A style guide is an often overlooked yet extremely influential document that guides your company and its ethical approach to materials. If company language is more utilitarian in nature, customers’ needs can be overpowered by company wants.
I have worked to incorporate a care ethics foundation into our company style guide, and have referenced it many times as I direct and guide company communications. I express these editorial standards in my company style guide—especially in regards to digital communications like emails—by including language such as, “Be respectful of our customers’ time. Always be sure to not bombard them with information they do not need to know or questions we do not need to ask.” to convey the importance of thinking of the readers’ needs first. I communicate the importance of keeping the vulnerabilities of our readers in mind through language in our guide such as, “Keeping [the language] simple also helps ensure the language is clear and helpful—not misleading or misguiding in any way. If you are having to make the language complex to get around an issue, then the core of the message should be revisited.”
A few years ago I read a book by Kit Yarrow called Decoding the New Consumer Mind. This book examined the fascinating phenomenon of digital interactions with brands. Before the exposure of brands on a digital level and the ability for people to spread thoughts quickly to an extremely large audience, companies could act like just that: a company. However, the ability the Internet has created for customers to interact with brands through emails, social media sites, and websites has created a new desire among consumers: that brands must have a soul.
This has been demonstrated through several different brand/customer interactions throughout recent history—both good and bad—and forces companies to re-examine both what they believe in on a moral and ethical level as well as how they can respond to their consumer on a level that feels human.
Choosing an ethical model that promotes caring and empathy is what will make the difference between a company thriving in online spaces and becoming a beloved brand and being completely destroyed by outraged consumers.
It is imperative that brands take ethical approaches to online communications seriously and engage the customer’s feelings if they are going to survive in this digital world.