My Company Has a Jersey Accent: Branding With a Distinctive Voice

How your startup uses language to shape the customer experience says a lot about what it believes in.

learn more about Michele Serro

By Michele Serro

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

After a harsh winter, I am finally thawing out this spring, with the help of Poncho, a personalized weather service that's become my obsession.

Not only is Poncho accurate about the weather it predicts; it has a personality. Poncho explains the weather in plain, clear English just like weather forecasters used to do. A brisk 36 degrees is delivered via email with the message "Cold Cuts, Cold Butts, High 36. A tad cooler today, with temps starting in the high 20s and rising to the high 30s. Keep it cute, keep it warm. It's a cold week coming."

So long, boring and complex weather forecasts.

But Poncho would not provide the same experience without those words. The message is on-brand, unique, focused and engaging. And that's surely not easy to do.

Related: When the Self-Service Customer Smiles

Messaging matters. As business builders, we are challenged to write every day and as much time we spend on it -- crafting emails, presentations, proposals -- we're often still at a loss.

When I committed my business, Doorsteps, to the mission of making homebuying more human, I wanted the company to convey ideas better, to save time and reach people more meaningfully. In order to fulfill that mission, the team had to make the entire company experience profoundly human, including the way staffers addressed visitors to the website, described real estate terms and explained the purchasing process. The team wanted people to connect with us, literally and figuratively.

But becoming a great writer does not begin and end with use of edgy words and correct spelling. It's about telling the world who you are, what you're doing and why you matter. Writers can turn challenge into opportunity and exasperation into inspiration. And how your company uses language to shape an experience says a lot about what it believes in -- and believing that something meaningful is what runs through the veins of every startup.

In the spirit of open-source guidelines, I've summarized three principles critical to such communications success. Think of them as a cheat sheet for instilling voice in every interaction.

Related: The Skyscraping Cost of Bad Customer Service (Infographic)

1. Exercise your empathy. It might sound obvious, but it can't be overstated. By being authentic and kind in delivering a response to customers, consumers learn that they're being heard and that a staffer is making an effort to digest their feedback. It's also important to not let a battle of wills ruin a good relationship or even an afternoon. The simplest solution is to take both sides and get things done.

The typical response: "We're sorry you feel that way."

A better response: "First of all, I really appreciate your taking the time to raise that point. The team and I discussed it this morning and we decided to ..."

Related: 7 Damaging Myths About Customer Engagement to Promptly Discard

2. Be conversational. Talking to customers like a real person -- because you are a real person -- is paramount. It creates a dynamic of equals, rather than enforcing roles or hierarchy through an overly formal tone.

The typical response: "Thank you for your kind words."

A better response: "Your email was the first thing I read this morning. Wow, thank you. It's incredibly gratifying to receive such nice feedback, and I've already shared it with the team."

Related: When Your Product Design Makes Your Customers Feel Smart

3. Reference specific points. At Doorsteps, staffers speak directly to the points addressed in customers' emails to solve the matter at hand and avoid being mistaken for an auto-reply.

The typical response: "Thank you for your feedback."

A better response: "I hear your concern: If a homebuyer is unsure where to begin after signing in, we need to find a better solution. I met with the team this morning for an on-the-spot brainstorm, and we've come up with ..."

The point isn't to find the right words. It's about finding the right voice. Your brand voice brings the tone, personality, intelligence and passion together in a way that is critical to your company's success.

It took my company a while to find its voice, but now I like to think it's unmistakable. And just like a voice message from my mother or my best friend or anyone I've come to care about deeply, I'd recognize it anywhere.

Related: How to Position a Brand for Breakthrough Success

Michele Serro

Entrepreneur and Founder, Doorsteps

Michele Serro is the founder and CEO of Doorsteps, which helps consumers make smart decisions about homeownership. Doorsteps was acquired by Move Inc. in May 2013. A former opera singer and design consultant, Serro is fascinated by finding human-centered ways to harness the Internet to support people through major life events. 

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