It happens to me all the time: if I’m not brought into a company 18 months after they’ve been struggling with some aspect of their communication, then I’m being brought in, like this time, after they’ve been struggling for six. What was it this time? Six months, two marketing execs, and countless meetings later, they still couldn’t come up with the sentence that described what they did, to use as their tagline.
Six months. For one sentence.
And until that sentence was chiselled into stone as if Moses himself had brought it down from Mount Sinai, there was to be no website, no marketing material, no email campaign, no nothing, or the customers would get the Wrong Idea about them.
Forget the damn sentence, I told them.
We can’t, they said. What will it cost us if we get it wrong?
What has it cost you not communicating with your customers and prospective customers for six months? I asked.
Silence. Suddenly, the words “six month sentence” took on a whole new meaning.
I see this kind of atrophy all the time. The Internal Editor is alive and well, and not just living inside writers when they face a blank page, but also exerting undue influence inside companies and organisations, telling them that they have just one chance to get it right.
This time, however, it was more than atrophy. It was complete and utter confusion, and it was entirely about the consistency of their communications.
Last week I talked about people needing rice, or – if you don’t appreciate a fine metaphor – consistency.
The first consistency is meeting your clients’ needs, at every stage of their journey. The second consistency is in your communications. And that consistency needs to revolve around the precise three things that this company was confused about:
Consistency in message
Consistency in voice
Consistency in timing
If you do these things, you will always be there. There for them, and there with them. And they will be there for you.
This company had confused their sentence with their message. Your message is inextricably tied to your purpose: it’s not just about what you do and who you do it for, but more importantly, about why you do it. Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to tell people your message. Although you can, doing so is a little bit like what I tell those 20-year-old women who have something like “SEXEE” on their number plates: darl, telling people you’re sexy doesn’t automatically make it so. Far better to show them. And you show them by making sure that everything you communicate – in both word and deed – reflects that message. When everything you say, write, and do consistently reflects your message, the message becomes sturdy and entrenched deep in people’s minds.
The next thing this company got wrong was in giving too much importance to a tagline, when people actually don’t give a damn about your tagline. What people engage with isn’t your tagline: it’s your voice.
Voice overrides taglines, slogans, and mission statements. Voice permeates communication and delivers it. Voice is the constant.
I’ve spoken about voice before, and written about it before – both here and in assorted whitepapers – but it’s worth mentioning it again. It is vital to cultivate a voice that is unmistakably yours, even when you have a stable of writers at your disposal. Kate Kiefer, a content curator at Mailchimp, created with her team a tone and voice guide for would-be contributors to Mailchimp. The tone and voice had to be:
- Fun but not childish
- Clever but not silly
- Powerful but not complicated
- Smart but not stodgy
- Cool but not alienating
- Informal but not sloppy
- Helpful but not overbearing
- Expect but not bossy.
These guidelines inform voice so simply and effectively that it captures the company personality perfectly, and any one of us who use Mailchimp could swear the content is being written by one person (and heck, it could be that little chimp him/herself).
The company’s final mistake was not thinking about their timing. During their six months of radio silence, this company thought their customers would just be sitting there, waiting for them to communicate. And they don’t, you know. Neither customers nor would-be customers wait for you to communicate, no matter how good your comms have been in the past. If you don’t communicate when they’re expecting you to communicate, they shrug and move on to someone who does. So not only do you have to communicate with the people who need to hear from you, but once you’ve set up expectations of what you’re going to communicate, and when, you need to meet them.
If your communications are consistent in these three ways, you can change taglines every week. Not that you’ll want to. You’ll be far too busy with your new and established customers.