Words Matter ...



You would think every company would prefer to communicate in a way that connects with the audience.

Yet, business writing often comes off as mechanical or at best perfunctory.

The crazy part is that it doesn’t take true expertise to write with a touch of warmth.

It’s more of an attitude.

Do you want the narrative to sound like it comes from an actual human being? If you were to just ask companies to answer this simple question before each copywriting assignment, the storytelling of Corporate America would improve.

A recent post from Seth Godin touched on this topic as it relates to signage:

“There’s no legal requirement that signs have to make you sound like a harsh jerk in order to carry weight or to inform the public.”


A few weeks ago I called out “cold and heartless business storytelling” as an example of business writing gone bad.

Now let’s turn our attention to a company that does have the right attitude in shaping its communications.

If there were ever a form of communications that calls for empathy, it’s the classic rejection letter. Yet, these letters rarely show any humanity.

Eschewing clinical writing, here’s the letter from the executive director of the Webby Awards, David-Michel Davies, which said, “No cigar,” to our entry.


Webby Awards letter to Lou Hoffman


In short, it delivers the bad news with positive energy.

Yes, I know it’s a form letter, but again there’s empathy, which leaves me feeling good about the Webbys.

Years ago Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote about “voice” and his experience with Moosejaw.com that sent him the following letter after an order:

“If you are actually reading this note you should be super happy. First, you have received your order, reading is fun and getting something in the mail (even if you bought it yourself) has got to make the day better. Second, I put your order together all by myself.”

Costolo went on to say:

“That’s a fun note to read. I like Moosejaw more because of that note. Is it silly? Sure, it’s a silly note. Why does the note make me like Moosejaw more? People like it when companies have personalities.”

Machines do not have personalities (with apologies to R2-D2).

Which brings us back to writing like a human being.

It’s not hard.

Of course, this assumes the words go through a sane review process.

One final comment for those who experience a review process akin to a meat grinder.

Ask the reviewer to say the reworked narrative out loud. I’ve found that sometimes this enables the reviewer to “see” the folly in stiffening the language.



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