02/12/2014

The power of the right words in the right order

BY Simon Lake

At Gather, and elsewhere, I have worked alongside big and small companies helping them be more clearly understood and repairing corroded reputations when something has gone wrong. Building trust was nearly always part of the conversation. Much has been written about trust, reputation and authenticity, and how corporates should achieve them. Answers normally seem to lie in using communication channels correctly and consistently to engage more convincingly with stakeholders, about behaving in a different way and learning from mistakes.

But as the world is able to scrutinise everything all the time and broadcast and spread its views, very little is written about corporate language or tone of voice and its importance in getting people to listen.

Glance at a newspaper or Annual Report and it’s clear an image can speak a thousand words and an infographic 10,000, but why does it take companies pages and pages to say the simplest things in a way that we, the world, can actually understand, care about and buy into?

It’s often said that one of the reasons Nigel Farage gets votes is because he uses language he thinks we use most of the time.

It makes it easier for people to like him because they think he is one of them, especially if he is off down the pub for a pint.

But there is a serious point in all of this. If companies were to use plainer language and fewer words, perhaps we would all feel much more able to join the debate about the role of organisations in a meaningful way.

Two of the best corporate communicators of recent times have been Marjorie Scardino at Pearson Plc and Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway. Clarity of thought, calling a spade a spade, and at all times simplicity, identified a desire for their companies to be understood and more clearly seen in a confusing world.

They got the point that people mostly stay clear of things that need too much explaining and they wanted their organisations to be trusted, through thick and thin.

About 2 years ago Warren Buffet bought into Tesco, long before the current accounting problems. He has lost a lot of money as Tesco tripped up spectacularly. It will be interesting to see if Dave Lewis, the new boss at Tesco, tries to convince us all, and Mr Buffet in particular, of his new strategy and future plans by plain speaking and writing. Or will he use corporate speak to try and convince us that all augurs well for the future?