Have bad news to announce? Read this

“Mommy, what’s my birthday party going to be like this year?”

She asked me that with the most innocent expression you’d ever seen. And I immediately broke out in a cold sweat upon hearing it.

If you’re a parent, you can probably imagine – this was no easy question to answer.  My daughter turned 8 this year. And unlike every other party we’ve held for her, this one would be different. Because this time all of the little moments that make birthdays magical wouldn’t be there.

She wouldn’t have her friends around to share in the excitement.   She wouldn’t partake in the usual games and activities that light up her 8-year old world. And there would be no countdown to blow out the cake – complete with laughter, cheering and clapping.

If your child asked you this question, what would you say?

You could mention the above – and watch the excitement in their eyes fade faster than a warm campfire doused by a bucket of ice cold water.

Or you could take a different strategy – which is precisely what I did. Instead of focusing on what she WOULDN’T have in this party, I took the following steps:

  1. Acknowledge that things will be different this time (“Well, your birthday won’t be exactly how you expect it…”)
  2. Address how this isn’t a bad thing (”BUT, it’ll be different and exciting…”)
  3. Highlight what’s better (“And here’s why…”)

Then I got into how no one would mash their fist right into the cake this time. And how no one would throw up on her new shoes (that was a fun one). And so on.

And as a result, once the fateful day came around, she actually enjoyed it.

Was it different? Yes. 

Was it better? Perhaps not.

But by changing the focus we were able to turn a total buzzkill into a birthday to remember.

This lesson doesn’t just apply to your children however. Because your customers are the exact same way. Right now, it’s all too easy for them to dwell on what’s gotten worse.

As if quarantine, cancelled plans and everything on the news isn’t to dampen their morale – an unexpected or negative change in your product or service can be the spark that triggers a wildfire of frustration.

As a result, their “Unstated Narrative” – the story they tell themselves about what’s going on – starts to turn into a grim tale of why you’re just another unwelcome dose of bad news.

Behavior expert Kurt Gray explains that this is exactly why companies need to highlight the things that are BETTER as a result of the pandemic (as counterintuitive as this may sound).

Why?

Because without your input, the stories your customers tell themselves will very easily take a turn for the absolute worst. And like a skilled orchestra conductor, you need to step in and take control before it all turns to chaos.

Do this and you’ll be able to get even the worst news or announcement across without the resulting plummet in morale.

Instead, you’ll avoid the outrage and keep customer loyalty high at a time where every brand needs it most.

You can do that by following a similar strategy in your messaging to the one I outline above:

 

  • Acknowledge Their Current Feelings

 

This is a very important step – and perhaps where companies drop the ball the most.

In order to lead your customers to a better emotional state or outcome, you need to acknowledge their frustrations, fears and other negative feelings. This is essential because, well, your customers aren’t stupid. 

You can’t lie to them and tell them everything’s fine while the world burns all around them. That’s just going to backfire terribly. Instead, you need to meet them where they’re currently at. If there’s a part of your communication that might make them wince – don’t shy away from it. That only makes it the focal point.

Address the elephant in the room, show them that you truly understand how they’re feeling, and level with them.

Be frank, be honest, and even be blunt if it suits your brand. But DON’T be the pollyanna no one can relate to – because there’s no faster way to cause an “eye roll” effect for everything else you have to say.

 

  • Address The Unknown Upsides

 

What your customers don’t realize is that even if things are different, they can be just as good or even better.

But they won’t know unless you point the spotlight in that direction for them. To do this you need to dig deep and extract ALL the benefits that come with your change or announcement. This means the ones that lie below the surface.

Some questions to guide you are:

Is there a significant pain or risk they’ll be able to avoid as a result of this change?

Is there a different route they’ll be able to take to achieve the same outcome?

What do these new benefits mean in the immediate future (in the coming days or next 1-2 weeks)? And what do they mean in the long-term (in the coming months or even years)?

What can they do now that they couldn’t do before?

Remember, you need to guide their inner narrative to one that’s brighter and better – because the stories we form instinctively are anything but.

 

  • Communicate A Positive Future Or Outcome

 

This is the meat of your message – the ideal scenario that you want your customers to head toward. All of your unexpected benefits should culminate in a vivid picture of a tangible outcome they can see, feel and hear.

This takes your message from ‘marketing noise’ to something that not only strikes a deep chord – but also gives them a bright light of hope in an otherwise dark time.

And even something as small as that can position you as one of the good guys – a trusted ally that’s here to help them get through a rough period.

This is what leads to powerful messaging that sets you apart from competitors who are playing a game of copycat.

Stay tuned,

Adele and Chip