Great Expectations: Why Customers Want More From Your Words In 2021

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By Katie Comery, Senior Writer at The Writer

2020 was the year of the Very Sincere Brand Message. And it didn’t take long for us all to tire of hearing the words ‘we’re committed to your safety in these unprecedented times’. We heard it from our energy providers. From our gyms. From that clothing website, we only subscribed to for the 10% discount.

Fast-forward almost a year, and those messages are falling on increasingly cynical ears. The sheer volume of messages from brands flooding our inboxes and news feeds has made consumers keenly aware of the words that brands are using.

When the messages companies were putting out around Coronavirus felt samey, people noticed – 2/3 of people, according to a YouGov poll. They noticed, too, when responses to the Black Lives Matter movement sounded hollow – as someone brilliantly satirized on Twitter with a templated brand message 

The words businesses are using are under a microscope.

And that means brands need to make sure that what they’re saying – and how they’re saying it – stands up to scrutiny. Consumers can’t be fobbed off with corporate waffle, or satisfied by lofty statements that only pay lip service to major social issues.

So how do you make sure your words are fit for purpose, no matter what 2021 throws at us?

Get your (messaging) house in order

If it’s been a while since you did some soul searching about what you really stand for, and rewrote your messaging to match, then now’s the time.

Find the people in your business who are great at articulating why you exist – it might be a brilliant sales lead, or the customer service agent who’s been around forever – and get the ideas out of their heads. See your brand purpose as the north star of your messaging, and start there – with everything else you write flowing out from it. Having that one consistent way of setting out who you are and what you stand for will help anything from web copy to internal comms feel more solid and authentic.

Use precise, direct words – not euphemisms

‘I help people find things’ – that was Larry Page’s response when someone asked him what he did at Google. Or look at ‘To improve life here, extend life to there, and find life beyond’ – NASA’s vision.

Both of these ideas resonate with us as readers because they use simple, concrete words – and your messages need to do the same.

That applies to your broader brand storytelling, as well as the stances you’re taking on particular issues.  The vague, woolly language feels corporate, and signals to people that you don’t really mean what you say. Compare a lot of brand responses to the Black Lives Matter movement (‘with everything going on… the ongoing situation…’)  to the stark directness of Ben & Jerry’s statement: ‘we must dismantle white supremacy.

Less conversation, more action

Pioneering, brilliant, trailblazing, passionate. Subjective adjectives like these are a telltale sign that your message is reading as empty. Instead, you need to be able to prove that you’re all those things – with something solid to back up anything you say.

Of course, that’s not a problem that can be fixed by your language alone – it means investment and time spent on the causes you care about. But your language can help you get that message across in a way that feels solid.

Every time you make some kind of claim in your writing, imagine your most cynical reader looking over your shoulder, saying ‘Prove it!’ And swap the adjectives for clear, practical proof points instead. You’ll build trust and avoid the eye-rolls that those empty statements induce.

Stop hedging your bets

There are two words that will kill the authenticity of any statement you make about what your brand believes in: ‘committed to’.

‘We are committed to tackling climate change…’ ‘We are committed to our employees’ wellbeing’. It’s an example of hedging language, words we use to soften our message when we’re nervous about claiming things outright. (See also: aim to… where possible…) These kinds of words tell your reader that you’re not doing much – you’re just thinking about it.

So cut straight to the part where you tell people what you’re doing: ‘Here’s how we’re tackling climate change.’

As 2021 unfolds, there’ll be new clichés – a new class of now more than ever, empty words that make us cringe or switch off. But that particularly bright spotlight that brand words are under right now is also a big opportunity. An opportunity to take stock of your writing, and make sure it’s working as hard for you as it should be. The words you use have the power to move your readers, change their minds, show them what you’ll fight for. What will yours say about you?

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