Our bios, ourselves

Posted by on Feb 19, 2011 in Brand Communications | No Comments
Our bios, ourselves

Recently I worked with a client who runs a boutique wealth management firm and prides himself on being different from his peers — both in the way he works with clients and how he makes investment decisions.

His story hummed along nicely as we worked to develop messaging about the company, its services and its philosophies through his web content. But when we got to his online bio and the bios of his team, he was stumped.

His clients tend to be creative types, rogue entrepreneurs, people who respect independence, intelligence and a different way of thinking. The depth and quality of his client relationships are second to none. And most of his business comes to him through word of mouth — to him, the website serves only to validate the firm’s qualifications once a prospective client had already become interested.

What did prospective clients really want to know about him? he wondered. Were they more interested in his education, his community service, his impressive resumé? Or did they care more about his personal outlook on life, what he liked to do with his weekends, his personal heroes and favorite artists, his offbeat sense of humor? What could he say, and how could he say it, in order to win prospective clients to his side?

Why companies botch the bios
Bios seem like they would be the easy part of website content creation, but they’re often a part that people struggle with the most, and here’s why:

  • People hate writing about themselves. Anybody who’s ever written a resumé knows this. It’s difficult to toot your own horn when you live in a society where it’s generally considered rude or obnoxious to do so. It’s also hard to get perspective when you’re living in your own head.
  • It’s the one part of the website where marketing messaging and copy doesn’t seem to fit. There’s a plan, a tone of voice, a set of key messages, and thenbam — the bios section stops you dead in your tracks. SEO is relatively challenging in bios too.
  • It’s difficult to make online bios sound different from every other bio out there. People fall into a trap of following a rote format, self-importantly reciting past positions, awards and degrees in the exact same order everyone else does.

Companies include bios on their websites because they want people to know who’s running the show, to give credibility to their businesses and communicate experience and expertise. In many industries, people know each other and jump from company to company, so a familiar face and name on the executive leadership page can give a company a significant edge.

And for a lot of companies, bios become about making a connection. They need to communicate the underlying message of “We’re like you.” It’s not unlike online dating. A person puts a carefully painted picture of himself or herself out there knowing that clients will do business with people they like. Bios make the initial introduction, planting the idea that there might be a love connection.

And getting personal has never been more important. Companies used to be a big sign on the face of an impenetrable glass building, and except for the upper echelon of leaders on the tip-top floor, no one had insight into who kept the machines running on floors 2-49. Now, with LinkedIn, Plaxo, Spoke and other services, customers can get acquainted with the people who work at your company. Your website bios have the power to trump those unsanctioned profiles, to present your team as a unified front.

No employee is an island
This is where a company’s team members get hung up when asked to contribute their bios for the new website: they try to craft a bio that reflects them personally. In fact, bios on a company’s website should be one more way to tell the company story. Each of them should wholeheartedly support the messages that you’ve carefully constructed throughout your site. A company is nothing without its people; your company is everything because of yours. All the big personalities add up to create an experience customers can’t get from anyone else. They make your company truly unique.

Consider these five strategies as you think about planning the bios for your website:

  1. Know thy audience. Think as them as individuals — personas, if you must. You may know that in general they’re moms, or CIOs, or entrepreneurs, but who are they as people? Who are their friends? What do they wish they had more time to do — snowboard? Paint? Read? What are their goals as it pertains to your business? You’re helping them solve the immediate problem your product is designed to address, but you’re also helping them save time, save sanity, save the planet — whatever the case may be. Your bio doesn’t need to pander to them, but it does help to understand this so you can decide which bits of information to include about yourself and your team members, and which may be irrelevant to them.
  2. Don’t treat it like a resumé. Your website bio summarizes who you are, what has made you this way, and where you’re going. Hundreds of things have gone into making you the person you are today, but you don’t have to include all of them. Pick the most important, the headlines. If you had 10 seconds to tell your life story, what would you say? Definitely include anything your target audience might find interesting or consider an asset to working with you.
  3. Tell a story. Rather, pick up where you left off with telling the story throughout the rest of the site and continue telling it here. Your web bio is sort of a story within the story, How did you come to be at this company? What has happened since you’ve been here? What do you do better than anyone, and how does it benefit your customers? Remember: you’re one big reason your company rocks.
  4. Be careful with humor. In person, humor breaks down barriers and helps people stand out. But humor can be a tricky thing on the web, especially when there’s no setup for it. Some people, perhaps as a reaction to the uncomfortable nature of bio writing, break into joke-cracking — much the same as they would break out the disarming self-deprecation in person. But if the rest of the site speaks with sincerity or is formal, a joke buried in a bio can be offputting. Make sure humor fits the voice of the company as expressed through its web content before attempting it.
  5. Break the mold, but maintain the format. Frequently what I find as I work on web bios is that each person on the team is responsible for creating their own — and that they all end up being completely different from one another. It’s important for bios to read as a cohesive body of work. Develop a format or template for the site’s bios and stick to that for each bio. The details and flow can differ for each, but in general, maintain consistency in the amount of detail to include, the tone of voice, the formatting of headers, and general structure of each bio. Most importantly, think about the company’s personality as you plan the bios. Your company’s brand characteristics should govern the tone, style and content — with each team member’s personal touch as a unique twist.

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