Tag Archives: brand

Finding the organization’s voice

It was simpler back in the day.

If you were a kid growing up near New York City, your favorite music came with a voice. In the afternoon, after school got out, the voice belonged to the wisecracking Dan Ingram. After dinner, it was the voluble, high-energy Bruce Morrow.

(There were other voices, in the morning and on weekends. But for most of us, Big Dan and Cousin Brucie stood out.)

A simple, effective brand voice

daningram

Dan Ingram held down the 2-to-6 time slot.

Amplified by a microphone that lent a slight echo to every word, those two human voices combined to give WABC a distinctive and recognizable brand voice. The voice told us that WABC was fun, in the know,  up to date.

What was the hottest music? Every Tuesday night, we listened as Cousin Brucie counted down the new Top 20. Where to hang out? Palisades Amusement Park swings all day and after dark.

WABC’s distinctive, instantly recognizable voice, known to millions of people, came from a couple of voices. Simple.

Later: More content, still simple

When I started my technical writing career at IBM, things were still pretty simple. We didn’t produce voice content, but we did print shrink-wrapped technical manuals that all looked the same. Marketing created print ads, white papers, and spec sheets that shared a common design. IBM customers got lots of content, but only a few kinds of content. And with one glance, they could tell it came from IBM.

Today: Many sources, many outlets, jumbled voices

Today, your organization’s voice is delivered through advertisements and social media — and also through product screens, technical manuals, help systems, blogs, chat sessions, datasheets, videos, conference presentations, and probably dozens of other ways.

What do your customers, partners, and employees hear when they interact with all of this content? What messages do they receive? What’s the image of your organization that forms in their minds?

Chances are the image is blurry. Continue reading

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A beFUDdled way to sell your brand

It's_A_Wonderful_Life

Duke Medicine wants us to think they’re like this guy….

I’ve heard the ad on Pandora about a dozen times. A major local healthcare provider, Duke Medicine, is threatening to withhold service from people who pick the wrong health insurance.

They don’t say it precisely like that. But the clear message is we care more about our bottom line than about serving people.

Is that any way to build a brand?

Here’s a transcript of Duke’s ad, slightly abridged.

Open enrollment on the healthcare exchange is coming to an end. Pick the wrong one and you could lose access to every benefit of Duke Medicine. Every doctor. Every hospital and clinic. Every therapist, nurse, and aide. Every piece of research, breakthrough, and life-saving innovation. Every part of the Duke System that matters most for your health.

Lionel_Barrymore_as_Mr._Potter

….But they come off sounding more like this guy.

Duke probably conceived the ad as a quasi public-service announcement, with a chance to remind everyone what a top-notch hospital they have.

What I heard, again, was that for Duke the bottom line is more important than providing care.

Perhaps Duke misjudged their audience: people who buy their own health insurance, who aren’t looking for anything fancy and who want it to be as uncomplicated as possible. People who listen to Pandora with the ads.

What that audience hears, is almost certainly not the message Duke intended to convey.

In the software industry we had a word for that kind of marketing: FUD — for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Continue reading

Living and Learning

I firmly believe that if you’re not learning, you’re not living. With that in mind, let’s look at some things I learned in 2015:

Robot reading a book

That new technologies can tell stories — and what that might imply for the future

How not to enhance a brand — whether it’s your company’s or your personal brand

Sound advice on the art of estimating projects for technical communication (I especially recommend the two articles that are linked in the postscript)

The importance of connotations: of using words in the way your reader understands them, not in the way you think your reader should understand them (or as Mark Baker might phrase it, writing in a way that makes use of the stories you share in common with your reader)Advertisement in Swedish, with the English expression "No way!" prominently displayed

An amusing example of how languages evolve and interact with each other

The need for patience, and resisting the impulse to jump in and do it now

Pluto as seen by New HorizonsTwo essential skills for every nonfiction writer: knowing what to take out, and letting readers experience the story for themselves

Making mistakes, and learning from them

 

My most-read article this year, by far, posed the question What should a Technical Communication course teach? The responses to that article proved the need for a profession-wide conversation on this topic, but (alas) I don’t think the conversation has gotten off the ground. Yet.

Perhaps that’ll change in 2016 — a year in which I look forward to lots more living and lots more learning.

What was the coolest thing you learned in 2015? The most surprising thing?

An object lesson in damaging your personal brand

Tai Tran, Social Media Marketing Manager at Cal-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, posted a perceptive article about why Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign failed.

Starbucks cups with #RaceTogether written on them

Image source: LinkedIn (uncredited)

You probably heard about #RaceTogether. Designed to stimulate conversation about race relations, instead it touched off a firestorm of social-media derision directed at Starbucks.

Tran says, and I agree, that three factors led to the campaign’s going awry:

  1. Poor brand alignment: Does it make sense for Starbucks, a brand many people associate with high prices and gentrification, to lead a discussion about race relations?
  2. Lack of authenticity: Starbucks asked their employees (“partners”) to do the heavy lifting for #RaceTogether. While they’re expert at making coffee drinks, these “partners” have no special training for facilitating a knowledegeable, nuanced conversation about race. The result? #RaceTogether looked like a simple publicity stunt.
  3. No plan for handling blowback: Soon after word got out about #RaceTogether, customers and others began complaining on social media. Starbucks had no answers. Soon, the Twitter account for Starbucks Senior VP of Global Communications was taken down. It’s hard to believe Starbucks didn’t at least consider the possibility of negative feedback, and that they didn’t have a contingency plan for handling it.

The bottom line: despite good intentions, #RaceTogether damaged Starbucks’ brand — damage that easily could’ve been prevented.

As individuals, we can learn a lesson from #RaceTogether. Everything we publish on the web — an article, a blog post, a comment, a Facebook update — has an effect on our personal brands. Most times the effect is innocuous, but sometimes the effect — for good or ill — is huge. It’s hard to predict when those times will be.

The best policy is to start with a clear vision of your personal brand and what you want it to be. Then publish only those things that fit that vision. Had Starbucks done this, they either would’ve found a better way to achieve their hoped-for outcome or they would’ve realized it was nothing they had any business doing.

What lessons do you see in the #RaceTogether experience?

Your personal brand: To be rather than to seem

I believe in building and cultivating a personal brand. By brand I mean the professional image or personality that you want to project. You build your personal brand, first and foremost, by building trust.

Leadership consultant Greg HProfessionalsartle takes a slightly different tack, and I really like what he has to say. Continue reading