The other day, I discovered a pamphlet in the mail that made me pause. A small book, roughly six inches tall and 10 pages long, it read:
We reinvent things.
And then, on the next page:
Like smoke alarms and thermostats.
They’re important things. Essential, even.
But pretty much ignored.
They don’t need to be ugly, or dumb.
So ours aren’t. Ours think and they learn.
And that’s why they’re beautiful.
What grabbed me about the piece was not the product itself—thermostats happen to be rather underwhelming, actually—but that someone had found a way to talk about thermostats in a way that felt warm and inviting.
I wasn’t being told that this thermostat was The Next Best Thing Ever. It wasn't going to revolutionize my life or make me rich. But as I read on, I did learn that this thermostat could take cues from my phone and kick on the AC while I was out. And that seemed clear and helpful.
As organizations, when we’re communicating with people beyond our own four walls, we need to remember that they are, first of all, people. Not computers or customers or subscribers. But people who could just as easily be our sisters, spouses and friends.
Speaking to our audiences as people requires that we think about our voice—that way of writing that’s embedded within our organization’s history and people. It should represent the spirit of who we are. If you’re an academic institution, for example, maybe you want to communicate with humble authority. If you’re a software company, maybe you’re going for a touch of intelligent humor.
When considering your organization's voice, here are a few things to think about:
1. Ask: If your organization were a person, what would he or she be like?
Warby Parker, the stylish do-good eyewear company, is famous for its warm, witty voice. In its writing guideline, it advises: "Write like Warby Parker is the person you'd want seated next to you at a dinner party." At Journey Group, when helping clients find their voice, we home in on three words to describe them: journalistic, assertive and positive. Or, lighthearted, plainspoken and personable.
2. Avoid congested writing and jargon.
Personable writing can be read aloud easily and naturally. Just as multisyllabic words and extensive clauses would trip up your tongue, they'll jumble your messaging. Opt for short words. Cut out industry-only language that might make people feel like they're on the outside.
3. Be honest and humble.
James Randolph Adams said, "If advertising had a little more respect for the public, then the public would have a lot more respect for advertising." When we speak and write plainly and warmly, without over-promising, people will be more open to listening.
And they might even be tempted to go out and buy a new thermostat.