The Power of Language

Imagine a man walking into your store, looking for the owner. You come out and shake his hand, immediately noticing that his shoes are dirty and untied, he’s wearing a stained old t-shirt, his hair is a mess, and he hasn’t shaved in a week.

He wants to sell you his services. He’s extremely charismatic; he talks confidently with you about his business and what he can offer you. He has pictures, testimonials, and references. He offers the best quality in his line of work, and he’s not afraid to tell you about all of the awards and press he’s received.

But you recoil inwardly. You feel a mix of pity and quiet criticism. His appearance, that immediate visual judgment that registers “unprofessional”, is so slovenly that you quietly dismiss him. He doesn’t inspire professional trust. It doesn’t matter how professional he sounds. And it’s only because he didn’t take half an hour to brush up his appearance before he walked into your office. You take his card but write him off.

This is exactly what your website – and all your written collateral – inspires when it’s presented unprofessionally. What might seem to you like minor errors are as glaring as someone in a suit with dirty, untied shoes. Remember, whether your website is the first thing your potential customers see or not, it acts as an extension of you and your business. It’s an ambassador, and can’t afford to be thoughtless. Visitors will dismiss your whole brand, no matter how professional your business is, if you allow your site’s use of language to be sloppy.

Your brand’s credibility is at stake. Avoid the tragedy of your business image suffering because of messy spelling, badly chosen words, and poor grammar!

Here are 3 simple solutions to help you avoid lost business, win over your target market’s trust, and present your professional excellence to the world:

Know your target market’s language and speak it: This is a place to ask yourself: what are you selling? And: who are you selling to? Knowing one without the other is useless; these two questions are the jumping-off point for what style and tone of language (or “voice”) you are going to adopt. For example, if you’re opening an elegant but quaint restaurant in a small business district surrounded by upper-class neighborhoods, you’re going to use very different language than if you’re selling skateboards to lower-middle class teenagers.

Make your use of language a central feature in your brand matrix: When you’re designing and implementing your brand (based on solid target market research, of course) make sure you detail the voice that you plan to use. The most solid brands are those in which everything – from the website to the attitude of the cashiers – meld together in one seamless unit. Part of this is to make sure that they all sound similar. One of the best ways to ensure that this happens is to have a detailed plan for the company voice, which sets the standard for all written and spoken communication.

Maintain consistency across all written collateral: Think of the examples above. You wouldn’t expect to hear the same voice if you walked into both businesses. The sophisticated, gentle, thoughtful servers’ voice that strengthens your restaurant’s elegant brand can’t be interchanged with the gritty, street-wise, charismatic salespeople on the floor of your skate shop. And you wouldn’t find the same tone in the written material or the company website, either.

Whatever your business and whatever voice you choose, here’s one thing to keep in mind: You have to step outside the box of the bland, uniform writing you experienced in college essays, choose your brand’s voice based on great target market research, and militantly guard its integrity on all fronts.

And for the love of money, have a professional proof your copy.

Before it goes public.