Do all brands have to be human in their communications?

My mate Rob tweeted a spectacularly cold and impersonal text message from his insurance company the other day, asking quite understandably where the ‘humanity’ was in this particular brand.

One of the replies we got (after my retweet) was as follows

As a believer in companies having a strong tone and voice, Oliver’s reply made me stop and think. Obviously, insurance isn’t a sexy or even particularly personal industry, but does that absolve those sorts of companies from being ‘human’ in their communications?

I confess I still delight in innocent’s irreverent and cheeky tone (Expression of interest: Age UK has partnered with innocent on The Big Knit for over 10 years), mainly because they were one of the first to do it. See below…

innocent isn’t selling anything sensitive or controversial and, in spite of becoming the virtual whipping boy of cheesy brand comms for some, they are still one of the top 3 companies people instinctively mention when you ask for a distinctive brand.

How do you humanise a less consumer-friendly company?

But back to the original question and title of the post. We know that the likes of innocent or Brewdog have made a virtue of their distinctive communication style, but is that a realistic option for a firm of solicitors or an industrial chemical supplier? Well, I think yes and no.

Tone and voice is crucial for all organisations, no matter what services or products they’re offering, and it will even vary depending on the specific audience you’re targeting.

For example, at Age UK although our voice is fairly consistent, the tone we use when addressing our everyday audience – who are looking for information and advice – is very different to healthcare professionals, who are after our latest research.

It may not be hugely different, but there’s enough light and shade to ensure each audience feels we understand them.

It’s all in the language

The thing is, it shouldn’t be difficult to make any organisation sound human. I’d never advocate lots of silly, nudge-nudge cheeky humour or the anthropomorphisation of an inanimate object or creature.

Instead, more companies need the people who write copy to stop and think about what they’re actually saying and how they’re saying it.

Take the text message sent to Rob above, which is cumbersome in the extreme:

“We’ve recently requested your medical history from your doctor which we’ve not yet received. You calling them may speed up the return of this”

It doesn’t take a world-class author to rephrase it thus:

“Hi. Your doctor hasn’t sent us your medical history yet – if you want to speed this up, why not give them a call?”

It’s exactly the same number of words, but makes L&G Life sound like a totally different organisation – as if there’s a person on the other end of the text, rather than a robot.

The key to successful, effective and believable communications is to sound like you mean it. And the quickest way to make that happen (as I’ve written elsewhere before) is to read what you’ve written out loud.

If reading a piece of text out loud sounds stilted or uncomfortable it’s almost certain to be written in an inhuman way.

Try these 3 simple tips to make your writing sound more personal today:

  1. Check there’s not a simpler, shorter word: ‘use’ instead of ‘utilise’ or ‘ask’ rather than ‘request’
  2. contract your ‘was not’s and ‘we are’s
  3. Write in the active voice: passive writing has no energy or direction

Let’s hope all organisations start to learn the simple rules and make themselves sound more human.

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