Words that can make or break your business

Words that can make or break your business

You may have heard the tragic story of Gerald Ratner, formerly chief executive of British jewellery company Ratners Group. A few decades ago, Ratners could be seen on many a British high street, popular with people looking for a fancy ring or sparkling pair of earrings that didn’t break the bank.

Ratners, in its original form at least, no longer exists. Why? Because of a word. Yes, that’s right, one word. It wasn’t in print either. It was spoken. By Mr. Ratner himself.

For context, it was in a speech in 1991 to the Institute of Directors at London’s Royal Albert Hall. So, a pretty big deal. Here’s what he said:

We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, “because it’s total crap.”

After this sobering moment of sincerity went viral in the daily newspapers (we didn’t have Internet back then), customers stayed away from Ratners, and the Group plummeted in value by £500 million. Ratners shops soon disappeared from the high street and the speech is now the stuff of business legend.

Goes to show why language, and in particular the language of your brand, can have a serious impact on your bottom line.

What is often called Brand Voice is an important concept in the marketing and, indeed, the running of your business as a whole. The style and substance of language – how you speak to your audience and people within your organisation – can make the difference between success or failure.

Companies that speak consistently with one voice, in a manner that communicates their values and the value of their products and services, tend to do very well. But those who aren’t quite sure what their brand should sound like, or have never taken the time and effort to think about it, are more likely to struggle in the long run.

True, some businesses do quite well despite sloppy and confusing communications. But they are in a minority.

To really make your business shine, you need to articulate your Brand Voice clearly, and then share that with all the people who represent your brand. That way, they can be clear about what your brand stands for, what value it brings to customers, and then incorporate that into their marketing materials, emails, videos or whatever else they communicate with.

That’s not to say everyone must use exactly the same words or syntax in their communications. Far from it. You don’t want to stifle creativity. But if everyone understands the fundamentals of why, how and what you do – see Simon Sinek’s excellent Golden Circle speech – then your brand communications will be so much more effective.

There will also be more consistency across your workforce, who will be much more confident as they go into a pitch with the real killer words that will win over prospects.

A word of warning – Brand Voice is not an exercise in creating fiction. It has to reflect the real values your business actually does practise. Unlike energy company Enron, whose values of “Communication, Respect, Integrity, Intelligence” were writ large in their lobby and throughout their brand literature. And look what happened to them.

Genuine values in your Brand Voice help you to be authentic. And that’s crucial in the noisy world of business communication.

So, how do you create that Brand Voice, and spread the word to your people so that they all ‘get’ it…and use it?

The subject is too big to go into on this blog, so I’ve created a short e-book called “How to create your Brand Voice”. You can download it for free here.

Have a read and tell me what you think. I’d be interested to hear any success stories from getting your Brand Voice right. Or, indeed, horror stories of getting it wrong!

Voxtree helps companies create their unique Brand Voice. Click here to learn more.


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