Effective Companies Live Their Messages


Voice is what we craft to tell a story. But, says Aarron Walter (@aarron), user experience lead for MailChimp and author of Designing for Emotions, we’ve been faced with a lot of companies telling us dishonest stories.

In fact, we’ve been told tons of dishonest corporate stories. In a presentation “The Real Me: Crafting Honest Customer Relationships” at Future Insights Live in Las Vegas, Walter gave the following examples:

  • Vitamin Water, which is sold as a healthy drink, has the same sugar content as a Coke.
  • BP says it’s an environmentally conscious oil company, yet it caused the world’s worst oil spill.
  • Bank of America sells American values but was instrumental in the destruction of our economy.

Contends Walter: When you tell a story, but the customers see something different, it’s dishonest.

Honesty Sells

Contrary to historic advertising practices, being childlike, honest, authentic, personal and kind are all advantages in business today. It’s no longer advantageous to pull a fast one on your audience. And thus the way companies crafts their stories has changed:

The old method: Company speaks its message over and over until it’s the truth.

The new method: Company lives its story, and in doing so creates a relationship with customers.

A value system is how you live your life. To create a value system for a company, you start with your own values and turn them into values for all, explains Walter. Personal stories are possible for even the largest companies. In his presentation, Walter showed a video from GE where mechanics and engineers talked about how they took so much pride in building jet engines.

It’s worth it to you to inject a personality into your product design, said Walter. It provides the following benefits:

  • Stand Out: Personality-driven products and features allows you to differentiate yourself. Walter used the example of the travel service Hipmunk and its “agony” index for flight choice.
  • Emotion and Memory: People will always remember the way you made them feel. They might not always remember what you said.
  • Find Your tTribe: Personality brings people to you. Some personalities don’t match. But humans want to belong and be part of a tribe. If you design a solution for everyone, you find no one. You need to pick an audience.
  • Passion: You’ll discover passion in your users. They will often supply the stories, content and ideas, and be the advocates for your company and its products.

Developing a Design Persona

When building a product for an audience, we always ask, “Who are they?” What we should be asking is “Who are we?” Walter suggests asking yourself, “What is the personality you want to have to draw other people in to participate?”

Create a design persona, he says, which is a document that helps you understand your brand voice and traits. It guides you on all communications, design and development choices. Ask questions about your business (e.g., Are you fun, serious or silly?) Your decisions for your design persona will help you make other decisions more quickly.

MailChimp did this for its own brand and made it public at the site Voice and Tone. The site illustrates different kinds of content and communications situations, and the appropriate response.

A design persona makes it easier to hire someone, as well. If you have a common value system and common personality, it makes it more consistent to hire the people that will fit in with those corporate values and personality.

Trying to be everything to everyone lacks personality. If you face scary things, like injecting personality into your business, it can make you remarkable. And being remarkable means you’ll face the fact that some people won’t like you. Quoting Seth Godin, Walter said, “Criticism comes to those who stand out.”