How to sell with empathy during COVID-19

Even if your business operates fully or partially online, the COVID-19 outbreak may have you feeling like you need to retreat from cyberspace and leave your audience alone until life goes back to normal.

And I don’t blame you.

Because when you turn on the news or go on social media, COVID-19 is all anyone’s talking about.

And at a time when many people across the world are losing loved ones, being laid off, feeling terrified about stepping outside, or struggling to find basic supplies, talking to your audience about ANYTHING other than COVID-19 might also feel odd and even insensitive.

I mean, I get it. Nobody wants to be that brand that’s running a tone deaf marketing campaign right now.

But this doesn’t mean that you should close up your virtual shop and wait for life to get going again.

In fact, now’s the time to step up and serve your audience. Because they need you more than ever these days.

Sure, it might not make sense to go ahead with the big product launch you had planned. But you also don’t need to pause sales on your e-commerce store or stop offering the services you’ve already been selling for years.

It also doesn’t mean that you need to shy away from creating new offers that are designed to give your audience the very support they’re looking for right now.

So here’s the million dollar question, then: How do you keep marketing your products and services during COVID-19 without looking like a total jerk?

Here’s how to sell with empathy right now.



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1. Check existing sales copy

Before you do anything else, take a look at all of your sales copy that’s currently visible to your audience or that’s scheduled to become visible over the next few months. This means reviewing your website, sales pages, and marketing emails (including automated campaigns and those scheduled for the next few months).

Carefully check your copy for anything that could seem insensitive or inappropriate right now. For example, see if your copy encourages people to do things that they shouldn’t be doing these days (e.g., visiting your brick-and-mortar store, getting together with friends and family, or travelling). You’ll also want to keep an eye out for copy that might seem like it’s making light of the pandemic.

If you find copy that’s problematic under the current climate, be sure to change it immediately. And if there’s a campaign or launch that’s centered around a concept that isn’t appropriate right now (e.g., travelling the world), you might want to change the concept or pause the campaign altogether for now.

Related: 6 reasons why people STOP reading your sales page + free list of 100 copy phrases

Example: Salon brand Civello accidentally sent an email on March 20 about an in-store sale even though local government officials were already urging people to avoid nonessential travel outside their homes. Civello ended up having to send another email later that same day to apologize.


Civello sale email


2. Avoid problematic metaphors and images

Your sales page or sales email may have nothing to do with gathering in large crowds or travelling abroad. But if it even figuratively hints at activities that people shouldn’t be doing or don’t want to be doing right now, it might miss the mark and limit your conversions.

So when it comes to the language in your copy and the visuals you pair with it, rephrase or avoid the following:

  • metaphors that hint at close interaction (e.g., “get in touch,” “come together,” and “working hand-in-hand”)
  • visuals of people gathering in crowds or touching (e.g., images of friends hugging or people at a party)
  • COVID-related words and phrases used in a hyperbolic way (e.g., “avoid it like the plague” or “I had a caffeine crisis this morning”)

Note that these tips apply primarily to copy that you’re pushing out to people during the pandemic. I’m talking about emails, social media posts, and any landing pages that you link to in them. If you’re a wedding photographer, for example, and the main image on your home page is a photo of a bride and groom surrounded by tons of guests, you don’t need to change that just for COVID-19.

But if you have an existing sales page and you’re finding that conversions have dropped, it could be worth reviewing it for problematic language or visuals and changing them up.

Related: The 10 best stock photo sites for your blog or website + 15 bonus sites

Example: I know they’re not actually encouraging people to interact with others, but some of the copy in this email from Shopper’s Drug Mart hints at close contact.


Shopper's Drug Mart email



3. Adjust your tone

To help you understand this tip, let’s talk about the difference between voice and tone real quick.

Your brand voice is the personality of your brand. It defines how your business communicates with your audience, and it stays the same regardless of whether you’re writing a sales page, a blog post, or a response to a customer service email. For example, your brand voice might be conversational, friendly, and educational.

In comparison, your tone is how you express your brand voice in a given context. It changes based on the channel you’re using and the specific situation you’re in. For example, although you might use a positive and upbeat tone in your sales copy, you probably use a more serious tone when responding to the concerns of an angry customer.

So to sell with empathy during COVID-19, adjust your tone across your sales copy. Remember that your brand voice won’t change. So if your brand voice is friendly and conversational, you don’t need to change that. If you sell tech accessories to millennials, you don’t need to suddenly start sounding like a law firm. And you definitely don’t need to go all doom and gloom on your audience because they’re probably anxious enough right now.

