Let’s imagine we’re having a pot of tea…and I say…

Your job as a VP of Marketing is simple right? Build and nurture long-lasting, profitable relationships with your target audiences. Grow the business. A quick search of LinkedIn lists the needed skill set. Leadership, strategic thinking, project management, organizational and presentation skills, teamwork, recruiting. To name just a few. Piece of cake. If that weren’t enough, every part of that effort begins with words. Which we all know, have a bit of a reputation as having a mind of their own.

Make sure your words are up to snuff

But what if your words don’t quite work as well and as hard as you need them to? What if all the words you use to talk about products, services, tough decisions, working together, corporate history, your organization’s very reason for being, lack fire? What if your story, in all its permutations, just sounds…I don’t know… meh?

If that’s the case, know that I am deeply sympathetic. I know how hard it is to write with clarity, wit and verve. To persuade with clarity, wit and verve is wicked hard.

“Words are the clearest, most direct path to new relationships.”

In spite of everything, you still have to try. And you have to try because words are the clearest, most direct path to new and lasting relationships. To growing the business. There’s also the small matter of your voice.

Lyrics are just one part of the song

As important as your words are, lyrics are only one part of the song. Your voicecarries enormous power and might even matter more. It’s your voice that truly connects. Your voice can sell. It can provoke, delight and inspire, too. Voice is personality, evidence of an actual human being. But here’s the reality. The disembodied voice found in most business writing is dead, detached, bored or exhausted. Usually all four at once.

“Our dedicated team of experts are driving innovative solutions to change the mobile landscape.”

{If you needed a definition of ‘meh’ there it is.}

Carefully chosen words that come out of a well-developed brand voice are as common as a minimum wage CEO. How fragmented, noisy and crowded is the market right now? How hard is it to get heard? It’s crazy hard. That’s why having a well-developed brand voice is like opening a big can of whoop ass. It’s one of the best competitive advantages you can have.

A distinctive brand voice is like a big can of whoop ass. It might be the single greatest competitive advantage you can have. 

The real mystery is why brand voice—as a way to distinguish a brand—is so widely ignored in these United States. (It’s slightly better in the UK.)

It begins with respect

Part of the problem is that people get nervous. Corporate language should not stand out. It should sound like everyone else. Even risk takers get the willies. Visit enough conference rooms and you’ll hear this theme all the time. “Oh, they’llnever let us say that.”

“Even the risk takers get the willies.”

 That might refer to starting a sentence with the word and, or, it could mean a sentence fragment. Gawd! It might mean writing that sounds like human conversation. What’s missing is a respect for what words are meant to do—tell stories, make connections, get reactions. To get someone to pay some bloody attention to what the hell we’re saying. Somewhere along the way we stopped believing in words.

Great business writing is translation

You might find the important sounding vision statement below perfectly fine. I hope not. I do know that this is what many people expect now. Performance. Leveraging. Leading-edge. Utilize. In a lot of ways, the fine art of business writing is the fine art of translation.  What would happen if we translated this…

Our vision
Our vision is to transform our intensive care performance by leveraging critical care expertise. We provide improved outcomes with measurable results utilizing talented clinicians, supported by leading-edge technology and a commitment to evidence-based best practices and process improvement.

into this…

Where we’re going

We want our patients in intensive care to get better, faster. Everything we know about critical care is key to this. We’ll track results and act on the evidence. With smart clinicians and new, better tools, we’re poised to get better every day.

Words do matter

I’ve enjoyed our imaginary pot of tea. I’ll finish by saying that so much of our lives is centered on work. Many of us believe passionately in what we do. But along the way, we’ve learned to be afraid. We can’t say what we think. We’re not willing to speak in a clear, human voice about the cool stuff we’re doing, why it matters, why anyone should care. Given how much time we spend working, how important relationships are to our emotional lives and the life of the planet, I say we change it.

Are you with me?