I've gotten a lot of emails from CEOs lately. Most of them are the sort of end-of-the-year holiday messages that companies send to their customers. They all follow a familiar template--they start by thanking you for being a customer, followed by some kind of recap of what a year it's been, and wrap up with an encouraging look to the future. All of that is fine, the generic corporate platitudes aside.
There's a problem, however, and it isn't the fact that the last thing anyone is asking for is a generic holiday email from a few dozen companies they've ordered stuff from this year. The real problem is as simple as the four words every company seems to use to start the email:
In these unprecedented times.
You have to stop using these four words. Seriously. First of all, these are no longer unprecedented times. When you say it, it doesn't sound natural at all. If you're saying it for dramatic effect, it isn't working. It's not even original. In the past month, I've gotten no fewer than three dozen emails that start the same way. That doesn't count the hundreds of emails I've gotten since March with those same four words.
I suspect most companies are using this phrase because it's hard to figure out a better way to encapsulate the sentiment many people are feeling. Sure, everything feels different this year. It feels chaotic. It feels unprecedented.
Except we've been doing this for a while. That doesn't mean it's ideal, or that we're used to it, or that we wouldn't rather get back to a far better version of "normal," but we now have nine months of precedent.
We've been through lockdowns, restaurant closures, and scavenging for toilet paper. We've become experts at navigating a calendar full of endless zoom meetings and figured out how to adapt and cope and rearrange our lives to continue to work and survive, admittedly to varying degrees of success.
These times are no longer unprecedented. This is normal, at least for now.
Every time you talk about "these unprecedented times," it just makes it look like you haven't been paying attention. I'm sure you probably mean well, but it simply comes across as though whoever wrote the email woke up this morning and suddenly noticed that 19 million people in this country have tested positive for Covid, a half-million have died, and millions more have had to figure out how to do everything from work, school, and even celebrate holidays, from their home.
Those four words basically sound like the most corporate way possible to say "We get it, this year has been rough for all of us." Here's the thing--if that's what you're trying to say, then say that. Those words are far more personal, and they sound like something an actual person who has lived through the last year would say.
Normal people don't talk like that, and neither should you. No one says "We'd really like to celebrate little Timmy's birthday, but due to these unprecedented times, we'll have to gather on Zoom this year." I've never heard anyone start a conversation with "We were really hoping to visit France this year, but of course, these are unprecedented times."
If you change nothing else about the way you talk to your customers in 2021, stop using those words. For that matter, stop trying to sound like the corporate version of a CEO someone told you that you should imitate. Instead, talk to your customers like a person. Relate to them and talk about your shared experiences like people do when they have a relationship with each other.
Even when that relationship is with your company, that's the goal. And emails from the CEO can be a great way to accomplish that goal. Unless, of course, you keep using these four words.