But it is a good idea to adjust your tone, especially if it’s a light-hearted or cheeky tone that may make you sound insensitive right now.

Related: How to choose the right voice & tone for your blog or biz + free brand voice worksheet

Example: Cheeky juice brand Innocent adopted a more serious tone in this Instagram post.


Innocent COVID-19 post 1


Innocent COVID-19 post 2


4. Steer clear of COVID-themed sales and discount codes

One of the worst things you can do as a business right now is to exploit the pandemic. So avoid messaging like “Hot COVID-19 sale!” or using “COVID19” as your promo code. It’s the exact opposite of selling with empathy. And there’s a good chance that your audience will see it for what it is.

You can absolutely still hold sales or offer promo codes to your audience these days. After all, making your products or services more affordable could be the very thing they need right now. Just be sure that you’re not leveraging the pandemic in your messaging.

Example: Clearly used a neutral promo code in this email designed to encourage customers to buy contact lenses.


Clearly sale email




How you do write compelling sales page copy that your ideal customer will actually read?
Make your copy so frictionless that it’s like a greased slide.
Download my free list of 100 grease slide copy phrases.

Send me the list


5. Show empathy in your messaging

This shouldn’t be a shocker. But if you want to sell with empathy, you have to actually be empathic in your messaging.

What does this look like?

Remember, lots of people are feeling scared about their health, anxious about their finances, and worried about the future. So when you’re crafting or tweaking your sales copy these days, be sure to acknowledge these challenges in a way that shows that you truly care about your audience and understand what they’re going through.

If you’re sending a sales email campaign, you can also add an unsubscribe link for that particular campaign to the bottom of the emails. This way, people can opt out of emails they aren’t up for receiving right now while still remaining on your general email list.

Example: Amy Porterfield acknowledges the complex challenges and emotions that many business owners are experiencing because of COVID-19 while promoting the Full Focus Planner on Instagram.



Amy Porterfield COVID-19 email


6. Don’t be afraid to be hopeful

I know I’ve spent a lot of space in this post telling you that if you want to sell with empathy during COVID-19, it’s important to adjust your tone, be mindful of your language, and acknowledge the challenges your audience is facing right.

But this doesn’t mean that your copy needs to make it sound like the world is ending. If it makes sense based on your brand personality, don’t be afraid to continue being positive and personable right now. Lots of people are looking for things that offer hope or make life feel normal again—even if just for a moment.

So feel free to be positive and optimistic about the future in your copy.

Related: How to add personality to your copy + free list of 476 power words

Example: DavidsTea keeps the positive vibes going in this email without being disrespectful or insensitive.



DavidsTea email


7. Highlight how your brand can help

Do you offer a product or service that’s especially well-suited to meet people’s needs right now? Sell with empathy by compassionately highlighting the benefits your audience can experience if they buy it.

For example, if your brand helps people work remotely, stay fit at home, or cope with the extra stress and anxiety they’re feeling these days, communicate this. Tell your audience why you’re the business to help them tackle this challenge right now.

Example: Digital health app Maple highlights that users can use its app to request a COVID-19 screening with a doctor.



Maple COVID-19 screening


8. Keep your audience in the loop

Lastly, if the pandemic might affect your business’s ability to fulfill orders, provide services on time, or respond to customer service messages quickly, keep your audience in the loop. You can do this by sending an email to your customers or adding a notification at the top of your website or sales page.

Many people are feeling especially anxious right now about being able to access supplies and get information when they need it. So if you can give people a heads up that things may take longer than usual these days, they’ll know what to expect, and they can plan in advance.

Example: Online beauty retailer Beautysense sent this email to let customers know that online orders would take a few extra days to process during COVID-19.


BeautySense COVID-19 email


You CAN sell with empathy during COVID-19

It may not feel like business as usual right now. But that doesn’t mean that you need to stop promoting your products and services altogether.

Instead, use the tips I’ve shared above to keep your virtual doors open and sell with empathy during COVID-19. It’s 100% possible to continue to serve your audience AND be sensitive to the challenges many of them might be experiencing right now.



How you do write compelling sales page copy that your ideal customer will actually read?
Make your copy so frictionless that it’s like a greased slide.
Download my free list of 100 grease slide copy phrases.

Send me the list



How do you sell your products and services during COVID-19 without looking like a total jerk? Learn how to sell with empathy right now + get my list of 100 compelling sales copy phrases.

How to sell with empathy during COVID-19 + 100 compelling copy phrases

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