Being inside on a rainy day was torture when I was a little kid. I remember looking out the window as a young boy at my grandparents’ house at the Jersey Shore, obsessed with a depression in our front yard, right next to a weeping willow, that always held a puddle of water when it rained, making a tiny swamp. (Mind you, this was before folks in my current business rebranded swamps to “wetlands,” thus making them somehow more pleasant.) I hated that little swamp. It represented a missed day of playing on the beach or riding bikes. There were only so many days in the summer, after all.
Then a funny thing happened. I went out just after the rain and decided to step into this little swamp. I can’t remember why, though I was never known for the best of judgment back then. I slapped my whole bare foot into that puddle and remember exhilaration. I kicked and hopped and splashed, reveling in all my muddy glory. My joy apparently was aerosolized, since friends on the block came out to join me. It ended up an amazing experience, found in such an unlikely mud puddle. (I’ll save the rest of the story, when we all walked back into our houses. Suffice it to say, the parents of Griffin Street don’t look back with such fondness.)
Attitude Can Change Perception
Right now, we are all largely sitting home staring out of the biggest swamp our collective yard can muster, watching our year slip away and bombarded by a toxic cocktail of generic national death counts and personal losses, stirred up by an overwhelming uncertainty of whether life will return to, if not normal, something more recognizable. On a personal (and consumer) level, it can be dispiriting and debilitating. It can feel hopeless.
But a change in attitude and a change in approach can change people’s perceptions. How we communicate now has never been more important. Brands need to understand how to speak to clients and customers and meet them where they are—frightened, disheartened, nervous—to solidify the relationships they have and build new ones. A mud puddle will always be a mud puddle, but you can find ways to look at it differently and share that positive view with others. The easiest way to do this is by injecting a note of optimism into your communications.
Keep a Positive Outlook
Is it appropriate to be optimistic at a time of such uncertainty? Absolutely. There’s always room for a positive outlook in your messaging. It can be sustaining for those of your clients and partners who rely on you in some way for guidance or outlook. In fact, a bias toward optimism is a valued tool for most business leaders. Not only is it appropriate, it’s a requirement.
4 Ways to Be Optimistic in Your Messaging
So, how do you start to inject a more optimistic tone in your messaging? Here are a few starting points:
1. Give People a Chance to Smile
There are few industries more decimated by Covid-19 than the airlines. Flights have been cancelled, people are staying put and planes are being mothballed. So, I was shocked to get, of all things, a marketing email from JetBlue. The headline? “Someday Is Coming!” I found it a masterful piece of marketing. It made no promises about when flights might be more available, but it was a reminder that planes will fly again. It was an elegant and optimistic touchpoint, one that cheered customers and deepened relationships. You couldn’t help but smile, which, in itself, is a gift.
2. Start from a Place of Caution
There’s a difference between an injection of optimism and sounding Pollyanna. There is much we don’t know. But policymakers know enough that, even in the hardest-hit areas of the country, there are signs that allow us to at minimum present roadmaps for rebuilding and, at most, open some businesses and services. How your brand communicates its role in this rebuilding is immeasurably important. But it’s important to be optimistic in a prudent way. You don’t want to set deadlines you can’t meet. In that case, the failure to meet them becomes more of the story than the actual progress. Acknowledge the uncertainty but do so from the standpoint that things will improve and you will be there to help bring about that positive change.
3. Hope Over Fear
Intimacy in communication is vital right now, since so many people feel isolated. If you’ve been effective at staying in touch with clients, customers and partners through this, you’re in the best position to help people change their own thinking about the future. You can play a role in helping people make, as Nelson Mandela said, choices that reflect their hopes rather than their fears. Think of how meaningful that can be, and it’s all driven by how you and your brand choose to communicate.
4. Don’t Fight with the Pigs
It might seem ironic for an article that started about a mud puddle, but you want to stay out of the mud, particularly on social media. Crises like our current one often bring out the best in people, but they also amplify how downright gleefully negative and toxic people can be on social media. As the cliché goes, you don’t want to fight with the pigs because you both get dirty and the pigs like it. As you engage with people on social or in other channels, always take the high road and avoid the slugfests that other people seem to revel in. Optimists—and true business leaders—don’t have time for that sport.
Help People Choose Optimism
In the end, there’s no way to compel people to be optimistic. That is always a personal choice. But you can play a role in helping people make that choice by the way you choose to speak with them. Make no mistake, it is an important power. As Viktor Frankl so eloquently wrote about his time at Auschwitz, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Help your clients and customers make meaning of this.