Even if you don’t know anything about writing, you’ve probably heard of the age old adage, “Show; don’t tell.”
In creative writing, that means presenting the story in a way that lets the reader infer what the characters are feeling or thinking based on context clues. Rather than simply saying, “Roland never respected Sandra,” a writer might create scenes that include pieces of information like:
- Roland never remembered how to spell Sandra’s name
- Roland always showed up late to their meetings, or outright blew them off
- Roland was distracted while Sandra spoke, checking his phone, not making eye contact, being dismissive of her concerns, or outright ignoring her requests and questions
It allows the reader to fill in the gaps using their own experiences and imagination, which makes for a far more compelling read. It engages the mind and makes the reader an active–albeit invisible–participant in the story.
The way you market yourself, including your site copy, is much the same. You can tell your customers that you’re reliable, that you’re an expert, that you’re the best in the business at whatever it is that you can do…or you can prove it.
So how do you go about using “show; don’t tell,” in your marketing strategy?
Figure out your values.
Make a list of brands and/or individuals you admire.
Break down the qualities that you like most about them (and heck, you can even break down the qualities you don’t like too!).
For me, that list would look something like:
What are they? A food delivery company
What I like: Irreverent, funny, engaging, takes customer complaints seriously, responds quickly
What are they? An advice column, started and primarily created by Jennifer Peepas (along with some of her amazing cohorts!)
What I like: Writing tone is often no-nonsense, but extremely compassionate and with bits of humor mixed in, often backed with research and/or will pull in useful supporting information, actionable advice that can apply to a broad series of situations, even if one isn’t specifically in the letter writer’s situation
What are they? An online help desk/support ticket system that also has an amazing blog
What I like: Informative, covers a broad range of subject matter, visually appealing, feels friendly and informal but professional
These share a few qualities:
- A sense of humor: Simply put, they make me laugh–even when covering serious subject matter. There’s a lightness to the delivery, and some levity mixed in that makes reading their content pleasant and engaging.
- Usefulness: All three of these offer either a useful service and/or useful information integrated into their content. There are actionable items that I can apply to my life mixed into their brand.
- Reader oriented: Each of these clearly takes into consideration the needs of their audience, and engages their audience extensively. It’s clear that their audience is at the forefront of their mind when creating content and they place a high priority on taking feedback seriously.
In summary, they all possess shared values: high levels of creativity and entertainment, serving as an actively functional resource to their audience, and taking a collaborative, flexible approach in how they engage with their audience and receive feedback.
If I were to start my own business, I’d integrate those three things into the work I produce; they are qualities I highly value and that I, as a consumer, appreciate.
There are two crucial elements to demonstrating your values.
Your brand’s tone says a lot about your values. For example, humor is all about tone–and understanding how your audience will receive that tone in their particular context.
Let’s say that you have two values that could potentially clash and/or create an inconsistency, like wanting to keep your tone lighthearted and humorous and wanting your clients to know you take their feedback seriously. Knowing when to tonally switch from one to the next is crucial to demonstrating those values in a consistent way, without making it seem hypocritical or unclear.
Eat24 does this brilliantly: They use humor consistently in their copy, but they do break from that tone when responding to serious customer concerns/complaints. It demonstrates that their brand operates on the belief that, in certain situations, the value of being customer-oriented takes precedence over humor. Overall, this keeps their brand humorous while also not coming across as dismissive of their customer concerns or complaints. They effectively communicate two values by keeping the tonality flexible for different situations.
Do you want to focus on being highly corporate? Perhaps a more structured, less irreverent tone is a good fit for you. Nurturing? A soft, light touch that invites your audience in, and takes a comforting, gentle tack toward information delivery. Empowering? A tone that encourages your audience to take action, with lots of resources and options for them to make their own decisions.
A key element in demonstrating your brand’s values is taking action to substantiate them.
If your company value is passion–that you’re passionate about what you do–then how do you show that?
Recently, Brad was on a webinar hosted by WP Engine, sharing his advice on how digital agencies can make competitive pitches for new business. He brought up how WebDevStudios demonstrates this value through action with our extensive involvement in the WordPress community. We give a large portion of time back to supporting and contributing to the WordPress community, from what we do with Five for the Future, as well as the meetups our staff have started, spoken at, organized, and our staff wide involvement in WordCamps across the world.
Brad pointed out that by giving our time for free, we actually demonstrate just how invested we are in this work and that it isn’t merely just a paycheck for us. We’re committed to open source ideology and give back to the community that gives so much to us–which is an extremely effective way of demonstrating that value.
If you’re passionate about your business, what are ways for you to demonstrate that (outside of saying, “I’m really excited to take your money!!”)?
If one of your company values is consistency, demonstration is easy (and obvious): Answer emails and phone calls in a timely manner; keep your social media active; do what you say you are going to do.
If one of your company values is transparency, demonstration can look like: Releasing announcements when big changes happen in your company, detailing the how and why for those changes; releasing financial reports and salary information; sharing how (and why) you do specific things inside your business.
If one of your company values is about supporting your local community, demonstration involves: Getting involved with local non-profits; showing your support at local events; utilizing your services to benefit the greater needs of your city or state.
Think about the actions that are associated with the values that you want your business to embody, and then do them. Not only will this drive the message home about what your company is about, but it will build credibility and trust with your clients (and potential clients, too).
Buffer recently did this as well by publicly announcing that they decided to take a break from Snapchat after it was repeatedly taken to task for creating racist, questionable filters. They talk about how “doing the right thing” is one of their core values, and expand in the thoughtful, nuanced post why this choice makes the most sense to them:
But diversity and inclusion are not optional for us—they’re imperative. We want to align ourselves with people and companies working toward the positive change we envision social media making in our world.
We understand fully why users might delete Snapchat, and we support their decision. For those those who wish to stay, we respect your decision as well. At Buffer, we’ll be taking a leave of absence to reflect and determine the right path forward. As always, our decision is not the “right” one—our values are a guide for us but aren’t intended to be prescriptive for others.
This is an excellent example of behavior backing up the values they’ve identified as central to their brand and operation. Buffer has followed through on their proposed values with a proactive move, allowing their business and approach to maintain its integrity and remain flexible in the face of controversy.
The way you speak and what you actually do are just as important as what you say. These are the things that show what your brand’s values are–in action and delivery, not merely in vacuous content. Creating a substantial backing in your strategy and online content (from site copy to social media to content marketing) is the best way to reel your customers in and keep them coming back for more. Let them know who you are through demonstration, and reap rewards.