Brands need to get in touch with their truth, or die

Yesterday I asked Facebook whether my move from iPhone to Android today would be a disaster or heaven, given I’m a Mac user.

A healthy debate ensued, encouraging lovers and haters on both sides.

And that’s what brands should do – inspire fanatics and push detractors away.

Language helps companies get to their truth

The strongest brands and companies have a clear sense of their truth, of why they do what they do. Take Apple. Steve Jobs started out saying Apple existed:

“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

Their current mission is surprisingly tricky to find, but according to Investopedia, it’s now:

“Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”

Boring huh? It doesn’t have the same sense of purpose. Maybe that’s what institutional investors need – safe, steady facts.

At least things get a bit more emotive when they’re attracting employees:

“Do your life’s best work here now. 
With the whole world watching.”

Why’s it so important?

Language has never been more important for business.

There are plenty of companies out there who built their brands on design or flashy advertising. They didn’t give much thought to their values or to the experience they give their customers.

Of course, they probably had a mission statement and values that (on a good day) people could reel off. But nothing that really reflected the true culture or priorities of the business.

Then things started to change – social media, the banking crisis, new companies who questioned the old ways of doing things.

We’ve seen the fall-out time and again (and still are). Companies we thought were too big to fail – from Northern Rock to House of Fraser.

Businesses who’d lost sight of what their customers needed and wanted. Who couldn’t communicate clearly (either internally or externally). Who are up against savvy customers who see through the branding bullshit and make judgments based on experience – their own and others.

Brands that thrive

We’ve also seen the opposite – brands thriving as a result of brave decisions to put the customer first and be more human in business. Ones like Southwest Airlines, Zappos, First Direct.

There’s no hiding behind slogans and flashy ads any more. It’s time for brands to walk the walk. If they preach one thing and practise another, customers will go elsewhere – and no one will believe a thing they say.

So, here are five reasons language has never been more important in business.

  1. The old way of writing for business, where being professional meant sounding formal, just doesn’t work in the new, more human, authentic business landscape. So people in business are having to look again at the language they use and make sure it sounds clear, convincing and – above all – real.
  2. The explosion of voices talking for businesses through social media has forced a shift to a more conversational, authentic tone. It’s not something you can fake and businesses are waking up to (and struggling with) this.
  3. The marketplace is crowded. And it’s noisy. So the businesses that stand out are the ones who can tell their stories well, who know how to get and keep people’s attention, and who have a recognisable and consistent brand personality and tone of voice.
  4. We’re in an age of the written word – we’re all writing and reading a vast amount more than we were 15 years ago. There are simply more words out there, so you have to choose yours well to be heard.
  5. Clear writing shows clear thinking. The opposite – vague wordiness – is often hiding something. People are waking up to this and – rightly – expecting clear, coherent messages from the companies they give their money to.

All of this means that the language and tone businesses use really does make or break the experience people have with them.

I’ve stopped at five reasons, but there are doubtless more, can you think of any?

And in the meantime, I’ll get on with immersing myself back in the Android world. Let’s see how it works out.