How are companies orchestrating their “pandemic reset” to remain standing when COVID-19 becomes history?

I interviewed 20 senior managers to gauge their thinking about the altered landscape, which offers a new set of customer expectations.

As background, respondents shared a common view of evolving to a hybrid environment except for where hybrid doesn’t make sense (e.g., manufacturing); prioritizing a safe and effective setup for employees; and adjusting tactics to contain costs and manage risk. Innovation was still important, but no respondent wanted to get too far ahead of their world.

They wondered how soon customer demand would pick up, and how could they position themselves to win the business? Business pivots were seen as critical.  Redesigning their messaging would follow, a task considered tricky but essential.

A look at some practical guidelines might help as businesses redo their messaging.

Guidelines for the Subtle Art of Messaging

Effective messaging spells out the difference between being newly heard or staying locked in the past. Doing some essential homework upfront, combined with creativity and credibility, are at the core of finding a message that sticks.

Even if a team thinks they know the market pulse, they should begin by gathering customer feedback to better understand attitudes and preferences — and in the language customers use. Since a change in conditions has led us to this point, we need to understand the shift in detail. This is the “homework stage.”

Next, come the few simple rules in reworking the message. Namely:

Appeal to the heart and the mind: Use stories for emotional power, and metrics to bring it home — both matter.

Keep the message simple: Resist saying everything. Commit to the rule of three because we consume information best when presented in threes.

Add sizzle to rise above the fray: The market is noisy, with many companies clamoring for attention. Creative muscle is needed to make something memorable as well as to differentiate yourself from others.

Convert the hard-boiled cynics by offering proof: Whether by nature or due to previous experiences, some customers are skeptical and challenging. That is why it is so important to incorporate “Reasons to Believe” as proof that your promise holds true.

Message Tone

Along with the words comes the tone that should match the company vibe. Apple, for example, opts for fun with a touch of maverick. There are many options regarding tone — serious, funny, smart, irreverent and safe are just a few but they have to ring true.  Some examples follow:

Fun and Warm: Because emotions affect how we make decisions, a tone that emits warmth and comfort often works well. Whether it is a technology purchase, or frequenting a coffee establishment, our layers of rational thinking only take us so far.

Who doesn’t want to visit their neighborhood Dunkin’ after hearing Powfu’s music, “Don’t stay away for too long … I’ll make you a cup of coffee to start your day.” Between the images of happy employees bringing us coffee and soothing background melody, we believe they are rooting for us during these trying times.

Helpful: This tone offers less poignancy and more tactical assistance. Google is currently running a print ad, “Helping local businesses adapt to a new way of working.” The copy focuses on helping small businesses stay alive, with Google promoting the theme of adaptation, enabled by its tools and analytics.

Smart and Efficient: Can we do our job better and be set up for success? Ameritrade proclaims, “Yes” with “Say hello to streamlined trading, powered by think-or-swim,” which plays off our general COVID survival angst. Ameritrade offers “strategies in an optimized interface,” to assuage our worries. Smart and efficient will help us win.

Moral Conscience: When NYDJ (not your daughter’s jeans) advertises, “These jeans are made of 17 plastic bottles” for “All shapes, all sizes, all ages” we hear, “environmentally friendly” and “socially inclusive.” Are we buying pants or their values? Anchoring a message to moral conscience can be risky but has been a popular route lately.

There are many other tones from which to pick (e.g., safe, mindful, active and outdoorsy, nostalgic), but it is important that whatever is selected matches the company’s gestalt.

When I interviewed respondents, some were able to articulate the beginnings of their messaging plan, in which I heard:

— Promoting “Made in America.”

— Emphasizing value: Excellence and affordability in one.

— Affirming trusted partner:  Reliable problem solver and built to last.

— Flexible: Willing to adapt to changing needs.

In the right environment, for the right offering, these themes have great potential. Doing the upfront homework, following simple guidelines, and picking a tone that reflects the company is essential to ensure the message is on pitch and will be heard anew.