How to Create and Deliver Intelligent Information

Corporate Language – What Companies Can Learn From Technical Documentation

Corporate Language – One Company, One Language

In technical documentation, controlled language is nothing new. Comprehensibility, uniformity, structure and the controlled use of terminology have long been our bread and butter. But what about language beyond technical documentation in companies? Have the other departments already made the same progress? Is language implemented in a controlled manner throughout the entire company? Does the company speak a defined and recognizable language? Have we already created an IKEA effect? So far, a controlled and well-defined language is rather rare in companies. Companies might create the impression of an innovative, digital, creative, customer-oriented start-up through their advertising, but still send out letters that sound like they were written in 1765. Companies like to advertise using the buzzword “simple”. However, for their customers to actually understand the documents they hand out, they need to find professional technicians or lawyers to help them read the texts.

But is it worth taking a critical look at language at all? Aren’t there much more important things for companies, such as turnover, returns, sales figures?

The Growing Importance of Language

Yes, it’s worth looking at language. Because language has a significant influence on all other key figures such as turnover or sales figures. An understandable, catchy, customer-oriented language that is tailored to the brand is increasingly becoming an important success factor for companies today. And there are several reasons for this:

Our customers are changing: They are becoming more self-confident, they know more about their rights, they don’t hesitate to complain, they want to feel good. They quickly change brands if they don’t feel well. We control this via language through words.

Our industries and contact points are changing: The competition of the future will be lead through service and communication – not through products. Increasing digitalization is changing the foundations of our world, but language remains. And it is becoming more and more important. Every new medium, every new point of contact revolutionizes our communication. But none can do without language.

Demography, migration and the increasing complexity of the world: Products and services are becoming ever more complex. As people today are confronted with more and more complex information, the language used must become clearer and more understandable. On the one hand to reach more people, but on the other hand also to cross the perception threshold at all.

Functioning language saves costs: This applies not only to translations, but also to every document produced in a company. Whether it is calls to employees because of unclear letters, or purchases not being made on the Internet because the process is too linguistically complicated – incomprehensible, unfriendly or dusty language causes companies a lot of damage every year. Mostly without companies noticing this, because hardly any company today has a functioning controlling system for language.

British Telecom provides a great, practical example of savings through comprehensible communication. It received 1 million calls a year with questions regarding the bills. By completely redesigning the bills, calls could be reduced by 25 percent. If you now calculate 10 minutes per call, the company has saved 2.5 million minutes. That equals 5208 working days of 8 hours each. Estimating 700 euro for one working day, the British Telecom saved over 3.6 million euro, by a simple text optimization that probably cost around 1,000 euro.

Language Requirements Today

So you can quickly see why language is becoming more and more important. Language must not be a product of chance. Good and functioning communication must not depend solely on the talent of an employee. In addition, companies have to pay attention to several things when it comes to language:

  • Uniformity: This applies not only to spelling, product names and standards, but also to topics such as greetings and farewells. There is a big difference in ending your letter with “respectfully” or “sunny greetings”.
  • Comprehensibility: Everything leaving the company must be clearly understandable. Comprehensibility is one of the most important pillars of functioning communication.
  • Customer orientation: Not only in providing service, but also in using language, we must become more customer-oriented. We have to focus on the customer linguistically. We need a friendly tonality. This can be accomplished through simple rules, but must then be implemented by every employee.
  • Modern: Many letters, even from modern companies, are full of old-fashioned wordings, empty bureaucratic phrases or nominalisations. If we want to be perceived as modern, we first and foremost have to write modernly.
  • Brand: Every word has an effect because language transports our brand to the customer. Words make a brand tangible. There are a thousand ways to describe the same thing and each of them represents the brand differently, or might even suggest a completely different meaning. If a company stands for simplicity, this should be reflected in their corporate language.   

If a company incorporates these points, it has created corporate language. A corporate language that is clearly defined and regulated. It is used by all employees in all departments and is successful with the customer.

Developing and Implementing a Corporate Language

It all starts out with putting in some work, namely the development of rules and wordings (terminologies). It is important that the interests of the various areas of the company are taken into account in the development of the Corporate Language. Different customers, different legal requirements, different content complexity or different technical systems have to be brought under one roof. I will describe some steps on the way to Corporate Language in more detail:

Create a Binding Set of Rules

The basis for a corporate language that functions externally is a binding set of rules that applies regardless of the outside temperature or daily motivational situation. This is common practice in technical documentation, but is usually completely unknown in the rest of the company. Rules for language? Is there such a thing?

Companies that plan or implement such a set of rules are well advised to include their colleagues from the Technical Documentation department in the process right from the start. Often they have been involved in the process for years and are already using it successfully. However, this also means that there could be a new task for technical documentation: as a starting point and/or controlling point for such change processes.

Training Employees

If a corporate language is to be developed, and if everyone involved can agree on a binding set of rules at the end of the process, the first step has been taken. This leads to the essential next step: employees must be trained and sensitized. 

It is an important, but also cost-intensive task to train and sensitize employees sufficiently. However, if a company language is to work, every employee needs to use it.

Using Aids

Since the rules and regulations are becoming more and more complex and often very comprehensive, employees need tools. Today, a style guide must be available digitally, in dynamic and adaptive format. No employee will browse through 200 pages of printed manuals, not even when printed in glossy format at no extra cost.

Employees need software to be able to implement a new language quickly and confidently in hectic everyday life. Software that helps with corrections, software that records key figures and software that knows all spellings and standards in the company. There are good tools for this task such as TextLab, so that employees do not have to be replaced by text professionals.

Conclusion

Language is the basis of entrepreneurial success. A functioning language conveys brand, emotions and understanding to the customer. A non-functioning language, on the other hand, causes high costs and a lot of trouble. It is therefore important for companies today to plan and control the language of tomorrow based on their individual needs and in great detail. The goal must be a corporate language that represents the company individually, unmistakably and positively to the outside world. Since language turns every employee who writes anything into a brand ambassador, employees need tools to implement Corporate Language. 

If you are thinking about introducing a working language for your company, here is some valuable advice: Start your journey in technical documentation. The people there know all the challenges related to language and are often able to already provide the solutions.

Anikar Haseloff

Anikar Haseloff

Anikar Haseloff is founder and managing director of H&H CommunicationLab GmbH in Ulm. Since 2006, language concepts for companies have been developed there (Corporate Language/Brand Language) and communication for companies has been translated into modern and understandable language. He is specialist for brand language and comprehensibility in customer communication. In addition he advises and trains high-level personnel and coworkers in enterprises from all industries. In addition, with H&H CommunicationLab he is the developer and distributor of the TextLab software, with which companies can develop, control and measure their own brand language.
Anikar Haseloff

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