Here’s how to express your difference.
During this volatile, troubling time in our world, I’ve been trying to pay close attention to the way people speak to one another. It’s changed. As COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, as the Black Lives Matter movement changes our societies, and as we all struggle to confront illness, fear, and injustice, the way we communicate is changing.
At the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, I noticed a shift even when asking the simple question, “How are you doing?” I cared more about the answer than I ever had. I listened more carefully to the response. And the respondent considered more carefully their answer—and often replied with more depth, and honesty than I’d usually encountered. I also noticed a general effort to balance any account of struggle with gratitude and with acknowledgement of the good in the world, and the reasons for gratitude.
Many brands have been struggling to figure out how to communicate within an environment that seems to alter daily. We’re all trying. Maybe we’ve all seen that brilliant edited reel of all the mid-pandemic ads that all sound the same. Or the tweet about the voluminous ‘what we’re doing in this crisis’ corporate emails. You may have also seen CEOs communicate with humanity and courage during the pandemic, treating employees with humanity, while some leaders have been unapologetically doing their worst. Today we’re seeing brands speak out forcefully against racism, and take firm stands against injustice.
And we’re seeing missteps too, as we all learn that words without action are simply no longer enough.
New normal? There is nothing normal. And that kind of seems like an opening for better.
Might we consider the opportunity to do things differently? To be bolder. Be braver. Be warmer. Be more honest. To connect more genuinely with those you care about.To acknowledge that we, and others, will make mistakes and that there’s a possibility to learn from that, with a little love.
Are you with us? OK, then. If you’re a business leader or brand trying to express your purpose in this new world, here are a few places to start.
- Clarify your purpose.
- Tell stories to express your purpose.
- Unify your customized presence across channels.
- Treat your good people like the stars they are.
- Connect with like-minded others out there.
- Express your unique self (personally and brand-wise).
Clarify your purpose.
Yep, it’s the obvious place to begin—and the most difficult, too. When we considered Forge & Spark’s purpose a few years back, I realized that I thought of the company as a better, bolder and bigger version of myself — the kind of business self I aspired to be. Empathetic. Expressive. Bold. Creative. And committed, like a good coach, to helping people connect on a genuine level.
Our particular ‘thing’ is content marketing. But our purpose is connecting people genuinely.
Discovering this was everything. It became clear that we wanted to work with brands and individuals who cared deeply about showing up authentically in their marketing and online presence. It became clear that who we are and what we care about needed to be a big part of our marketing. It became clear that we needed to give back, too. Finding our purpose defined who we choose to serve, the kind of work we deliver, and how we market ourselves.
What’s yours? (Forbes recommends this as one place to start.)
Tell stories to express your purpose.
You can and must tell people about your products, and your services. But you’ve got other stories to tell, too. Why did you start your business? What do you believe in? Who do you serve, and what do those people struggle with, and care about? Who is on your team, and what are your challenges and beliefs?
These are your stories. Your founding/grounding stories. Your values stories. Your team stories. Your customer stories.
Tell them with care and passion. You’ll be surprised at how they connect with your audience—and at how your audience then connects with you.
Unify your customized presence across channels.
Do what, you say?
Yes. It doesn’t look great to have exactly the same content on every single channel that you’re on. Why? Well, consider your use of social media. It’s likely that you use Facebook to check out what friends and family are up to, and sharing. Typically, it’s about personal recommendations, photos, announcements, and conversations within your personal network. You might use LinkedIn, on the other hand, as a professional tool, providing links and conversations about your world of work. Instagram might be your visual go-to when you have a few moments to spare; a kind of aspirational state of the world in images. And so on.
You personally are likely to share different kinds of content on the different channels. Your brand should do the same.
Here are some broad guidelines on what brands should post on each platform, gathered by Buffer, that we feel stand up:
Here’s the thing: while you’re posting different content on each channels, you need your audience to be very clear who you are, and what your brand is all about. This is where brand unity comes in — and why you need to establish a clear and recognizeable brand voice and tone, a colour palette, and visual style– here’s a great example of how one brand, Water.org, gets brand unity right (and how you can, too).
Treat your good people like the stars they are.
You’re a company doing good work. You probably have amazing people working with and for you, who were drawn to you because of that. Celebrate those people, and what makes them amazing. They not only deserve to be recognized for their work for your organization, but perhaps for their work in communities, and with other networks.
Tell their stories on your About page, and in social media. Encourage them to write blog posts and articles, and contribute story ideas. Give them bylines, promote them on your social channels with links to their other work. Offer testimonials for them on LinkedIn.
Your team is invested in your success, and cares about your purpose. Celebrating them, and encouraging them to express your shared purpose, in their own unique ways, will connect you—and reach new audiences, too.
Connect with like-minded others.
Got purpose? Connect with other brands and organizations—yes, even competitors—to see what you’ve got in common, and how you might help one another. Learn about other companies, and find out what they do to express their purpose both within their organizations, and in their external marketing.
It can be simple: I belong to a group of agency owners in Vancouver, for example, that very openly shares challenges, job openings, resources and tools—and that this week set up a #randomcoffee series where you’re paired with another agency owner and just set up a Zoom date to chat. It’s been phenomenally useful to belong to a community of experts that is so open to sharing.
Express your unique self.
This bit should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t fake passion or support for any cause. The rules that govern us as humans should govern us as businesses, and brands, too. If you aren’t a purpose-driven brand, that’s OK. Be what you are, and own that. Don’t claim otherwise.
And if you are passionate about a cause, your own business, or where you’re going, share it with an open heart, and wide open ears.
It’s tough to do this stuff alone. If you want support in refining or expressing your brand’s purpose in content that feels right, talk to us. We’d love to help.