Words matter. It’s how we, as citizens of our respective modern societies, are still here. When we need something from someone, we just don’t take, we “ask”. When having disagreements, we’d much settle our fights with arguments rather than punches. Arguably, it’s our gift of communication that allowed our species to survive as long as it has. Not bad for something that just comes out of our lips when we speak, huh?
Now, imagine how we communicate with people today on both on- and offline: more often than not, we’re not conscious of the words we use. But when we do, amazing things can happen. We can start relationships with our words. We can evoke feelings of happiness and joy simply by knowing what to say. We can even bring world peace!
Oh, sorry, we got excited. But we can dream, right?
Point is, words contain power. And if you don’t believe us, just look at the number of trolls populating social media today; they basically exist to give you grief. Thankfully for you, we’re more in the Spider-Man school of thought — you know, “with great power comes great responsibility”. And we believe nothing exhibits that example more than the words you use when running a business.
While many people often attribute words to playing a role in a business’s marketing, it serves a purpose greater than that. The best way to think about words in terms of your small business is that it serves to “communicate” not just to your customers, but also to people involved in your organization.
So, now that we have that out of the way, here’s why the words you use for your business matters more than you think:
1. Words define how you run your business and the culture within it
Quick question: in your mind, what kind of business do you run? Do you want your business to be seen as the “professional” kind, where you communicate in a serious, no-nonsense manner? Or do you want to be seen as the “cool” company, where anyone can be spontaneous and crack jokes without getting the boss’s ire?
Design might play a big role to establishing your business’s brand (which we’ve discussed in another post here), but it’s worth considering how messaging makes up a huge chunk of it. Simply put, you just can’t rely on how you present your business to customers if there’s no accompanying message consistent with what they would expect from you.
As a clear example, Google — owing to the fact that it’s the largest and most influential search engine in the world — already had certain words and phrases associated with the company: “don’t be evil”, “page rank”, “long tail”, “I’m feeling lucky”, and many more.
You have all the power in the world to present your business the way you see fit. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you use appropriate words that can help enforce the perception.
2. Words show you respect your customers
You might think “customer service” is just a simple matter of saying “hello” and “thank you”, but it has evolved to more than just being courteous, particularly in today’s feedback-heavy era. Ironically, this is the area where many businesses commit lapses in communication, either through lack of internal coordination or — and you’d be surprised how frequent this is — general awareness.
In 2018 alone, two high-profile businesses — Tesla and Papa John’s — suffered devastating dips in their value and market shares, all because the individuals most associated with those businesses made some… err, “questionable” statements. Papa John’s founder, John Schnatter, is one of those American CEOs who made the regrettable decision of using a racially-charged term, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s statement (of which, it must be noted, is already a part of a laundry list’s worth of poorly thought-out statements made on both interviews and social media) about accusing a rescuer of a crime because they didn’t wait for him to finish his robo-submarine smacks of old-school, human pettiness.
As proven time and again, sticks and stones might break bones but words can definitely hurt, not just for its recipient, but also for the one who created the message. And really, being indifferent to how you communicate with your customers might bite you back in ways that you might not even have foreseen in the start.
3. Words can be a great way of showing your values
As various political commentaries have put it, the world is apparently undergoing through a period of late-stage capitalism. In other words, this means there’s general distrust towards corporations and big companies. But since (well, we just assume) you’re running a small business, then you can absolutely take advantage of the current economic zeitgeist.
If anything, consumers value authenticity these days. Because let’s be real about it: who else would be more relatable to you, the hotshot CEO of a million-dollar company or a third-generation owner of a mom-and-pop eatery? On the other hand, see how the market for “artisanal” craft and products have risen up over the past few years. This is the market celebrating uniqueness in a sea of similar-looking products and services.
However, communicating to your audience that you’re running a small business isn’t just limited to painting yourself as “real”; it’s also showing everyone the values you consider as important — ergo, your “company ethics”.
It’s why “corporate social responsibility” is becoming a thing today. As Emmanuel Lulin, a ‘chief ethics officer’ at L’Oreal, said in this interview:
“People usually judged companies in financial terms. But I think this time is gone. If we want to have a good idea about the sustainability of a company, I think we should look at the ability of the organisation to maintain trust”.
It may appear to be younger people driving the ethics bandwagon, calling out companies that don’t walk the talk. But Lulin does not believe millennials are any more ethical — or virtuous — than previous generations.
“The difference is they are more demanding.”
Of course, even large companies are following suit now: while Netflix scored major PR points for publishing a statement about their decision to fire a high-ranking executive for displaying potentially damaging behavior not in line with the company’s ethics, Nike was even more overtly political when they decided to run a campaign anchored on ex-pro football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice.
There’s little in common between the two companies — one is an entertainment service, while the other sells sleek sneakers — but their messages of inclusion, diversity, and respect for people ring universal, no matter where you are in your part of the world. Also, there’s just no hiding when a customer decides to call a business out for bad behavior. There are many bad guys in business, and it’s safe to say you don’t want to be one of them.
As we’ve argued in our post about building communities, simply keeping an eye on your bottom line is seen as cynical behavior. However, regularly communicating about your business’s principles means that you’re not just all about the money; you’re human, and you can feel compassion too, dammit!
And yes, because being seen as a “sensitive” company is just smart strategy, at this point.
So, what other uses for words can you find for in your business? We would love to hear your response below on our social media pages!