One of the hallmarks of long-term success is recognizing opportunities during times of adversity and leveraging them for long-term success, even when the move may seem counterintuitive to those who have gone into hibernation mode, waiting for good times to return.

    As the economy shows tentative but encouraging signs of emerging from the deep recession of the past year, many organizations are being particularly cautious about making new investments. However, this is when forward-thinking organizations are looking at how to best use this period to lay the ground for the anticipated recovery. In the area of business communications, there are several reasons why now is an important time to be re-examining how effectively your documents represent your organization:

    • More than ever, organizations need to build customer loyalty, at a time when price sensitivity is an even greater factor than usual. The added value that you can bring to your customer relationships by communicating with them more clearly than your competition does and giving them useful, personalized information in a way that's easy for them to understand can help counteract the 'race to the bottom' approach of competing on price alone.
    • Particularly in the financial services industry, organizations of all sizes need their brand to project an image of stability and continuous improvement. If the past year has shown us anything, it is that size alone does not ensure stability. A coordinated, well-designed and customer-focused suite of documents and forms projects the image of an organization that has its act together to a wary marketplace.
    • No one wants to be last. As regulators and the marketplace demand greater clarity and transparency in financial communications, forward-thinking organizations are already making clear communication a cornerstone of their brand identity and the way they operate on a day-to-day basis. This makes organizations that don't focus on communicating clearly and effectively evermore conspicuous.
    • In the middle of a full-blown recovery is not when you want to start looking at how to improve your customer-facing documents. Document improvement is not an overnight process, and as the recovery continues to gain momentum into the coming year, staff will have less time to devote to managing document improvement projects. Better to use any extra capacity in peoples' schedules now to devote some time to looking at improving the organization's documents, rather than it being one more thing that staff have to fit into their busy schedules.

    While securing funding for communications projects has always been a challenge, today's business environment is actually an ideal one for making the investment in the experience your customers have with your business documents. A careful review of how well your customer-facing business documents reflect your brand and, more importantly, how well they communicate with your customers, followed by improvements to the language, organization and consistent branding of those documents should be a central part of any organization's recovery plan.

    Scott Watkinson is a senior communications consultant specializing in the writing and design of customer-focused business documents. Send your comments to

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