I find inspiration everywhere, but my most valuable source of ideas is from the world of retail. That’s because, to be successful, stores need to capture shoppers’ attention and persuade them to buy, so they’re always thinking about how to do so.
That’s why I love the trade publication called The Hub Magazine, which is all about retailing. Every issue contains an insight about how to succeed in retailing that often applies to internal communication as well.
For example, in the November/December 2010 issue, there’s an essay by Lulu Raghavan from Landor Associates, one of the world’s leading brand consulting firms, about the “voice” of brands.
Ms. Raghavan points out that brand managers spend “vast amounts of time thinking about what should be communicated through the visual identity, but typically very little time considering how the brand should sound.”
Why does this matter? “Calculate the verbal touchpoints in your brand’s universe from how your receptionist greets callers, to what your CEO sounds like at your annual shareholder’s meeting, to the tone of your print and online communications, to the text on packaging, and to copy in ad campaigns—and it quickly becomes clear how its adds up.
And, she writes,“The translation of a brand’s positioning and personality attributes into a writing style is much-neglected but extremely important aspect of brand communications—especially in this digital age.”
Ms. Raghavan gives examples of brands that have distinctive voices: McKinsey (authoritative), FedEx (straightforward), Caterpillar (powerful), Southwest Airlines (friendly) and Virgin (tongue-in cheek). These brands are powerful, she writes, because “their voices are consistent with, and reinforce, their brand promises.”
By contrast, “if a brand’s voice does not help communicate its positioning and personality, it undermines the core brand promise.” Most brands don’t get their tone wrong, Ms. Raghavan says, “they just fall into the trap of sounding like everyone else in their category.”
This made me think about the “voice” of most internal communication. Far too often, the tone and style is not a single voice at all—it’s a cacophony of discordant sounds, from the formality of corporate press releases, to the authoritative tone of senior leader communication, to the geekiness of IT, to the teacher-like instruction of HR.
Even worse, often internal communication doesn’t match the external brand. I had a client a few years ago that had a terrific, well-recognized advertising campaign that had a warm, funny and friendly voice. But the internal communication voice was just the opposite: formal, cool and not at all approachable. It’s no wonder that employees were proud of the brand, but disengaged at work.
I believe that voice is a golden opportunity for employee communication. As we’re creating standards, we need to define our company’s internal voice, and then prescribe how to effectively convey that voice.