We've been through lots of experiments in giving companies a human voice, few of them successful. Paid pitchmen and celebrity endorsements. Awkward commercials featuring the aw-shucks CEO. Quirky corporate styles and creation myths. In the end they all feel as manufactured as they are.
But now I'm seeing a new approach that works far better. Some of the smaller companies that I follow are redesigning their websites to put their blog front and center. Not a link to the blog at the bottom of the page, but a front page that is almost all blog, with the products relegated to a sidebar. For lack of a better term, I call them "retail blogs".
One of the best examples of this is Sparkfun. This is a company that caters to electronics hobbyists and DIY hardware hackers, of which I am one thanks to my UAV/autopilot side project. Speaking of which, this is what Sparkfun's site looks like today:
See? It's all voice and community. This is a corporate home page that you'll want to subscribe to in your RSS reader--the mix of insidery chat about new products with fanboy admiration of customer projects is infectious.
Other examples include Woot's hilarious blog-like new product listings each day:
Others are just the blog side of a physical store, and so they're not as well integrated with online sales, such as the trendy Reed Space store in NYC:
As DIY Drones starts releasing products, this is the direction we'll go. Blog and community first, selling things second. Voice builds trust and trust sells stuff.