So, what does values-forward copy actually mean?
Creating copy that resonates with customers and reflects company values can be tricky.
Especially because values-forward companies are a particular kind of breed.
Intractable from their values, owners and employees exude a unique pride.
And yet, often the reason I am working with these companies, is that something feels off. And that something often has to do with the fact their copy isn’t reflecting these points of pride.
So, I thought it might be helpful to examine five common mistakes I see values-driven companies make. They are:
1. An off-brand or hidden brand voice
2. Leaning too hard into corporate values
3. Bland & Blah Copy
4. Muddled Messaging
5. Overlooking the power of story.
1.An off-brand or hidden brand voice
Brand voice. It matters a lot. Why? It is one of the easiest ways to connect with buyers, create consistency in content, and build brand value. But this strategic step is often overlooked. And frankly, it makes sense why brand voice gets put on the backburner.
Establishing a brand voice with a strong point of view can often feel like too much up-front work without the immediate payoff. Especially when there is pressure to get your product or service out in the world.
A well-developed brand voice offers a strong framework for your content. And by skipping right past it, you miss an opportunity to connect with your customers and establish consistency in your messages.
2.Leaning too hard into corporate values
As a writer that focuses on values-forward business, I’m the first to recognize the irony with this blunder, but stick with me and remember this:
A company’s affiliations or charitable donations are not a stand-in for differentiation.
Too often I see do-gooder companies who use giving programs or affiliations with organizations like B Corp, Fair Trade, or 1% for the Planet as a stand-in for what actually makes them unique. You see, simply slapping a label on a webpage doesn’t actually explain to your customers why you do what you do. Only you can do that.
And it’s important to focus on your company’s unique products and services; after all customers become champions for whatever it is you are selling — not JUST your values.
Here’s an example: I recently moved my business banking over to Aspiration(no affiliate links, I’m just a customer) and have been eating up their whole approach. I received an email promoting their investment fund that is 100% fossil-fuel free. Awesome. But what really caught my attention was the fund’s superior S&P 500 performance. With this kind of copy, Aspiration’s values are front and center, but they aren’t a stand-in for performance.
In contrast, I came across a B-Corp salon with the homepage headline “Colorado’s First and Only Certified B-Corp Salon.” Which is great and all, but the first thing any salon customer wants to know is what can the salon do for their hair?
When it comes to your copy, always ask and ask again whether your product/service or affiliations/values are front and center. If they are, ask yourself if those values are simply a stand-in for true brand differentiation.
3.Bland & Blah Copy
No one talks about a forgettable company.
Building trust, sharing your values, and engaging with customers all stem from a place of likeability.
And likeability and trust often come from smart, conversational copy. Copy with personality.
Many values-forward companies tend to forget that offering the customer a fun reading experience goes a long way. And plenty of companies completely forget to consider the customer when they create copy.
Good copy should have some life and levity to it.
A few examples of personality-driven copy
A riddle in an email from Sunski to get 30% their environmentally conscious sunglasses;
Or Reformation’s cheeky tagline: Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. Reformation is #2.
Check your web copy, emails, and campaigns copy — see where you might be able to bring more warmth and zest to your customers.
I am the first to admit that messaging can be really tough. It can be even tougher for values-forward businesses because you often have such a strong point-of-view that it can feel limiting to craft a strong, discrete message.
Here are some questions that emerge when messaging is all over the place:
“Do I talk about our fair-trade yarn here?”
“Where should I mention that people get 20 minutes of their life back every morning?”
“What should my headline be on my homepage?”
The likely truth is this: if you are confused about your message, your customers are probably as well.
Good messaging requires a thoughtful excavation into what makes your company different and how you deliver on your big promises. And sometimes those big ideas are really hard to wrangle. What I often find is that values-forward companies have a knot of messages about their product/service and their do-gooder work that need to be pulled apart, categorized, and organized.
Effective messaging needs to precise and clearly defined. A good place to start is nailing down your value proposition and message hierarchy
5.Overlooking the power of story.
Story! Ah, it’s the most natural way of communicating and connecting. Whether it’s email, homepage, or sales material, I am always surprised at when I head over to a company’s about page I never learn much about them or their values.
Many of my clients struggle with how to integrate their values-based approach into their copy, but too little are really leveraging the power of story to connect with their customers.
Story is especially powerful in how you discuss your values and how they weave into your products and services. Customers who are looking to support values forward organizations want to know the what and the why.
You have a story, it just needs to be smartly deployed.
Most of us in this socially-conscious, values-driven world want to know how and why you are doing such good work. But we are all consumers and what differentiates you has to be more than just you are a B Corp or broadly socially conscious.
I’ll close this piece out by saying that by taking a clear lens to your copy and thinking deeply about your business goals is a great place to start to overcome these mistakes.
And you? Which one of these mistakes ring most true? Maybe they don’t at all. I want hear. Leave a comment below.