Published: 21/01/2016 | AUTHOR: Michael Cavanagh
Dear Sir or Madam
We are writing to readers to advise that the outlook for business communication in a formal manner may be terminal. Please be aware that due to changing demographics, platforms and the way in which people wish to be communicated with, many forms of communication are now being delivered in terms which had not previously been adopted. We trust that this will not cause readers a high degree of inconvenience and look forward to your continued custom.
Words, words, words (Hamlet, Act II, Scene II)
Dost thou go around wanting people to talk to you like Shakespeare all the time? No? Thought not. The language of Shakespeare isn’t generally the language of 2016. We don’t talk like that because it doesn’t sound natural. And yet, up until relatively recently, most brands also communicated in a way that normal people didn’t. This was formal language – and thankfully it finally appears to be on the way out.
So why has this change happened? It’s because brands have realised that their customers generally want to be spoken to like they’re human beings. It’s about communicating in a voice that dispenses with the old formalities and which actually sounds a bit like an everyday conversation. It’s language that we recognise and understand. And, crucially, if done well, it grabs our attention. This is the basis for an increasingly popular “tone of voice” for many brands – and it’s transparent, simple, real, straight and personal.
It’s fair to say that, when it comes to how we communicate, our expectations and behaviours have changed too. While dancing around the facts with copious use of formal language isn’t generally a natural way of communicating, it also doesn’t lend itself to today’s world.
This is a world where communication can be restricted to 140 characters. One where the language of chatrooms, text messages and social media has brought us to a point where an emoji can sum up what we have to say. People simply don’t expect (or want) formalities. They just want to be communicated with in a way they’re used to as human beings. And, with short attention spans, this communication needs to appeal to them and often get straight to the point.
Not dumb, not dumber
Isn’t all this just dumbing down so we’re treated like simpletons?
Brands need to sound confident and like they know what they’re talking about. But that can be done without bombarding their audience with formalities, jargon and complex detail. That’s best saved for anyone wishing to write a research paper on a topic like “Improving Supply-Chain Information Velocity, Product Customisation, and Cost Through Extended Enterprise Applications.” There’s a time and a place for stuff like that. But what brands need to do is to be understood – and to grab attention.
Far from dumbing down, this can be an opportunity for brands to get creative and tell a story – one that can run across various forms of content. Despite today’s shorter attention spans, we all love a good story. So if brands come up with one that’s effective and is understood, they can use them to earn attention, hook people in and get the results they want.
Some words of warning however. Choosing to adopt an informal way of communicating doesn’t necessarily mean a one-size-fits-all approach. Always consider the audience and never assume that what’s right for one set of people is also right for another. And be aware that good language needs to be combined with great writing.
If in doubt, we can help (these aren’t words of warning).
Keep an eye out
You might be expecting us to provide some examples of formal and informal communication approaches. But in reality they’re everywhere. You can see them in the mailshots you get from utility companies. You can hear them when Tannoy announcements are made as you stand on a train platform. You can find them online or in emails. So keep an eye (and an ear) out – you’ll be surprised what you notice.