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The Wizard of Oz and corporate voice

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Brands & Campaigns

Today’s guest post is by Shel Israel, who consults companies on social-media strategy. Shel is a co-author of “Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers” and author of “Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods.” He has contributed to BusinessWeek, FastCompany and Dow Jones and has sat on the SmartBrief on Social Media Advisory Board.

Do you remember “The Wizard of Oz”? The first time you saw the actual Wizard, he was a talking head with this huge booming voice. If you were a kid, like I was, he may have intimidated you.

But it turned out that the Wizard of Oz was just a regular guy. He hid behind a curtain and used electronics to make his voice more authoritative. The twist is that once the Wizard got outed by the little dog, he solved people’s problems. He got them home. He let them discover their heart and their courage.

For about the last 60 years, most large enterprises have created their own wizards in the form of corporate voices. These voices were designed to be louder than the actual speakers. They also, like the Wizard of Oz, were part of an illusion — to make customers, prospects, partners and recruits think the company spoke with a single, powerful voice.

Behind the corporate curtain were small teams of ventriloquists, clever people who spoke well, who wished to give outsiders a sense of a Borg-like culture that thought and marched in unison. Like the Wizard, corporate branding and marketing people have used available electronic tools to amplify their corporate voice, refine it and have it resonate certain, carefully contrived messages.

For a very long time, this worked pretty well. People bought cars to appear more powerful, smoked cigarettes that would make them more attractive and drank beer because that’s what sports fans seemed to do — at least, that was what the corporate voices were telling them.

Increasingly, people have come to understand that messages delivered by corporate voices are generally a load of crap. The funny thing, though, is that behind the curtain, there are companies filled with good, dedicated, intelligent, hard-working people who speak in voices that sound very much like how customers actually speak.

Behind the curtain are many people who use many voices. Sometimes they disagree with each other. Some of these people are brilliant and dedicated; some could care less about quality and customers. These people also have ears, making them capable of something that corporate voices booming from behind curtains cannot contribute: They can listen and respond.

We live in a changing time. Social media has disrupted nearly all institutions. It accomplishes so very much for the modern organization. Of all the assets that it brings to the modern enterprise, the most important is the ability to listen and respond to customers.

The era of the big voice is rapidly coming to a close. The era of many voices is on the rapid ascent — or so it seems to me.

Image credit, lisegagne, iStock Photo