Survey the landscape. Is your takeaway on point? Do you feel like every communication gemstone is reflective of identical vertical modes, diminished in unique viability and achieving an overall flat arch of rhetorical effervescence?
In other, far more human words: Do your communications sound like they come from a human or a “Today’s Interwebs Copy Generator”?
As a consumer, I like to be talked to, not at. I like to feel like I’m engaged in a conversation with someone, a real live human being. I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a spiel originally written for a brochure which the CEO thinks sounds on point and which uses today’s greatest business lingo. For example, if I’m shopping for shoes, don’t tell me:
Shifting the paradigm of footwear into a new tomorrow.
They look great, they’re comfortable, and they’re affordable. Give ’em a shot!
A few years back, after the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit, McDonald’s put a little warning on the side of their coffee cups that read (and I’m paraphrasing here) something like:
WARNING: THE CONTENTS OF THIS CUP ARE EXTREMELY HOT! BE CAREFUL! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
A few laters, when Starbucks was slowly starting to take over the world, I noticed they also had a warning on the side of their cups and it went a little something like this:
Caution: The beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot.
Which one sounds like it was written by a human and which was written by a multinational corporation that owns everything but a pulse and a soul? (Note: To their credit, since that time, it looks like McDonald’s has updated their cups so now they say, “Caution: I’m hot!” Which is an improvement, but carries with it all sorts of creepy new connotations.)
Bottom line: Write like people talk. Because people have hearts and feelings and the capacity to care and understand.
“But what if people don’t buy it? What if people think I’m a huge, soulless multinational corporation who can afford to hire someone to write like a human?”
Relax! This is where another element of storytelling can help you out. Don’t just tell your story, tell your backstory, too.
In traditional storytelling, the “backstory” is everything that happens before the story begins. And sometimes there’s a lot of backstory (The backstory of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” can be seen in “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” and “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” But even “Episode I” had a backstory. Which I’m sure is coming soon to a theater near you.) and sometimes there’s a little backstory (In “The Wizard of Oz,” there has to be a story of why Dorothy is living with an aunt and uncle instead of a mom and dad and I bet how she met Toto is interesting, too.)
You can take the same approach with your backstory, as well. It can be as simple as “Made in the USA” or as detailed as an “About Us” page that reads like a history book.
When Jebediah Clinkenhammer arrived in Baltimore on March 19, 1844, he announced, “Worry no more! I am here to produce and provide you good people with the finest trousers you have e’er seen!” It was a Tuesday. On Wednesday…
An authentic backstory, when told in an authentic voice, will give your brand the authenticity you need not just to be trusted, but to be liked, as well. And how often do we maybe pay a little more or get a little out of our way to shop with people we really like?
One thing to note: an authentic story is not a panacea. It can only take you so far. You can tell people about your history and how much you love your work, but until you show them — through providing a great product or service backed by great customer service — you’re just spinning yarns.