Is a “100 Best Companies” Rank Really Proof Enough?

Woman looking at computer screens

No. Is my short answer, and let me tell you why.

Years ago, I was temping at a pharmaceutical company that proudly displayed their “100 Best Workplaces for Women” designations in the lobby. As a woman, seeing this on my first day made me feel good about the company I was working for, if even just on a temporary basis.

Flash forward to a few weeks later, I was in a meeting in which a woman who was well respected by her colleagues had to call in from home as she was recovering from a mastectomy due to breast cancer. She had to hang up when a visiting nurse came in early to drain the tubes that she still had in her chest. After she hung up, the executive ranted and bad mouthed her for a solid five minutes, angry that she had to cut the call short and angry that she’s been taking so much time off for treatments. That “time off” comment surprised me because in the few weeks I was there, that woman was also in the office most of the time and was a very dedicated worker in a middle management position.

After the meeting, I talked with some coworkers who said that executive had been harassing the woman with cancer, and the reason she was in the office so much was that she was afraid he’d fire her. The more I paid attention to what was happening around me, the more I realized this company was not at all a good company for women to work for, let alone a “best” company. So, I put little stock in those lists.

Turning Good PR into a Story that Resonates

Today, a friend sent me a video Johnson & Johnson (J&J) created after repeatedly being named to the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list. This is one way to show people–customers and potential recruits–that you really do deserve that recognition. Watch the video below:

What better way to tell your story than to have your employees tell it for you?

J&J has been on this list for 30-plus years now and you can tell they’re not satisfied just to sit on their laurels. They asked 10 employees who are mothers to share how their career with the company has enhanced their personal and professional lives, and posted the video along with a brief message about the Working Mothers designation.

In addition, they regularly post stories on their site that reflect their company as well as their brand. For 2016, they even created an infographic that shows how J&J supports working mothers. Here’s just a little snippet:

History of Supporting Women at J&J

These days, most everyone knows that many “best of” lists are pay to play and there often may be some sort of politics that determine who wins. If you want to show that you really deserve the designation, start using real-life examples and storytelling, like J&J is doing.

Sure, posting icons issued by each rewarding organization is an easy way to let people know you were recognized, but it’s not enough. Show people why you deserve that designation–through employee and customer storytelling that demonstrates why you received the award.

Even better, keep building that trait into your company’s DNA and let it reveal itself in the benefits you offer, the way you organize and decorate your offices, the language you use internally and externally, and more. That way it’s more than just an award or designation–it’s part of your brand.

If you run a small business that needs help building its brand, contact me and we can review your needs.

Writing Your Mission Statement Should Be Easy

Mission statement word cloudCompanies struggle with their mission statements all the time and have for decades. Take a look at this gem from McDonald’s (ranked number two in Inc’s 9 Worst Mission Statements of All Time):

McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink. Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which center on an exceptional customer experience – People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion. We are committed to continuously improving our operations and enhancing our customers’ experience.

What’s wrong with it? In short, it’s too long, too jargony and talks about strategy and goals. Your “Plan to Win” should not be in your mission statement. Your goals are not your mission. Goals are what help you accomplish your mission.

How Do You Write a Great Mission Statement?

Let’s look at a mission statement that works — Google’s:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Why does it work? Because it’s honest, easy to understand and sums up what Google originally set out to do (their actual mission). So, how do you write one that works for your company? Let me make it easy for you with three simple steps.

3 Tips for a Good Mission Statement

1. Be honest.

Before you even start to write, commit to be honest about what your company’s mission really is. You may have to convince internal stakeholders that your mission statement is NOT a place for corporate jargon or whitewashing. If you’re not sure what your company’s mission truly is, take time to think it out, write it out and refine it. The first person who has to believe the mission is you.

2. Express what your company’s reason for being is.

What is your company’s purpose? Why does it exist? You want to be useful as a company. After all, if you’re not useful you won’t be in business for long. So, what makes your company useful? Your mission statement sits within these answers.

The interesting thing is that your mission statement may eventually change and that’s okay. That’s called evolution. In fact, Google, having grown exponentially since they first began, recently admitted they have outgrown their mission statement. What’s more impressive is that Google’s CEO Larry Page doesn’t want to change it yet because they haven’t quite figured out yet how to redefine their mission. Honesty. How refreshing!

