The requirement may seem obvious for major corporates with large workforces, supply chains and client bases. But it is just as important for growing SMEs. Whether courting investor interest, or trying to attract talent, businesses need an authentic voice to stand out amid cluttered social media networks and a rapidly shifting 24-hour news cycle.
Arguably, startups and medium-sized businesses actually have the most scope to shape the way they communicate – and the most to gain by doing so. Free of the bureaucratic constraints, high-growth SMEs can be more agile and responsive in communications. Engaging with relevant industry agendas and joining the appropriate conversations – whether through media comment or social content – can help a scaling business to punch above its weight.
But where to start?
Developing an authentic voice is undoubtedly an iterative process. The right approach can cut through the noise; resonating above banal corporate jargon that litters far too many websites, quotes and social channels.
At the most involved end of the spectrum, messaging workshops and communication frameworks are incredibly valuable and repay the investment many times over. But at the other, there are some simple behaviours and practices that are far quicker to implement.
Having taken numerous businesses through the journey from starting up to stock market listing, we recommend the following:
For it to be authentic, a business’s voice has to reflect its brand values. It’s true that many businesses will end up with similar descriptors – ‘innovative’ and ‘disruptive’ are in vogue with earlier-stage SMEs. But take the time to establish what sets your business apart. Establish those values first, then use them as a touchstone for all of your communication.
The best communication begins with listening. What are the other companies in your industry talking about? And how are the journalists who cover your industry reacting to it? Develop a feel for where and when to engage. What does a measured, to the point, response look like – and who is jarring by getting it wrong?
While soaking up their Twitter feeds is a good start, there’s no substitute for meeting journalists in the flesh. Nearly all are time-poor these days – but there are still opportunities to engage at conferences and industry events. Take an interest in whoever you are talking to. Relationships are two-way, so ask questions about their plans and challenges.
Public confidence in businesses is at an all-time low. Hollow statements which fail to be backed up by actions are quickly called out. If you’re going to support an agenda then do so wholeheartedly. People want brands and organisations to be tuned in to macro topics and to take appropriate stances on them. But ‘woke-washing’ – the practice of businesses attempting to cash in superficially on the public’s desire for purpose – can backfire spectacularly.
Similarly, remember who your business is talking to. Consumer brands are more tuned in to this, but companies selling to each other would do well to remember the buyer on the other end is human. Corporate jargon and canned language are just as off-putting in the B2B space as in B2C.
Finally, if something does go wrong and a crisis unfolds, then think: impact on people first; where the blame lies, a distinct second.
Are you really delighted by your new office lease? Thrilled by your contract win? Too many businesses waste quotes in media releases, or characters on social posts, with platitudes.
Why not use the space to articulate the ‘so what’? Not everyone can be, or needs to be, a thought leader. But with a bit of consideration, you can discuss the wider context of your news, or offer an insightful comment to media that will differentiate you from your competitors.
If you have a strong opinion which chimes with your brand values, there’s no harm in going against the grain on an issue. Take the measure of the situation first: industry trade bodies are good resource to establish the party line. But don’t be afraid to deviate from it where appropriate.
As a caveat, be aware that anything you put in the public domain can, and likely will, remain in it. The internet is awash with tales of decade-old blog posts and deleted Tweets being dredged up with remarkable alacrity in times of crisis.
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