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Nonverbals in Digital Communication

Rebel Staff,

Who Are You Behind the Digital Screen?

In the new age of working from home, emailing, instant messaging, and texting, it’s easy to overlook that the subtlety of standard body language is missing. Your gratitude for a co-worker’s submission is not well-conceived with a simple “Thanks.” When you send your friend a quick text invite to grab dinner and they reply, “see you there.” It doesn’t give you the goosebumps you were expecting. Communication in the digital world needs a reboot and we, as users of digital communication, should learn how to convey emotion and meaning in an ecosphere devoid of subconscious subtle messages.

The Rebel Voice

We took to our very own Rebels to discuss this topic in the realm of brand messaging. Brand Strategist, Kyrie McCormick gave her insights on the matter and hit the nail right on the head: “when you lack the ability to verbally communicate, you need to predict their reaction without actually being able to see it. This takes empathy — stop, take a moment, and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Branding queen! Words are powerful, and over a digital screen, we have a little more time to think about how we use that power. Empathy requires you to do more than just understand; it requires you to feel the emotions being evoked, and understand them. 

Kyrie goes on to explain the necessity of empathy in branding, as “we can have copy that is well-written, creative and visually stunning, but if it doesn’t resonate with the consumer, we lose them. We need to understand how seeing this will make them feel without the opportunity to explain it to them and add further context.” Context! An element that is often lost in the sea of digital communication. If we can predict how our audience may react to a message, we can use that knowledge to inform our word choices, and how we prepare the audience to receive that message. 

As digital marketers, I like to think we’re all well-versed in the art of reading the room (even if it’s a virtual one). Director of Brand Strategy Colleen Luby knows this better than anyone. She comes up with and delivers brand messages that bring people to tears (just ask our clients) — this comes from a deep understanding of the brand and her clients’ audience. In brand pitches, clients want their vision to be recognized. Colleen remarked that oftentimes their business is their baby, and they appreciate it when you understand their story. To tell this narrative, words and images become powerful tools. 

Colleen mentioned the age-old phrase “images are worth a thousand words,” but it doesn’t sound cliché when accompanied by her tone. Images are extremely sensory elements and paired with compelling words they create this power punch. Nonverbal cues can paint an unspoken message. This void is filled by using compelling images and understanding how digital elements can work together to create a meaningful message.

In a digital agency, things can often move very fast. Both Kyrie and Colleen agree that it can be easy to misinterpret a message when sent quickly. In a fast-paced environment, it’s really important to allow time for anticipating how your consumers may react to a brand message. You don’t want your brand to end up in one of those headlines: “Top Ten Biggest Branding Fails.” In branding, getting inside your consumer’s mind is imperative. You have to be conscientious of the ways your messages may be interpreted as they are multidimensional. The key in our industry is to consistently assess the best ways to communicate our client’s messages, as well as our personal ones.  

As a brand owner, you often are the face of or represent your brand. You need to consider how you communicate with your consumers. Using language that coincides with your brand identity is necessary when communicating your brand messages. Think about it. Your brand’s social media platforms are going to be different from your own. Say you’re an owner of a law firm, and you start posting about The Bachelor on your business Twitter account.

It might not go over well with your audience (unless they’re interested in prenups I suppose.) It goes back to that idea of reading the room. Different social media platforms suggest different communication strategies. For instance, LinkedIn is a platform for more professional communication, whereas Tik Tok and Instagram may be more casual. A brand should adjust their voice according to the platform their customers are using. 

 Understanding your audience as a brand owner will help you to deliver more tailored, and relevant messages. It also helps to establish trust amongst your consumers. They want to be heard, just as you want your brand message to be heard. Customer-centric strategies are going to propel your brand forward. Listening to consumer feedback, addressing reviews, and anticipating customer reactions are some of the best things you can do for your brand.

Finding Your Digital Voice

Most humans are caught in a life sentence of overthinking. Especially when it comes to how we are perceived by others. Think about those signature emojis you always add to your messages. Maybe you close out every email with a smiley face so that no one thinks you’re a monster, or you sprinkle several exclamation marks in there to come off as warm and bubbly. Perhaps “lol” has become so entrenched in your lexicon because you think it sends a perception of empathy to lighten up harsher messages. 

Kyrie made an important remark: “as a woman I feel the need to constantly be positive in written communication. I find myself adding additional exclamation marks to try to appease those around me. You can be positive and uplifting without feeling the need to spam people with emojis or exclamation marks. It’s just about finding the right balance.” Colleen agreed that when she first started her career she felt this too. After seeing more strong-willed women in business, her perspective changed. It takes time to unlearn some of those behaviors and, as Kyrie said, it’s really about that balance. It’s not a bad thing to use them, but it’s also okay to be straightforward and ask for what you need without feeling bad about it. It’s all about finding your digital voice, and not being afraid to use it. 

What Will Your Signature Be?

Through a digital lens, we must act as our own artists to curate the image we want to share with the world. Text may lack the ability to convey tone, but as you get to know someone, you find yourself reading their messages in their voice or predicting the kind of language and emojis they might use. Through time, we learn to take our nonverbal cues and present them in an understandable way through written text. Everyone is unique with a different train of thought and approach to their communication. These quirks do not always go amiss over a digital screen. They just manifest themselves differently. 

As a brand, you’re going to have to wear many different hats to be able to speak to your consumers in a way that they understand and appreciate. Knowing how to communicate with your audience is going to come from a deep understanding of your audience personas. Paying attention to your consumers’ communication styles, and their preferred platforms for communication are fundamental practices. The most successful communication strategies are ones that are infused with empathy. Be where your customers are, and foster those off-site relationships. Always leave room for opportunity to adjust your messages, and align your brand voice appropriately with each environment.

Rebel is a fast-paced environment — most agencies are — but we are also an agency of unique and, dare I say, quirky professionals. That’s what makes us Rebels. We ask the question, “how will you be remembered?” Our signature is left on everything we touch, so we make sure to put our best, most authentic foot forward (real or emoji 🦶🏽). What will your signature digital voice be?