3. Be concise.

Think of your mission statement almost as a tweet. Keep it short and in plain language so it’s easy for your audience to understand.

Compare McDonald’s and Google’s mission statements. Which is easier to understand? Which is easier to relate to and get behind? Yours doesn’t have to be as short as Google’s but it should be close. Give yourself a limit. Start with 75 words if you have to, then edit down to 50, then 25. You’ll end up revealing the heart of your message this way.

One more thing

Remember, your mission statement isn’t just for your customers. It’s the foundation for your strategies, goals and actions. Any time you or any employee questions whether you or your company should act in a certain way, go back to your mission statement and see if that action aligns with your mission. It should. If your actions don’t align with your mission, you are on the wrong path (or maybe you should rethink and redefine your mission).

Need to see some more examples of great mission statements to inspire you? Read What Great Brands Do with Mission Statements.

If you need help crafting a mission statement, I can help. Feel free to contact me here.


CT MarCom on “Aaker on Branding”

Aaker on Branding BookAs a marketing consultant, I’ve been asked quite a few times, “Well, what is a brand? What is branding?”

If you’re not sure what it is or you need to spiff up your branding efforts, have I got a book for you! Read Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles that Drive Success, by David Aaker, vice chairman of Prophet, author of six books on branding and a man who some call the “Father of Modern Branding.”

His 20 principles are very easy to digest and after reading through them, you’ll understand why branding is so important and how to improve your own branding efforts. Aaker splits the 20 principles into five sections:

  1. Recognize that brands are assets.
  2. Have a compelling brand vision.
  3. Bring the brand to life.
  4. Maintain relevance.
  5. Manage your brand portfolio.

You could easily skim through and find what you need, but if you’re a novice at branding, read it straight through.

Having experience building brands for companies (not that I have Aaker’s depth and breadth of experience), I can attest that pretty much all of what he’s saying rings true. Some of the examples were a bit lackluster and I did disagree on a few minor points. But the book is definitely worth the read, whether you’re experienced or not.

As a writer and editor, I was put off by the number of mistakes in the book — proofreading errors and on page 180, Aaker contrasts the yellow of DeWalt tools with the “green” of Black & Decker — a brand known for its orange and black. But for the most part, his examples do a good job of demonstrating the principles and the points he’s trying to make.

Aaker on Branding is a great book of the basics and offers terrific reminders to brand strategists and marketers to apply to their daily work.

If you have a book on branding or marketing you’d like to recommend, please add it to the comments below. Thanks!

You Have Content But Do You Have Style?

AMA Manual, Chicago Manual of Style & AP StylebookRecently, I talked here about editorial calendars and also posted a presentation on SlideShare on why content marketers need an editorial calendar. Now, I’m going to explain why you need a style guide and what you should put in it.

Every business that has a website and creates content — web pages, marketing materials, blog posts, white papers, etc. — needs a style guide. The larger your business and the more people that you have creating content, the greater the need for a style guide.

Why? Because you’re building a brand. Every piece of content you publish represents your brand. Without guidelines, you’ll have a sort of content chaos. Your pieces may all be designed similarly and share the same colors and logo, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that your branding is complete.

Brands are made up of every action a company takes. Imagine your audience’s response if they get emails from your company in a tone that’s friendly and informal and then click through to a website that’s jargon filled and formal. Do you know what that disconnect represents? It represents doubt. When you put out marketing communications, blog posts, press releases, ads and other collateral that aren’t consistent in voice, tone and style, you are planting seeds of doubt in your customers’ minds. They can’t tell who you really are — and that’s a big problem.

It’s a problem that can be solved with a style guide.

Your style guide can be as long or as short as you want, as long as it has enough direction in it to be effective.

3 Style Guide Needs

1. Voice

Voice of a company should never vary. To determine your company’s desired voice, you need to consider two things: (1) Who is your target audience? and (2) How do you want them to see you?

Your audience could be teachers, doctors, lawyers, women ages 30-55, men ages 20-35, etc. There are too many options to list here, but you get the point, right? Now, how do you want to come across to them? Authoritative and formal? Authoritative yet friendly? Relaxed and consumer focused? Serious and trustworthy? The answer to that second question above is a result of how well you know your audience and how you want to be seen as a company.

