Last year will go down in history as one of the most challenging of all time—for business, for marketers, for local communities, for everyone. A shifting landscape made it difficult for businesses to maintain their brands as, simultaneously, many struggled to even stay afloat.

In addition, family ties and friendships were strained. The pandemic ravaged communities. People lost jobs and homes. Consumer behavior transformed unexpectedly.

But, as the song says, it’s a new dawn, a new day—we’re at the threshold of a transformed age. We have new vaccines which, for the most part, are showing promise and the numbers of cases and deaths appear to be abating. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re headed in the right with a new administration in the White House who, regardless of our leanings, is trying to tone down the political rhetoric.

For the first time in a while, morale feels like it’s improving. The economy came back quicker and better than many economists predicted. And a very recent study shows people are feeling optimistic about the future.

As we engage (or re-engage) our customers and consumers, it’s important that our message reflect the changing outlook. So, as we exit the doom cellar and enter the sunlight, here are some suggestions for how to speak to your audiences.

Stop screaming (and if you weren’t screaming, be even nicer)

Remember all that polarization? The vitriol, the fearmongering, the mixed messages? Talk of life and death? Forget it. All of it. Instead, start talking kindly, with decency, about normalcy. Show your customers you understand where we’ve all been and care about their future—because the future does indeed look bright.

Customers have spent the last year reading between the lines of messaging (are they with us or against us). Companies have tried to either avoid getting dragged into the fray or jumped in at their own peril. What needs to be projected now is a sense of temperance, tranquility, calm. You will find yourself ahead of the game if, in 2021, you position yourself as the brand that’s courteous, self-aware, friendly, and unwilling to be anything but a gentleman.

Speak to audiences like a friend

The “wise old sage,” the “legacy brand,” have always been a strong positioning in the market but in 2021, they will need to be executed differently.

Your customers have spent the better part of a year sequestered in their homes or social distancing from their friends and families. They feel alone and isolated. They want someone to help them navigate a still changing environment, but they want to trust you as a friend as much as an authority. Dr. Fauci became a household name not because of his expertise (there are hundreds like that), but because he explained things in a way consumers could understand. Now is not the time to be the know-it-all expert, now is the time to be a trusted friend.

Don’t shy away from having the honest conversation, but show empathy and respect, and you will receive respect and (hopefully) increased sales in return.

Offer hope

And don’t just offer it, prove that it’s real. Audiences are going to respond to uplift and optimism like no one’s business in 2021.

The brand voice you want right now does not linger on flaws, qualifiers, exceptions—it’s big and bold and supremely bright-sided. Give people a real reason to feel that sense of hope, and you will grow your audience.

Give back

Your customers have been through difficult times, so let them know you’re as invested in them as they are in you. But do more than just open your checkbook for a cause.

As we discussed last year, there are a lot of ways to approach social responsibility, and right now it behooves you to do the work to find out what will work best for your brand and then commit the time and resources to it. (See our recent webinar on this topic here.) CSR matters now more than ever.

Be there (or be square)

People want to know that you’re there—unwavering and steady. So be there. Be reliable, clear, and as devoted to them as you ae to your brand story. Give them a reason to trust you in perpetuity, and bring the message home that they matter to you. You won’t regret it.