5 Keys to Communicating with an Authentic Voice
The Experience Economy
A fundamental change is underway in the modern economy as value migrates from products and services to experiences.
Firms are realizing that to take advantage of this shift, they need to offer authentic experiences.
But what exactly is “authentic”?
In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.
Howard Schultz’s Starbucks is successful because he takes a commodity — coffee beans — and surrounds it with an aura, an experience. Starbucks doesn’t advertise because what they offer is an authentic coffee experience that can only be truly appreciated by going to one of their cafes.
That’s fine for services like cafes and restaurants that enjoy direct customer contact, but what if your business is online and you don’t have physical premises for people to go and experience your offerings?
For any online business, your web and social presence are your audience touch-points. You can inject more authenticity into the online experience by using an authentic voice.
Here are five ways to help you communicate with an authentic voice:
1. Know Yourself
In the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato saw that people didn’t think carefully and logically about their lives and tended to be swayed by popular opinions. Chasing fame and fortune were viewed as the key to a good life. But this often led to bankruptcy, failed relationships and misery.
Plato’s answer: Know yourself.
Plato thought that people should spend more time examining their ideas rather than acting on impulse. To his mind, strengthening self-knowledge would prevent people from being pulled around by feelings. He compared it to being dragged along by wild horses.
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
In his book Authentic Success, psychologist, author, and broadcaster Robert Holden, Ph.D. writes:
Your self-knowledge is your central reference system for every other type of intelligence and wisdom. The better you know yourself, the better you can live and work with authenticity and authority. Your self-knowledge is what helps you to discern between true purpose and pointless goals. Self-knowledge also teaches you about your inner strengths and true values. The better you know yourself, the better you can trust your wisdom, follow your joy, and liberate your talent.
Really knowing ourselves involves deep introspection — and there are no shortcuts, as this fun video demonstrates.
2. Find the Communication Sweet-spot
There’s a place between a child’s brutal honesty and an adult’s reserved politeness that Sheryl Sandberg calls “the communication sweet-spot”. She thinks the secret to authentic communication is neither blurting out the blunt truth, nor holding back from it, but to recognize that truth is subjective. By writing in a way that says “this is what I believe” instead of “this is how it is”, you leave room for others’ interpretations and contributions in a two-way dialogue that is far more authentic.
For businesses, this approach may help you stop thinking like marketers and start thinking like educators. Consider these two telephone sales calls:
(a) “Ms. Prospect, let me tell you how we can save you money by switching to our IT services”
(b) “Ms. Prospect, as part of our effort to help local businesses save money, we offer a free white paper entitled ‘Six ways to dramatically increase productivity using your current technology.'”
Which approach would you rather be on the receiving end of (a) or (b)?
Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.
3. Write Like You Talk
Philosopher and intellectual Marshall McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. He coined the expression “the medium is the message”, meaning that the medium through which content is carried plays a vital role in the way it is perceived.
Whereas the medium of film has always been a linear experience, with the plot unraveling over a specific timeline, today’s social channels are much more fluid, dynamic and interactive, with users dictating their own experiences. Social media plays an important role in any online presence and has a language that is highly conversational.
“Write like you talk” ultimately results in authenticity. Even when people are well aware that they’re being marketed to, an authentic voice makes all the difference.
“A great analogy for social media is the world’s largest cocktail party, only without the drinking and at incredible scale,” says Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media and author of Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (& Other Social Networks). “At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 percent off.’ What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people.”
In other words, be authentic. Imagine your audience is right in front of you and you’re speaking to them directly — apply the same authentic voice that you use offline to the online world.
The way to market content without sounding like you’re marketing content is to not market content.
4. Use the Active Voice
At the heart of every good sentence is a strong, precise verb. Conversely, at the core of most confusing, awkward, or wordy sentences lies a weak verb.
Try to use the active voice whenever possible because writing in the active voice gives energy and directness, both of which will keep your reader engaged.
Compare these two sentences to see which you prefer:
Active: The service team exceeded customer expectations.
Passive: Customer expectations were exceeded by the service team.
Repetition aids memory retention, so here’s a bunch more examples:
5. Tell Stories
A good story makes consuming content easier.
Speaking coach and author Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact says that we don’t remember “facts and figures” of the business world because they don’t stick in our minds. But stories are “sticky” in that they attach emotion to our memories. If we can create and share good stories, we have a powerful communication advantage. And the good news is that we can all become better at storytelling. “We are programmed through our evolutionary biology to be both consumers and creators of story,” says Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future.
A great story invites an expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence. It plants the seed for it and makes it impossible to do anything but grow a new understanding — of the world, of our place in it, of ourselves, of some subtle or monumental aspect of existence.
In this short and engaging video, writer Maria Popova who runs the successful blog Brainpickings, explains why great storytellers matter more than ever in helping us make sense of an increasingly complex world.
How can Maria’s sage advice be applied to the business world?
Business leaders who convey messages through stories — especially those based on personal experience in overcoming adversity — are perceived as more authentic, believable and accessible. People want to retell good stories and they can even take on a viral quality — so the extra effort to craft them can reap rewards for months or years to come.
Marketing messages can be bland and feel artificial. How many times have you heard companies touting their “superior service” only to be disappointed by the actual experience? Stories can cut through the business jargon and reach people with authentic messages conveying the passion at the heart of a business.
Instead of talking about its high-tech industrial product features, GE shares rich stories about the inventors and engineers who use them and the lives of people affected by them.
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- Entrepreneur: How to Find Your Authentic Voice on Social Media
- HBR: How to Tell a Great Story
- CMI: 4 Steps to Creating Authentic Stories Your Customers Will Want to Read
- Brainpickings: Wisdom in the Age of Information and the Importance of Storytelling in Making Sense of the World: An Animated Essay