Wittgenstein’s essential insight — that the languages we speak don’t merely describe the world around us, but also shape how we experience it — has significantly influenced the fields of philosophy and linguistics. But it’s also grist for the mill of marketers.
If how we speak helps determine our experience of the world, it follows that how a brand speaks about itself will influence how people perceive that brand.
Indeed, research shows that the words a company uses to market its products can significantly impact its bottom line. In a study using machine learning to analyze product descriptions, scholars at Stanford University found that product descriptions conveying respect and politeness toward customers drove higher sales.
So did product descriptions that mentioned specific functions — like “year-end gift” — and that emphasized tradition and authority, such as highlighting a brand’s long-standing presence.
Whether they’re fine-tuning a product description, a landing page, an ad, or a guide, marketers should approach all brand communications with meticulous attention to the messages broadcast.
Here are some tried-and-true methods for overhauling how your company speaks.
Compose a Style Guide
Style guides touch on a wide range of topics – from whether or not to use the Oxford comma to the specific tone a brand wishes to convey. For any company seeking to bring clarity, consistency, and cohesion to its communications, having such a guide is essential.
Without clear guidelines for how to package your company’s story, each individual employee effectively acts as a free agent, and messages get muddled – causing customer confusion and skepticism. Stylistic and tonal consistency, by contrast, conveys authority and expertise – making the story you tell all the more compelling and persuasive.
Mind Your Audiences
Segmentation underpins the most powerful marketing strategies and is an essential element of effective communications.
From disseminating messages to different demographic groups within a market to developing marketing strategies for brand offices in different countries, take special care to make sure that the language you use shows appropriate levels of empathy, understanding, and cultural nuance.
As any foreign tourist who’s ever over-relied on Google Translate can attest, there’s a lot more to effective communication than a literal translation of a word or phrase. When dealing with different segments, don’t assume that what worked with one segment will work with another. Adjust key words, messages, and calls to action accordingly -- but always make sure that your segmentation is occurring within a cohesive framework that tells a consistent story.
Reinforce It Internally
The story you’re telling externally won’t carry any force if it doesn’t reflect what’s going on within your company, which is why it’s crucial for brands to harmonize their internal communications with customer- and public-facing messages.
It’s much harder for an employee to be a stellar brand ambassador — and it’s much harder for marketers to be effective — if internal documents, culture handbooks, HR communications, and company slide decks aren’t consistent with your overall branding and messaging strategy. Instill a sense of mission in internal communications:
Research shows that 73% of employees who believe they work for “purpose-driven” companies are engaged, compared to only 23% who aren’t.
If you want to promote higher engagement internally and drive real results externally, the key is to work on speaking a different language – and your company will enter a different, more successful world.