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How writing training helps employees live the brand


If you really want to bring your brand alive for your people start with writing training, says Nick Parker, creative director of language consultancy The Writer.

Most organisations have a bit of a brand problem: they spend a lot of time and money crafting their 'brand values' and their 'mission statements'. They know what they stand for, what they believe, and where they're headed. Yet too often they just can't find a way to bring these ideas alive for their people. The brand values are just vague abstract words on posters. The grand mission statements feel irrelevant to the reality of most people's day-to-day jobs.
Actually, most organisations don't have a brand problem. They have a language problem. Most business writing is still dull, long-winded, formal and impersonal. If you write about your brand in this way, it's little wonder it leaves people cold. If you really want people to engage with your brand, write it down differently. And if you're looking for a practical way to really bring it alive for people, writing workshops will beat grand 'cultural engagement' roadshows hands down.

First, fix the words

Give yourself a fighting chance - if your mission statement is written in cold, dead corporate-speak, nobody will ever take it to heart. When Nike first launched, did they say 'we aim to be a market-leader in our sector?' No. They made their mission 'Smash Adidas'. That's a 'business objective', but it's got tons of swagger. And use your words to bring your brand alive for people in unexpected places: The $3bn American tech company NetApp recently chucked out its 12-page expenses policy and replaced it with this bit of writing: 'We're a frugal company. But don't show up dog-tired just to save a few bucks - use your common sense.'
That single sentence tells everyone at NetApp more about the company they work for than most other companies could get across in 100 pages.

Then, train your people

It's not surprising that writing workshops are so effective at bringing brands to life for people -- because they're never really just about writing. When you start talking about how people use language at work, you open up all sorts of big topics in the training room. Here are six reasons why using training to change the way people think about their writing is such an effective tool:
  • It's challenging. Standard business writing brainwashes people into equating 'professional' with writing that's stiff, formal, safe, impersonal and utterly, utterly dull. Once people question whether this is really an effective way for brands to carry on, they're on the road to asking lots more big questions about how they relate to customers, each other and their jobs
  • It's personal. Talking about brands is all a bit abstract. It's easy to switch off or think it applies to someone else. But if you ask people to think about how this might change the way they write, they'll sit up and take notice. Writing style is an intimate thing. Ask people to think about changing it, and you'll get a reaction
  • It's specific. Perhaps your brand values say your company is 'bold' or 'inspirational'. Fine. But those are pretty big ideas. But getting people to write 'boldly' is a more focussed task. And once you crack it, you've got a way of getting the spirit of your brand into to every single customer letter or proposal, every bit of internal communications. Your brand is really starting to come alive
  • It's practical. Most people are writing at work all the time: emails, PowerPoint, Word documents, instant messages, intranet when you get people thinking about their writing, you're relating it to a tangible thing that they do every single day
  • It's liberating. When people realise that they're being asked to swap the deadness of corporate-speak for something more interesting, they're often amazed, ('are we really allowed?') and always relieved. Our brand lets us put more personality into our writing? My boss doesn't really like these reports to be written formally after all? Oh, I get it..
  • It's enjoyable. For most people, writing at work can be a chore. Yet half a day in a writing workshop, stretching themselves by trying out tricks from journalism or poetry, spending time tuning in to the pleasurable rhythms and sounds of words, tends to win over even the most hardened cynics.
We do this for companies large and small, start-ups and well-established institutions. The result is always the same: get the spirit of your brand into your words, and you've got a way of getting the spirit of your brand across to your people. Pick up your pens now.
Nick Parker is a trainer and creative director of the language consultancy The Writer

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