The tone of voice that’s suitable for marketing has shifted.

As with all copywriting, you have to be sensitive to the reader. You need to recognise where they are at. “Meet them at their bus-stop” is the phrase used by Shelle Rose Charvet, author of Words That Change Minds.

Consider the psychological model proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 and used in coaching and management training ever since.


Maslow proposed that people’s needs must be met at the bottom of the pyramid before they can move up to the next level.

We might all strive for self-actualisation – those moments when we feel all is right with the universe and we understand our place in it – but we can never stay there for long. As soon as we get hungry or thirsty, or urgently need the loo, that becomes our priority and we drop right back down to the base of the pyramid again.

More dramatically, if someone is strangling or drowning you, you might even try to kill them in order to be able to breathe. Whereas, if you’re higher up the pyramid, you would never dream of committing murder (I hope).

It’s powerful stuff. And, at the moment, the lower part of the pyramid is the place where many people are operating.

For example, if someone is worried that the shops will run out of food, feeding themselves and their family will be their main motivational driver.

If their income has dropped or they’ve lost their job or are self-employed with no government support, their safety is threatened because they’ll be afraid they can’t pay their rent or mortgage.

Some people will be struggling with the lockdown because they can’t be in the same physical space as their friends and family. Extraverts who get their energy from others will be feeling the pain, as will those who like hugging.

What this means to you

Where we focus importance has shifted.

We applaud the NHS and key workers because they serve our basic needs. Meanwhile, performers entertain us for nothing (such as the weekly National Theatre livestream) because they provide benefits that are nearer to top of the pyramid.

If the product or service you provide delivers results towards the top of the pyramid, it will be hard to sell to those people who are currently feeling nearer the bottom.

Because everyone is different, it’s not easy to get it right when you are sending one-to-many messages, also known as broadcasts, announcements or advertising.

You’ve probably noticed the big brands sending sales messages claiming to be “here for you”. You’re probably equally tired of the ones that remind you “we’re in unprecedented times”.

At a time like this, it’s more appropriate to send one-to-one messages. Think human to human rather than B2B or B2C. Don’t hard sell. Instead, ask what they need. And avoid the clichés – you don’t need to label the current situation. We are all living it.

As for channels of communication, video conversations beat phone calls, and phone calls beat written messages. Once we’re allowed out again, meeting in person beats all of those.

Of course, if you need any help with this, you know where I am.

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