Have a Company Voice
I got a package delivered to me from Moosejaw.com a couple weeks ago, and it reminded me of something I haven’t written about here yet, namely, how important it is for your company to have a specific voice. Here’s how the pre-printed paper note that was packed with my Moosejaw shipment starts out:
“If you are actually reading this note you should be super happy. First, you have received your order, reading is fun and getting something in the mail (even if you bought it yourself) has got to make the day better. Second, I put your order together all by myself.”
That’s a fun note to read. I like Moosejaw more because of that note. Is it silly? Sure, it’s a silly note and it’s pre-printed, so I know that everybody else gets one. Why does the note make me like Moosejaw more? People like it when companies have personalities. It makes us feel like there are actual people on the other side of the communication. It’s fun to be the customer of a company with a personality. This seems totally obvious, and yet you too rarely see companies with distinct personalities really grab your attention in the marketplace. Why is this? It’s actually hard to remove personality and character from communications. So, instead of saying that companies don’t take the time to have personalities, it’s probably more accurate to state that companies don’t allow themselves to show their personalities. I’m sure there are a few different reasons for this. First, it’s risky – what if people don’t “get” your personality. Second, it’s hard to maintain a personality as you grow and have a global audience (the http return code 404 in FeedBurner, for example, results in a page that says “There is no spoon”. This can be a bit challenging for those of us that have a hard time with English and/or technology). Third, and probably not to be underestimated, we have been brought up to think that business is serious, and that we have to be serious if we want to be taken seriously. As the saying goes, this is serious business. So, we (meaning you) spend lots and lots of time depersonalizing our corporate communications, because, you know, we can’t say that!. We write press releases that use approved emotions like “we are very excited to announce the release of…” instead of writing “It is with great fear and trepidation yet in some ways it is ultimately delightful for us to let you know we’re releasing …”, etc.
It is a competitive advantage for you to have a unique voice in your market. Companies with unique personalities give themselves a leg up because people want to embrace other people, and we all dislike antiseptic and bland corporate communications.
I should also point out that when I say it’s important to have a unique voice, I don’t mean that you have to make sure people think your company is fun and cool. Your company voice can be serious or esoteric and still your customers will appreciate you for having a unique voice.
The time when it’s easiest to embrace your company’s voice is of course when you’re a startup, but even larger companies should be allowing themselves to have a unique voice. Recently, a number of Apple press releases have given the sense that Steve Jobs wrote the release himself (and that he had to tell a number of people in corporate communications that yes, dammit, I really do want to say that. It would be absolutely fantastic if he had no hand in these releases!). You never get such a sense when you read a Lucent press release; they all sound exactly the same. I bet it also takes longer to write a Lucent press release because a lot of people have to make sure it scores 100 on the dehumanizer before it can be released. I pick on Lucent because I used to own the stock and actually waded through some of the releases, but you could look at 95% of the public company press releases out there and draw the same conclusions. Why the heck did I used to own Lucent stock? Um, I made some mistakes in my youth, and then I made a lot more mistakes in my not youth.
Don’t talk to your customers the way most Fortune 500 companies talk to their customers. Your customers want to like you. Your employees want to like the company they work for. Communicate with your customers and the marketplace in a way that makes them feel closer to you, and the way you do that is by allowing your company to have a voice.
Note that having a company blog is not a checkmark that equates to having a company voice. Company blogs are great, and I can think of very few companies that shouldn’t be blogging. Your voice, however, has to be everywhere your company interacts with the market and customers. It’s more than the brand, it’s all your communications, including customer service responses and presentations that employees give at conferences.
Post-Script: I think I’m slowly going insane because the structure and grammar of my posts seems to get progressively worse. It’s like I’m the lead character in Flowers for Algernon and the brain surgery is wearing off. Soon I’ll be writing in all consonants and uploading pencil sketches.