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Personal counseling can inform brand communications – here’s how

For those who’ve lived through life’s curveballs and blindsides, therapy can help greatly. Can brands make use of the tools used in those difficult conversations to communicate with their audiences? WE Communications’ Kristin Flor Perret explains how.

‘Know your audience‘ is rule number one in our work, but how can we do this successfully when we don’t know who we’re talking to anymore? Or what they’re going through? Today's environment has redefined our scope of work. We have a new job: we must offer help, guidance and support in addition to everything else that we do.

While we can’t be brand therapists, how can we communicate to our audiences with the right tone and deliver the compassionate messaging people desperately need? In this reality we’re living, communications will greatly benefit if we lean into insights from our personal therapeutic experiences to employ new tools of empathy and understanding in our work. If you haven’t had the need for therapy: a) lucky you and b) below is my primer.

Counseling can be extraordinarily helpful for people undergoing crisis or massive life upheaval. And right now, that’s everybody. It’s a great time to create and check your messaging with the carefulness and understanding of a grief counselor. It’s also a great time to revisit gurus of compassion like Oprah or Martha Beck for tips on tone. There are certain guidelines we should stick to, but first let’s get the don’ts out of the way.

Don‘t pretend you can see the future

No one knows when “normalcy” will return, or what that would even look like, so don’t make any future-focused predictions. One of the gifts of mindfulness is to remain present. Talk about right now, not tomorrow.

Don‘t ignore reality

Every message you broadcast must make sense in the context of this crisis. Best to pull any messaging created even two months ago and put it under review if you haven’t already.

Don’t overpromise

As human beings we yearn to soothe troubled minds with ’it will all be okay.’ But will it really? Best to keep feel-good crystal ball attempts at bay.

Now for the good part. What we can do! Just as every therapist has a therapist, let me be the therapist for your brand communications. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years, and we can all benefit from counseling each other and our audiences.

Do validate

Just as a good therapist typically refrains from judgement but acknowledges the experience of a patient, brands can reinforce they fully understand and recognize we are living through unprecedented challenges. And find ways to show as well as tell, so our compassionate messaging rings true. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Audi and other beloved brands changed their logos, some for the first time in history, as a way to demonstrate we’re living in extraordinary times.

Do listen

This is what we excel at as marketers, so time to ramp up our listening skills. Social listening. Research. Focus groups. This is how we’ve always learned what people care about. Who you were talking to at the beginning of the year is likely very different now. The economic impacts may have shifted your audience to a completely new segment. Find out who they are and where they are. (Hint: It’s time to do some research.)

Do support

How can you offer news, information or services that have intrinsic value, that are not transactional per se? Global boutique gym brands like Orangetheory quickly pivoted from being an app-scheduled and appointment-only model to offering free workouts daily, open to everyone looking to work off the stress of being cooped up. That took both ingenuity and amazing reactive speed, and also introduced the brand to new potential customers.

Be human

Be real and authentic. Be gentle. People are vulnerable, so your messaging should feel empowering and/or sympathetic. Be careful to not exploit customers with offers and deals that will look self-serving and tone deaf. And, provide creative ways people can help each other. German drugstore chain Rossman created an ingenious ad to amplify a social media fundraising effort to benefit the local bar, club and café scene using a hashtag ’#likenowpartylater’. Rossman knows their customers crave going out and wants to support the industry people out of work, so it gave them a way to help that also celebrates who they are.

Therapy can be both painful and powerful. The scars of upheaval are often deep and long lasting. And we are not even close to being out of the eye of this tempest. But recovery is possible. Ask anyone who’s been through the eye of the storm (including me). It will require hard work, life-altering changes and guts. It will take listening to one another because we will only succeed if we all participate. We want must listen with compassion to what our customers want and commit to act on what they tell us they need.

Kristin Flor Perret, senior vice-president, global marketing, WE Communications