you’ve worked so hard to build with your audience. This in hindsight will also assist your business in keeping up with changing search trends and to even filter out any unreliable COVID-19 resources.


8. Use credible COVID-19 sources


Effective copywriting provides information while simultaneously delivering a greater message. Your intended message may perhaps be to spread awareness or evoke solidarity, but should your information be inaccurate, will you possibly not only land yourself in trouble with the Government, but the intended message will be clouded & can create mistrust between your business and its customers.

Inaccurate information about the virus can be found everywhere, so make sure you get your facts straight when copywriting—especially for social media captions or ads that can get shared. The best places for reliable information are:


9. Employ proper grammar


Checking for grammar is a no-brainer when it comes to copywriting, but it’s crucial when it comes to COVID-19. Improper grammar can undermine the validity of your facts, and even alter your message And for your coronavirus-related copywriting in general, there are two great tools that we can suggest:

  • Topical Guide on COVID-19: This simple yet super-helpful guide was created by the Associated Press to help with coverage of the coronavirus.

  • Grammarly: This is a contextual editor that catches important fixes that slip past regular spell check. It’s a free plugin you can download and use across all applications.

Checking up on details like this takes some extra time, and maybe your audience will know what you meant, but better to be safe than sorry. Plus, COVID-19 isn’t a trending topic; its effects are going to be long-lasting, so your content is likely to stay relevant for a while. Make sure it’s as up to standard as the rest of your copywriting.


10. Stay optimistic, but don’t overpromise


It’s important to inspire hope and forward-thinking through your copywriting, but remember that this is an unprecedented situation; even expert predictions have questionable accuracy. All that you can promise your audience is that you’ll stay committed to handling the situation and serving them the best way you can. Ensuring anything else, even if to keep up morale, could backfire on you.


11. Modifying your offers


Google has banned advertising on travel-related services, but there are still a lot of businesses that can, and should, advertise relevant services during COVID-19. Just make sure to modify your copywriting so that calls to action are appropriate. Also, keep in mind that things are evolving fast, so keep your messaging as versatile as possible so you don’t have to be constantly updating your copy. Here are some guidelines and suggestions for CTAs (Call To Actions) with respect to COVID-19.


12. Ease up on the urgency


“Call now” or “Book now” buttons are fine; but excitement- or scarcity-driven copywriting, like “Don’t miss out!” or “Grab your spot before it’s too late!” is not going to resonate with consumers or businesses right now. Nothing is as urgent as COVID-19, and this type of tone is more likely to cause you to come off as unaware or ignorant.


13. Adjust for relevance


Check your offerings and make sure your copy is aligned with COVID-19 safety measures, lifestyle changes, and search trends. For example:

  • Change irrelevant value propositions like “more dog walks” or “more diners in your doors” to something more neutral, like “more leads,” or more timely, like “more online orders.”

  • Reword inapplicable CTAs, like “join now” for facilities that are closed. “Learn more” could work here.

  • Use words to reinforce the safety of your audience, such as “contact-free,” “virtual,” “remote,” “in-home,” “downloadable,” “delivery,” “online.”


14. Check your scheduled content


Don’t forget to check your automated emails or scheduled posts for relevance and appropriateness. This may include:

  • April Fools humour

  • Easter gathering-related content

  • Birthday or anniversary offers

  • Automated nurture campaigns


15. Staying on track


Should you feel overwhelmed by all of the changes you need to make to your copy, just remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is having to make adjustments right now and settling into new rhythms. Here are some tips to help you through:


  • Prioritize. You won’t (and shouldn’t) make the above changes to all of your copy. Start with top-trafficked content and new content moving forward.

  • Track your changes: Create a spreadsheet of the changes you make so you can keep track of what to change back when things start to settle out.

  • Don’t delete anything: Save your good ideas and well-performing campaigns for reinstatement in the future when they will be more effective. Things will return to normal someday. A new normal, but a normal nonetheless.


16. Maintain your copywriting standards, even while marketing during COVID-19


COVID-19 may be a new era, and your messaging and offers may change, but your copywriting standards should be the same. At the end of the day, you are still supplying information, adding value, and conveying to your audience that you are in tune with their needs.


(By Lizani-Yolandi Brits)


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