In These Uncertain Times, Marketing Copy Can Still Show Empathy

Most of us, including brands and the copywriters that work for them, want to show empathy. Particularly during a crisis. But you don’t need to start your ad with “In these uncertain times.”

It’s not wrong to say that. The world is particularly scary right now. Running marketing campaigns can feel insensitive, and none of us want that.

But “In these uncertain times” has become the banner ad of copywriting. The audience tunes it out.

You can demonstrate empathy and still create tight, compelling ads. These are some templates I’m using right now. These are not real ads, by the way:

Remind, Explain, Reassure

Tell your audience:

  1. You’re still here
  2. Why that matters
  3. What you’re doing to keep them safe

Example: “We’re open for business, fixing your bicycles so you can get where you’re going. Our team has taken special precautions to protect you from COVID–19, including sanitizing all work surfaces after each repair.”

Example: “Your home still gets damaged by extreme weather. Our team will inspect your roof, only entering your premises with your permission and only in protective equipment that’s kept sterile until we do.”

Example: “We’re keeping our shelves stocked with everything from food to cleaning products, and we’re open 24/7. Our amazing team constantly sanitizes all work surfaces and wears masks. We also provide masks at the door.”

Thank, Remind, Explain

Tell your audience:

  1. How amazing your team is
  2. That you’re still here
  3. Why that matters

Example: “I’m Ian Lurie, and I want to thank our mechanics and staff for their hard work. They’ve put in the extra hours, changing the way we work to sanitize vehicles and minimize contact during the repair process. Their effort keeps your car running smoothly and ensures you still have reliable transportation.”

(It won’t win any awards, but you get the idea)


Before you flame me: This post has nothing – I mean nothing – to do with COVID-specific advice about search marketing, search data, or similar. That stuff helps marketers do a better job. This is about marketing copy by brands.

Nor is this post an inidictment of campaigns that say “in these uncertain times.”

I’m not saying this is bad. I’m saying we can do it better.

What Digital Marketing Does

Digital marketing doesn’t create products or make products better. It doesn’t make people buy stuff (traditional marketing tried). On the other hand, you can’t sell s–t without marketing.

This post contains zero SEO tips. Read it anyway.

Digital marketing is not a business strategy. It connects your customers to your value (your product) when they need it.

Breaking it down:


Value is the thing your product provides. It might be yummy goodness (Kit Kats), or a replacement tire, or medical care.

It’s rarely price-related. Driving value through price makes you vulnerable. Any competitor can say they’re less expensive.

When They Need It

When They Need It is Context. The situation that makes your product/service useful and valuable. I need chocolate because, without it, I become a murder hornet (look it up). I need your service because you fix flat tires and I have a flat tire. That’s context. If you push a valuable product in the wrong context, all you do is piss me off.

You know the coolest part? Marketing can also insert your product into a completely different context. Sundel Doniger created X-Acto knives for military surgeons. Then someone realized their product was great for other things. X-Acto knives are great for cutting paper. Or slicing the arm off a tiny plastic orc. The marketing team made sure I knew that.


Connect is what marketing does. Once you have a valuable product and you’ve defined the context, you can do your marketing.

The line between connect and context gets squooshy. Marketers do research, and that research can define context.

But market research is not marketing research. Market research determines value (bitter, icky chocolate) in context (people who like dark chocolate). It finds the customers.

Marketing research finds the best way to say, “Hey! We’re valuable!” at the right time in the right place. It finds the best way to reach those customers.

That means that your marketing team should not define product value. It should demonstrate it.

Here’s a tip: Links can be an easy win, if they make sense. Make sure they pass the blank sheet of paper test whenever possible.

Random Notes and Necessary Cliches

Marketing can’t fix a crappy product. Fyre Festival had slick advertising. But a video of disturbingly attractive people doesn’t mean much when you end up with a bunch of rich people wandering a beach trying to find a FEMA tent. I didn’t make this up. Also, New Coke.

On the other hand, you can’t sell a fabulous product without marketing. Write the best article ever (yes, content is a product) and publish it on your blog. No one will find it unless marketing of some kind—SEO, social media, whatever—makes the connection.

The Lesson

Every brand on the planet depends on the value/context/connect structure.

Please, pretty please, I beg of you, think value/context/content when you do SEO, or social media, or whatever. Businesses grow when they treat digital marketing as the connector, not the business.

Enough philosophy. I’ll get back to the nerd stuff in my next post.

Site Replatforming: 51 Must-Do To-Dos

I have a love/hate relationship with site replatforming projects: Migrating from one CMS/e-commerce platform/whatever to another is an opportunity. Great things can happen! Yay! Or, you can end up with a feculent pile of badly-written code and shortcuts that bogs down your business until the next time you replatform. This is my stream-of-consciousness list of things you must do for a stench-free project.

Continue reading

SEO 101: URL Permanence

If you create repeating, date-based content on your site, like an annual ‘best of’ list or buyer’s guide, use the same URL every year. Archive previous years to date-based URLs. That’s URL permanence. You’ll get more SEO bang for your buck.

Continue reading