Jan 7th, 2022
The allure of Japan – and significant details in business writing
by Synne Lindén
The main challenge for most ‘About Us’ or ‘Our Story’ pages today isn’t that they’re dishonest. It’s not that they’re coming from a meaningless place. Or that they don’t have a story to tell.
Every single company in the world has unique attributes, because every single company in the world was built by people. Each of these individuals possess their own stories, experiences and thoughts.
The real trick is taking the uniqueness and conveying it through content that resonates. Significant detail can be a very powerful tool to this end. This article is written for those of you that want to understand more about the technique and how it’s used successfully in business writing.
The power of Show, don’t tell
In creative writing, significant detail falls under the umbrella of ‘Showing, not telling’, which is arguably one of the most useful things any writer can ever learn. It’s a topic I’m going to come back to over and over again, because it’s essential.
If you want to create a connection, you need to stir an emotion. And in order to do that, you need to write emotively.
Showing instead of telling is the concept of, essentially, putting your money where your mouth is. Instead of just saying that you’re a caring business, show that you are. Instead of listing the years of important events for the company, share memories from each specific milestone.
As Janet Burroway (you’ll be hearing a lot from her) puts it,
What (show, don’t tell) means is that your job as a (writer) is to focus attention not on the words, which are inert, nor on the thoughts these words produce, but through these to felt experience, where the vitality of understanding lies.
Significant detail as a creative writing tool
Significant detail is the subcategory of showing, not telling that concerns itself with, you guessed it, detail. Have you ever tried telling a lie, but gotten caught out on it because you missed a minor piece in your narrative?
Significant detail is about proving that what you are saying is actually true. And details tend to provide that proof.
For businesses that want to use writing as a means of communicating with their audience, this concept is crucial. When you give out details – like memories, values and stories related to your company – you are building the foundation for mutual understanding. That leads to connection. And connection leads to loyal and engaged customers.
Details make us feel, because they paint a vivid picture. It works even at the smallest of levels, like in the case of an ad. For example: Which of these makes you more intrigued?
For sale: Antique desk, solid birch and oak, between 1895 and 1910. Good condition, with minor wear.
For sale: Golden oak desk, built by my great-grandfather’s neighbour at the turn of the 20th century, worn by novel writing only.
It’s an arbitrary and simple example, but it works to illustrate how adding two minor detail (that the seller’s great-grandfather knew the person who made the desk and that it’s been worn by novel writing) provides a new dimension to the advertisement. By sprinkling these detail snippets over a bigger picture, it elevates the whole, and business stories are actually the perfect material for this exercise.
From Japan to the US – significant details that work
Have you heard of skincare juggernaut Shiseido? Here are the first two sentences on their ‘About Us’ page:
In 1872, Shiseido opened its doors in Ginza, Tokyo. The family business that started out as Japan’s first Western-style pharmacy transformed into a global beauty giant that currently operates in approximately 120 countries and regions around the world.
Can you see any significant details? Anything that makes you feel a genuine connection with this brand? Shiseido is a perfect example for the case of significant detail, because it’s the kind of company where you’d expect the tool to be used.
The brand certainly has a long enough history to draw on. It could draw us into the magic of a 150-year-long history in an instant. But rather than giving the reader answers, this passage is objective and impersonal, and leaves them wondering.
I want to know what that first pharmacy in Ginza looked like. What made the family start Shiseido. And why.
Now, let’s take a look at another Japanese skincare brand. Much, much younger than Shiseido, and substantially smaller. Here are the first two sentences on Tatcha’s ‘Our Story’ page:
After a decade of working for large corporations, Victoria Tsai yearned for simplicity and authenticity in her life. Suffering from acute dermatitis and developing a keen awareness of the importance of ingredients on the skin, she began traveling East in search of a more evolved, holistic approach to beauty.
This passage is ripe with significant detail. Victoria Tsai had worked for large corporations for too long; she wanted simplicity and authenticity; she suffered from acute dermatitis; and she began to travel East for the solution.
Tatcha is telling us a story, sprinkling it with significant, meaningful, relatable details about its founder. It’s a very efficient way of making the reader care about the core of a brand. And it works – because we can connect with Victoria Tsai on a personal, emotional level.
Significant detail in your business
Many businesses struggle with their About page for two simple reasons:
1: They don’t think they have a story to tell.
2: They’re afraid their story won’t resonate with everyone.
The desire to resonate with everyone is really a topic in its own right, which we’ll cover down the line. About the story aspect, though – there’s definitely one there. And it definitely has significant details in it.
It can be the type of sandwich your founder ate when they came up with the idea for the company. The story from your childhood that sparked a life-long passion and eventually the beginning of a business. The rundown ‘Office For Rent’ you saw – and signed a contract for.
If you’re willing to share these details, you’ll resonate more with the right audience. You’ll also build a following that’s engaged with and interested in being part of your story, past and future.
Want to get started identifying the significant details in your business? Check out the 20-minute workshop here.