Recently I was having a conversation about the importance of personality and voice as key ingredients for any great brand or product. It’s a conversation I have at least ten times a year with companies ranging from startup to grown-up.
Whether we explicitly realize it or not, the best companies nail the consistent delivery of their personality across customer touchpoints – especially in B2C. They are the ones we feel most strongly connected to. The ones we feel we know. The ones we identify with. They are usually the ones we spend the most with.
When RevZilla customers told us they “loved us”, which was always the highest compliment, it just as often came in conjunction with them saying they “felt like they knew us” as it did via praise for our customer service, fast shipping or product knowledge.
Over time, one of RevZilla’s superpowers was sharing ourselves with our customers. Whether explicitly or by accident, it allowed our customers to form a relationship with us that was much greater than the immediate transaction.
I have written much about Fred Wilson’s blog (avc.com) on this site, because I have learned so much from a decade-plus of reading him daily. Today he posted his top-read posts of all time with some commentary that specifically called out a guest post on company voice called “Minimum Viable Personality”.
The post is equally smart and hilarious as it’s written by a contributor (turned blogger) who always commented under the pseudonym Fake Grimlock – yes, impersonating a tech startup obsessed version of the Transformers Dinobot leader – mangled robot dinosaur English and all.
Jokes aside, this post from 2011 resonated as much then as it does now. It influenced how I thought about intertwining our personalities as founders and the team’s cultural sensibilities into what became the external brand voice of RevZilla. This post helped me recognize it and gave me further permission to lean into it.
The nerdy quips, puns, jokes and joy showed up in copy, marketing, customer service, culture and certainly front and center via our RevZillaTV YouTube channel. I even created an informal internal brand mantra I called “5% jokes” which I used to ask Zillans if they applied to what they were working on. An overly pronounced sense of humor reflected our personalities and was at the customer forefront in that era.
I can’t tell you how many times I met a customer who said “I feel like I know you” or “I feel like I’m part of your inside joke”. That was one of the biggest learnings in building the brand. It was as much, if not more, about customer connection as it was about the utility of convenience, service or a great website.
Fake Grimlock proclaimed, “PERSONALITY API FOR LOYALTY”. So smart. That statement is so perfect – even with its missing helping verbs.
When we started out we wanted to seem more legit than 3 founders in our apartment so we wrote a “big company” about us page, photoshopped some website footer trust badges we couldn’t afford to actually pay for (See left. Cringe. Def got archived) and made our voice decidedly corporate. I’ll never forget the time in 2010 a competitor on a forum called us “the faceless monster”. It was a sign of our growing success, but it was also a big sign we were missing something that we didn’t realize at the time.
From then on we embraced our own voice. We stopped being the weak chicken Fake Grimlock chided.
We had a great product then. Making it more personal and “ours” was part of perfecting it. It not only brought it to life, it also became a key company, brand and product differentiator (moat) in our go-to-market.
I remember sharing the Fake Grimlock post far and wide in 2011. It was so validating to some of our hunches about what was really working. As a daily reminder to continue to “uncage our voice” and “NO BE CHICKEN”, I printed out one of the hand-scribbled drawings from the post and pinned it to the wall next to my desk.
It brought a big smile this morning to so easily find a iPhone pic of my office wall from November, 2011 with that drawing on it.
2011 was a tipping point. It was full validation for our bet on Zilla’s product-market fit and the evolved decision to share our unique and authentic voice more fully with our customers. Personality was winning their hearts in conjunction with the minds that our core product had already won. Force multiplier. We grew revenue from ~$6m to $17m that year and it almost killed us. It was so. very. rewarding.
The chicken had stopped being chicken. It had smashed the cage and lit the barn on fire. No one was going to eat this chicken.
10 years later, that chicken still thrives.
PS – After writing this it was nagging me that I felt like I had written about it before. Turns out I had. In 2011. It was one of only 4 short blog posts that year because who has time to blog when your company finally hits the hockey stick? I didn’t post again until 2016.