How to choose your business’ linguistic style

“Who are you?” That, in essence, is the question potential customers will ask when they first encounter your business. It’s a question you’ll answer through your fundamental nature: what you sell and how. It’s a question you’ll answer through your sales and marketing efforts: through your name, your logo, your web design, the advertisements you place and the events you attend. And – consciously or unconsciously – it’s a question you’ll answer through the linguistic style you use to communicate with the world.

Whether as corporations or individuals, the language we use is a part of our identity. In a broad sense, of course, that means whether we speak English, Polish, Russian, and so on. But you can drill down deeper and it’s still true. Do we use a regional variant of that language? A dialect? A national standard? What tone do we strike when we speak to our customers and partners? What choice of vocabulary do we use? All of these factors have some bearing on the way people perceive you. Understanding their effect is, therefore, a critical part of controlling your identity and the public perception of your business.

Here’s the thing: in their day-to-day lives, most people don’t think about these issues. In casual conversation, we don’t tend to consciously modify the way we speak. But as a professional business, you can’t afford to be so relaxed. Whether developing a marketing strategy for the first time, redeveloping an old one, or preparing to launch your business anew in another locale, linguistic style must be a component in your decision-making. You can’t choose whether or not people will make snap judgements about the way your business writes – but if you plan ahead, you can guide those judgements towards the kind of image you want to project.

Settling on a clear linguistic style will also help the translators and other linguists that you work with. A professional translator is one kind of person who really does think about style. Every word they use will be carefully selected to build a cohesive, coherent piece of writing. After all, translation isn’t just about preserving the message of a text, but also the way in which the message is delivered. If you have a style guide, a corporate messaging document, or whatever other pre-built linguistic resources you can provide, you’ll make your translators’ lives much easier and get more consistent work back from your them – and on top of all that, you might just save yourself some money, too. For more on how and why this works, take a look at one of our past blog articles, “Investing in resources like term bases, glossaries and style guides”.

So much for the “why” of choosing a style, then. What about “how”? To answer that question, let’s take a look at some typical corporate styles, to see how they work and what kind of business might use them. Consider this an example of the kind of research you should be doing when developing a corporate style guide: looking at other businesses out there, analysing the way they communicate, and understanding how they do it and why.

The Silicon Valley tech startup

Tech startups love fun! They’re small. They’re punchy. They’re on the cutting edge. They’re not afraid to break the rules. Or even to write their own. Slip a little non-standard grammar into your writing? A few sentence fragments? Sure, why not? Another linguistic trick you might see from Silicon Valley companies is a little Californian swagger – even when marketing themselves outside of the United States. The prestige that comes with being based inside the beating heart of the IT industry can be a valuable thing. So kick back, relax, put on your shades and enjoy being incredibly, achingly cool.

The financial services firm

Your money is important. Your future is important. At our company, we want you to know that we understand this, and that we take everything about our business incredibly seriously. Our linguistic style wears a conservative but very expensive dark suit. Our tone is calm, certain, self-assured. We don’t ask questions; we give answers. Professionalism, formality and stability: these are our watchwords. We communicate in this way so that you have the security of knowing that you are safe, important and worth investing in. Just like us.

The travel company

What’s your dream holiday? Maybe it’s an adventure: a dramatic trek across one of the wildest places in the world. Maybe it’s absolute luxury – five-star service, spa treatments, a little designer shopping in the most exclusive boutiques. Maybe it’s a book on the beach by day and cocktails on rooftops by night. Whatever your dream, we’re here to sell it to you. We’re all about possibility, excitement, the promise of something wonderful, so that’s how we talk to you. We’re the best at superlatives and the sharpest with our imagery. Once we’ve got you thinking about that gorgeous local restaurant on a quiet cobbled side street, we’ve practically already got your booking reservation.

One important thing to note about these examples is that they apply specifically to the English language. There’s no guarantee that what works in one language will have the same effect in another, which is why it’s important to go through the process of choosing a style every time you expand into a new market. A German tech company, for example, might take a much more serious, formal tone than a comparable American business.

Each of these different styles can be compared across a few different axes – the questions of identity that we asked you before. For the safe option, you can pick a style that’s in broad use across your industry, or – if you want to stand out from the crowd – you can look at what all of your competitors are doing and consciously choose to set yourself apart from them. Mix and match features from other companies that follow patterns that you like, and try to throw in something that’s distinctively yours, as well.

Ultimately, the choice of style is yours to make; after all, your identity is by definition a very personal thing. But the key is to make the decision for yourself, and not simply to write in whatever fashion you or your contractors feel like that day. The bottom line is this: a strong, consistent writing style increases brand recognition and improves the public perception of your business. Choose wisely – and once you’ve written your style guide, stick to it!

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