For example, if your audience is doctors, you don’t want your voice to be so casual that you seem unknowledgeable about healthcare and the doctors’ needs or too self-focused and uncaring. So, if you’re selling software that will help their offices, you may choose knowledgeable (some might choose innovative) and understanding.

2. Tone

People often confuse tone and voice, but as long as you carry the same voice throughout all company communications, you can alter the tone to reflect the subject matter. Using the example above, let’s say you have two communications to go out. One is telling the doctors about a new add-on to the software they have that will help them process claims faster. The second is an email telling them about a software glitch that needs to be fixed. Are you going to use the same tone in both? No! But you will use the same underlying voice.

When telling the doctors about your new product, the tone of the piece will be engaging, excited and a bit sales-y. You’ll approach the sell and surrounding language with the understanding of why this product meets the doctors’ needs. You’ll be knowledgeable both about your product and about how it will impact the doctors’ day-to-day lives.

The email bringing bad news won’t bring the same excited and engaging tone. Instead the tone will be more serious, straightforward and sympathetic. You’ll tell them briefly what’s happened and when and how it will be fixed. Your voice will remain steady and not throw any doubt on your expertise, but will instead leave the doctors with the feeling that you will inconvenience them as little as possible because you understand their needs.

The point is both communications will sound like they come from the same company.

3. Style

Style includes grammatical style and word choice. If you want to use plain language and ban jargon from your communications, put that in your company’s style guide. Which rulebook are you going to follow? You can pick an already established one as a guide — AP Stylebook (which you’re probably already using for press releases), Chicago Manual of Style or the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style. These guides layout rules on:

  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Abbreviations
  • Numbers, and much more

You might be wondering who will care about those things, especially if you already take care to proofread and make sure your content is error free. The one-time customer probably won’t care, but you want long-term customers, right?

Consistency is key to your brand. If you’re sending out messages that all look different, how will your customer know who you really are?

A style guide not only helps your customers, but it helps your employees as well. And in business, we call that a win-win!

On Writing Well, The Grammar Devotional & Woe Is I
Try these other guides to good writing and share with your coworkers.




Yes, Your Corporate Responsibility Report Can Strengthen Your Brand

Every piece of content you create is an opportunity to strengthen your brand, and this includes your corporate responsibility report.

TD Bank knows this. Who is at the center of their brand? Customers. It shows in their “Bank Human Again” commercials. It shows in their social media efforts (if you’re a customer, mention them on Twitter and see how quickly they respond). And it shows in their corporate responsibility report — notice how people focused it is, how “Customers” is the first tab, and how well branded the report is throughout.

"Be Customer Focused" - TD Bank Customer Title Page

The challenge is getting people to read your corporate responsibility report. But before I share that secret, let me first give you important reasons why you want people to read it.

1. Corporate social responsibility is a main reason millennials want to work for you.

Growing companies always want to attract employees who want to grow with the company. Both millennials and more experienced, socially responsible candidates want to work for a company that does good in the world and has ethical and sustainable business practices.

2. Informed employees are more likely to want to stay and be more motivated to work.

The more good information about your company your employees have, the more likely they are to WANT to keep working for you and to spread the word about what a great company you are. That’s a brand builder right there!

Build Your Brand: Get People to Read Your Report

Now, how do you get people to read your report?

1. Let all your employees know when the report is released.

Send them a link to the online posting. Don’t just expect them to find it. And give them easy ways to share the report with others.

2. Advertise the release of the report.

In addition to doing a press release, showcase your report on social media and consider emailing the link to the report to certain stakeholders.

3. Build a social media campaign around your report’s contents.

Start talking about your company’s social responsibility efforts before releasing the report. Create and share related blog posts and repurpose parts of the report as blog posts and as social media posts. Tailor these posts to different channels — for example, longer posts can go on Google+, shorter snippets on Twitter with links to blog posts or the report itself.

4. Give your audience reasons to read.

What are the interesting parts of your report (not to you, but to your audience)? Do they know about your customer-focused efforts? Do they know the good that you do? Do they share some of the same interests your company does? Ideally, you think about all this before writing the report. Spotlight stories, case studies or short articles within the report can add a personal touch–briefly detailing volunteer experiences or great customer service stories.

My point here is that often when faced with annual reports that are a regulatory requirement or part of self-regulation efforts, don’t think of these reports as a task, especially not a boring one. Think of them as an opportunity — an opportunity to strengthen your brand and your relationship with your customers.