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British brands becoming more ‘soft and fluffy’ amid Covid-19

By John Glenday | Reporter

November 3, 2020 | 5 min read

A global survey of 190 marketing, communication and brand directors has established that many brands have been communicating differently in the pandemic, with three in five UK directors observing a change in communications style.


UK brands becoming more ‘soft and fluffy’ amid Covid-19

Conducted by language and behavioural science agency Schwa, the report highlights a split in the manner brands are communicating, with some tending to be more ‘soft and fluffy’ and others falling back on formal corporate speak. Interestingly, the UK is the most ’soft and fluffy’ of all countries surveyed, while America has shifted in the other direction.

How are brands speaking to customers right now?

  • Regional variations in approach have seen 61% of UK respondents observe brand communications shifting towards a ’soft and fluffy’ approach, the highest ratio recorded anywhere. By comparison, just 46% of those surveyed internationally saw a similar shift.

  • 28% of British directors think brands have developed a more formal language meanwhile, below the 37% who have witnessed such a trend globally.

  • Moreover, British brands appear to be better at weeding out pointless communications, with just 22% complaining of meaningless updates, versus 34% globally.

  • Reacting to the findings, Meg Roberts, creative director at Schwa, commented: “Brands seem to be going to extremes in their comms. Some are retreating to ‘safe’, robotic corporate-speak. On the other end of the scale, lots of brands seem to have gone soft and fluffy – we’re here for you, difficult times and so on. They’re at least showing they want to be more human, but it means companies start to sound the same."

  • Addressing the issue of spam, Roberts adds: “As our research shows, many companies are sending out irrelevant updates – often emails and social posts – often just so that they’re seen to be doing something. But if they have nothing useful to say, it’s usually better to say nothing. It’s unlikely I need to hear from you if I ordered a pair of flip flops from you a year ago.”

  • Roberts attributes these changes to the increased value associated with tone of voice as businesses scramble to strike the right tone. “With all the updates businesses are sending out – much of it delicate and difficult – people are looking for more guidance on how to communicate,“ she notes.

  • “And it’s important internally too, particularly now a lot of us are working remotely. Emails and Slack messages have replaced the water cooler as the pinnacle of a company’s culture. Writing skills are more important than ever.”

No laughing matter

  • Humour was found to be a divisive issue, with Australia/Oceania coming out on top with 70% of brand directors feeling able to strike funny bones in their comms. The Americas followed close behind with 56% embracing humour as a coping mechanism.

  • This was not found to be the case in Asia where 35% reported that they’d use the least humour.

  • It was the Europeans, however, that banished humour most, with 23% avoiding this tone altogether.

  • Roberts concludes: ”Brands overthink things when it comes to regional variations in their language. Your global tone of voice should work everywhere: how can you build an internationally known brand if you change your personality from market to market? You need to get people from each region involved when you’re developing your language guidelines, so you know what works where.”

Anything else?

  • The report found 99% of companies consciously monitor and measure their tone of voice, with 86% tracking customer feedback. A further 74% keep tabs on how products and services are performing financially and 65% monitor brand metrics.

  • Overall, 93% consider tone of voice to impact business performance, with the most consistent sector to embrace this being PR and communications at 36%, far ahead of marketing (28%), brand (18%), digital (12%), HR (3%) and operations (2%).

  • Diving further into the mindsets of directors, 67% were found to accept colloquialisms as acceptable in corporate communications, with 52% believing such terminology is ’natural and makes your writing sound like you speak’.

  • On the flip side, 28% felt such language was not professional and 19% had no strong feelings either way.

  • Intriguingly, 61% considered it proper to address customers by their first name in correspondence, rising to 70% in the UK and 80% in the US, compared to just 57% in Sweden.

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