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One year ago, COVID was labeled a pandemic. At maslansky + partners, where I am president and partner, it also marks one year since we began tracking how Fortune 500 companies have been communicating through it all. To mark the occasion, we analyzed nearly 2,000 individual communications to find the words used the most across industries:
The three most common words of the pandemic were:
All three words have one thing in common: they're passive.
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As we enter our second year of the pandemic, the question is: what should companies be saying now?
One year in, with the arrival of multiple vaccines and the promise of spring in the air, is it time for a different approach?
We think it is. It's time for all companies to make a shift for the remainder of 2021—from reactive to active specifically focusing on three key themes:
That we're moving forward every day…
While taking the precautions to stay safe…
And keeping the progress we've made
What does that look like in practice? Here are 21 words companies should use in 2021 to signal this change:
Words that show we're moving forward
After a year of waiting, we are ready to see some action. We've spent months wondering, what will the "new normal" or the "new next" be? When will the world re-open? While we're not quite there yet, we're making progress every single day — it's time to focus on what is happening. Here are some words companies should all start to use:
Now – after feeling like everything was put on pause, we're eager to hear about what is happening now.
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Drive – take control back, we want action
Reimagine – paint a picture for us of the possibilities that exist beyond COVID-19.
Define – combat the uncertainty we are experiencing by putting a stake in the ground
Forward –place the focus back on what's to come
Introduce –present new ways of thinking, new opportunities to engage with, and new pathways forward
Innovate – after the monotony of the last year, we are looking for new methods, ideas, and products. Focus on what’s fresh and exciting
Create – after a year of loss, bring something new to the table
Words to use that show we're staying safe
Yes, we are ready to get out there again. BUT (and there is a big but), we are ready as long as we know that we are safe both physically and emotionally.
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We need to recognize that life's not going back to the way it was. Here are a few words to use to show that you recognize that we all need extra care right now:
Balance – not the work/life balance of yesteryear, this is the line between action and safety
Solve – we still have challenges to overcome, we want to hear what you are doing to address them
Energize – let’s face it. We are all tired. Help us combat COVID-fatigue and energize us
Clean – from work surfaces to energy, clean has never been more important
Closer –As we can safely begin to close the physical distance, remind us how we want to feel — connected to the people around us
Words that show we're keeping the progress we've made
There is no question that this past year was a tough year. But we did it. We got through it. And most of us recognize that there are some silver linings. That there were some things we did that we never thought we could do. That there are some lessons we want to remember. That out of the bad, there was a lot of good.
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Companies need to acknowledge this. Here are some words that are good reminders that you are not going to leave the good stuff behind.
Flexibility – we’ve seen how we can work (and shop) more flexibly and we have come to value and appreciate it. We’re not going back
Build – this is a time for new ideas, and building on what we have learned as well
Collaborate – we are inspired by companies and people coming together to solve some of our biggest challenges. Consider how the pharmaceutical industry has come together to invent, manufacture and distribute the vaccine. How neighbors have helped neighbors.
We See You – the hard lessons on diversity and inclusion mustn’t be lost. Don't shy away from tough conversations and tough situations. Acknowledge that you see them.
Do the work – If 2020 was a year of listening and learning about racial justice, diversity, and inclusion, 2021 is about doing the work that needs to be done.
Partner – keep building bridges in 2021
Changes – We want to understand what the new world might look like, so speak directly to these changes so we can all be on the same page
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Together – we’ve stayed together even when apart, and one thing is certain. We are in this together
Have we turned the corner? We can't say for sure, but we're seeing a lot of hopeful signs.
The language you use this year will be critical for inspiring that hope in others – so that soon, we can all move towards a better future together.
Lee Carter is the president and partner of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the idea that “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear” and author of “Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter.” Follow her on Twitter on @lh_carter.
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