By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding
The Charlie Hebdo massacre has confirmed once again the inestimable power of words and ideas. They clearly have the power to anger and inflame, and if one looks at the cartoonists’ work, there can be little doubt of its intent. The cartoonists did not deserve to be killed for it, of course, just one point made by the Onion in this eloquent piece of satire.
Words and ideas just as obviously have the power to inspire, and if one listens to the spectacular-sounding French of US Secretary of State John Kerry, as he was offering his condolences and solidarity – or if one contemplates the meaning of the Je Suis Charlie mantra – it is difficult not to be touched.
And yet, too many of us give too little thought to the quality of our communication and what its deficiencies say about us as professionals and ultimately as human beings – about our brand, in other words. I am referring to the fact that in the realm of writing, illiteracy looks like the new normal.
Visit the online properties of the Globe and Mail or the National Post, for example, institutions that view themselves as the bar-setters for the quality of our national conversation. The copy of their reporters and columnists is rife with typos (even a legend like Jeffrey Simpson has horrible typos in his work) – many so egregious as to make sentences or paragraphs, or even the entire story, incomprehensible.
Look at the emails you send and receive – for spelling, grammatical, punctuation and capitalization errors that, in sum, are making the tone of this media increasingly abrupt and non-human. This is not to say that brevity and directness in email is undesirable, or that it’s not OK to communicate with different levels of formality with different audiences.
However, in the realm of business communication, we should write as if we actually care about the recipient.
Mistakes that convey a lack of caring are not just the domain of people who are not naturally good writers. I will start off 2015 with an admission that, because I can be smug about the quality of my writing, I have typically sent out Cache without having it proofread. The result in a recent post was the biggest typo in 182 issues.
As the guy who claims word mastery as a brand position, Cache has to be perfect every time. So it is the highly literate Arwen Long who has proofed this post, as she will every post from now on, even though any errors will always be my fault alone.
Your standard probably doesn’t have to be word mastery, but in 2015, you can still let words work powerfully in your favour instead of against it.
Al Ries, legendary author of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and other classics, defines a brand as “a singular idea or concept you own inside the mind of the prospect.” At its most refined, therefore, a single word.
What word will you own in 2015? Keeping in mind that “sloppy” or “uncaring” simply will not do.
I was just reading a December 20 piece from the Globe and Mail. How unfortunate that on such a serious topic, in a column written by Naomi Klein no less, the Globe refers – in a headline – to missing and murdered “indigeneous” women.