How to communicate personality in a ‘boring’ industry

by Ruth Wood

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What is Chandler Bing’s job? We’ll take a wild guess you don’t know, even if you’ve watched every episode of Friends.

Chandler was famously the only character in the popular sitcom with a ‘boring’ job in professional services. He wasn’t an actor, nor a musician. He wasn’t a palaeontologist, chef or fashion executive. In fact, the bland, unrelatable and completely forgettable nature of Chandler’s profession was one of the show’s longest-running jokes.

Fast forward three decades, however, and Forbes today describes Chandler’s field of data analytics as “a hot, sexy sector”, while the Harvard Business Review insists it is “the sexiest job of the 21st century”.

It just goes to show that all sectors are sexy and there is no such thing as a boring business – only boring branding. Here are five ways to inject personality into your communications so that prospects remember your name and are more awed than bored.

Be recognisable

Like a person mingling at a party, your brand has a unique personality to share with the world. Not just what you say but how you say it – the words you accentuate, the rhythm of your sentences, the empathy you show, the things you leave unsaid – all this will evoke a feeling in your encounters that determines whether they take your number or shuffle off with some excuse about needing the toilet.

If you come across as a split personality, your clients won’t know what you stand for which means they won’t know where they stand either. Working with a specialist to establish an authentic tone of voice will help everyone in your organisation speak the same language. Once you’re confident in your voice, you can be bolder, braver, more interesting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Hollywood studio or an insolvency firm, if your tone is recognisable, you have more chance of leaving a lasting impression on others.

Be approachable

Just because you’re a serious business that needs to convince people with serious job titles to take you seriously doesn’t mean it should be seriously hard work to engage with you. C-suite execs are people too and appreciate plain English like the rest of us. They are more likely to approach if you communicate like a human being and don’t try to dazzle with jargon and acronyms.

After Covid-19 lockdowns compelled many to work from home, many companies adjusted to the new normal with a new formal – reaching out with a more conversational and warmer tone, while keeping it professional.

But though we’re accustomed to tech start-ups such as WeTransfer and Mailchimp casually dropping in expressions such as “Psst!” and “rock on!” to their millions of business users, it’s still a surprise when a more ‘serious’ sector does the same. Virgin Money’s playful and sunny personality stands out a mile in the play-it-safe world of banking. With a savings account called “Kiss my Isa” and instructions such as “Tap, touch, ta-da!” the brand dares to make finance fun, an approach that resonates when the economy is doom and gloom.

Of course, you can’t be cute and casual if you are pitching services to governments. The trick is to know your audience and their level of understanding. Not everybody weighing up a cybersecurity service will be an expert in endpoint encryption, so don’t put them off in your attempt to impress.

Be infotaining

Attention spans are shrinking, according to multiple studies, including one suggesting that knowledge workers now typically switch focus every 47 seconds, compared with 2.5 minutes two decades ago.

One way to engage eyeballs for longer is to spice up your credible information with a sprinkle of entertainment.

Software company Crowdstrike declares its competence in threat intelligence and cyber-attack response with all the panache of a blockbuster techno-thriller. To convey a sense of speed – the critical factor in cybersecurity – the firm uses staccato, no-nonsense phrases such as “Find them. Know them. Stop them” and “CrowdStrike stops cybersecurity breaches. Fast.” The firm’s sponsorship of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team allows for glamorous case studies featuring fast cars and racing icon Lewis Hamilton, hammering home the association with elite performance and speed.

A case of style over substance? As you might expect from a firm on a war footing with cyber “adversaries”, Crowdstrike goes into combat mode to insist this is not the case, inviting prospects to see how its services “stack up” against rival vendors on a “Crowdstrike vs the Competition” page. And if that’s not stirring enough, its news feed is taglined: “From the frontlines”. Now that’s fighting talk – and definitely not dull.

Be relatable

If you bumped into your brand, would it drone on about itself or try to see the world from your perspective? Striking the right balance in your communications between ‘we’ and ‘you’ is the brand equivalent of holding a sparkling and memorable conversation.

To click with your clients, you need to relate your services to their real lives. Can you save them time? Reduce hassle? Cut confusion? Boost their productivity? Make them look good in front of the boss? Be there for them in a crisis? Show them you understand their pain points; then paint a picture of how you can help.

“Involved in the rural economy? Our agricultural solicitors will help you achieve growth and success,” declares UK law firm Thrings on its website. But the firm doesn’t simply state its expertise in agricultural law, then wait for the phone to ring. It amplifies that expertise through partnerships with farming leaders and scores of stories on farmers and food businesses. Thrings also tries to answer common legal questions facing the agricultural community through everyday scenarios from the popular TV show Jeremy Clarkson’s Farm: another example of relatable infotainment.

Humans are hardwired to remember stories – and to pass them on, which is essentially free marketing if you’re a business. So, turning the lens onto your clients with case studies, insights and stories can be an effective way to make dry and intangible services such as tax assistance and wealth management more interesting.

Be human

Being relatable also means being open about your business culture and showing that you are humans too – something firms have got better at communicating since the #MeToo and Black Lives Matters movements, not to mention the small matter of a pandemic. One year into the Covid-19 crisis, for example, the team at Swiss Life launched a song video called “Me, myself and you” featuring more than 100 colleagues across all divisions. “I’m just one call away,” they sang. “Call me up, don’t hesitate. I’ll be here anyway, saying ‘hey, how do you do?’” As well as a morale booster for remote-working team members, the video was a chance to showcase the faces, voices, sense of humour and team spirit behind the financial services brand.

Because behind every great service is a great team of people who will be there for you when the rain starts to pour, as they sing on Friends. Just ask Chandler.


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