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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson: language of his own

There has been no shortage of headline-grabbing news. The EU’s trade commissioner said Britain would get a trade deal. The US vowed to bring North Korea to its senses with new sanctions. And a huge bomb exploded near Damascus Airport. Despite this, social media was lit up by Boris Johnson’s colourful description of Jeremy Corbyn as a “mutton-headed old mugwump”.

Yes, this may be another classic example of Boris being Boris. (Enjoy this hashtag dedicated to Borisisms).

But Boris’s popularity and profile is in no small part thanks to his choice of attention-grabbing language. Who doesn’t remember his “inverted pyramid of piffle” or his description of table tennis as “whiff whaff”?

Of course, Boris is not the only person in public life to gain publicity on the back of their choice of words. Consider Donald Trump. Barack Obama. Stephen Fry. Like them or not, their use of language (controversial, inspirational, and insightful, respectively) is clearly a factor in their success.

So how can the business community exploit this idea? With great care, I would suggest. Adopting a unique tone of voice is one way to differentiate your business from your competitors.

But equally important is the business’s need to remain authentic and true to the values that are already built-in to its reputation in the market.

Here’s an example of staying true to yourself. Purplebricks has shaken up the estate agency market with an innovative pricing model (no commission) and a distinctive ad campaign that has a mass-market appeal aimed at cost-conscious consumers.

It works perfectly well for them, as they’re a disruptive start-up. But their approach just wouldn’t work for a traditional estate agent like Knight Frank.

Here’s another example, this time from the financial sector. The birth of multiple challenger banks has brought novel approaches to customer communication. Atom Bank is a great case study, with its “mobile-only” bank and fintech-style website, language and imagery. But imagine Barclays or RBS trying this hip, informal approach – it just wouldn’t be authentic.

So what can you do to differentiate your business but remain authentic? Here are four ideas:

  1. Adapt your tone of voice to different media channels. For social media channels, a more relaxed style is acceptable and engaging. Even big stodgy companies are getting in on the act.
  2. Similarly, allow each individual to express their personality (but within reason – know your customers’ boundaries). So for personal emails and social media accounts, letting staff banter with clients can break down barriers and build better relationships.
  3. Use your blog to project your company’s inner voice. News stories and insights into what makes you tick are a great way to build awareness and engagement with customers.
  4. And finally, to enable your staff to communicate with confidence and with competence, there are three things you should do: train them (we can help with that); trust them (let them show you what they can do); and support them (everyone makes mistakes).

So it is possible for your company to use a voice that gets you noticed, engages customers with your company and enables better relationships. Just be careful to be true to your own personality and that of your company. Be engaging, but be authentic – or else customers will think you’re just talking a load of piffle!

Niels Footman is Head of Marketing at Copylab, an international communications agency based in Scotland.

Want to read more about copywriting, jargon busting and marketing communication? Check out Copylab’s blog

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