Ask the expert: brand language and the COVID-19 customer journey

An interview with Google Store's Shawn Tian

How do you talk to customers in a smart way these days? Google, just like many other large businesses, has had to grapple with this question. For Google Hardware, the answer is to focus on how its products are helpful to customers.

Shawn Tian, the Global CRM Lead at Google Store, can attest to this.



Here’s what Shawn had to say…

“Language optimization involves communicating with customers in a way that is relevant and relatable, but also consistent with the overall brand,” he says.

“We’ve evolved our brand language from ‘why’ customers should buy our products to showing them ‘how’ our products can help them in ways that are relevant during COVID-19.”

“When the coronavirus hit, we launched an email series that focused on helpful products and shared tips on how our customers could get more out of the products they already own – for example, how to adjust their settings to reduce Nest Cam bandwidth, how to maximize the effectiveness of their Google WiFi and so on,” he says.

Tian says there’s been “more leadership focus” on how Google Store “adapts its language to be more relevant, particularly in light of the coronavirus.”

He continues: “There was a concerted effort to be sensitive to our customers’ mindsets and situations during these challenging times.

“In some cases, we paused or cancelled campaigns where we felt our content was less relevant. More importantly, we pivoted away from promo-focused language toward how our products could be helpful during these times.”

For Tian, who was formerly the Global CRM Strategy and Mobile CRM Lead at eBay, this adaptation to consumer attitudes and behavior is part of a wider trend that he’s observed in the technology industry in recent years of being extra sensitive to the larger social context.

Another trend Tian has noticed is that “the leading brands are more focused on a consistent tone of voice and what it means for them to be ‘on brand’ versus trying to apply best practices.”


“We’ve evolved our brand language from ‘why’ customers should buy our products to showing them ‘how’ our products can help.”

Shawn Tian, Google Store

In the COVID-19 era, most companies have taken an ultra-conservative – if not outright prohibitive – stance on injecting humor into their consumer content, but Tian says that Google Store has adopted a more measured approach. 

“We even launched a campaign to re-brand all of our products in witty ways that reflect how they are used in the context of the pandemic and working from home,” he says. 

The bottom line, according to Tian, is that it was “very important” for Google Store to send customer-centric emails to build and strengthen its customer relationships. 

“The way customers use our devices changed during COVID-19,” he says. 

“Beyond email, we worked with creatives to devise alternative, re-branded names for our devices that tie back to how they are being used in this new environment. 

“For example, given the increase in food delivery during lockdown, our Nest Hello Doorbell with a camera became the Nest Pizza Detector.” 

While brands everywhere are pivoting their language, Tian sees this as a clear movement, not just a fad in the current climate. “These language shifts won’t go away when COVID-19 ultimately does,” he explained, “These changes are reflective of a more customer-centric trend when it comes to marketing language and I believe where the most progressive brands are concerned, the laser focus on communications being relevant and relatable at all times is here to stay.”   


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