Creating a brand voice is a must for any company that relies on written communication. But, the actual brand voice creation process can be very time-consuming. These 8.5 tips will help you to jump-start your brand's voice and content today.
1. Use words wisely and consistently to reinforce your brand voice
"As you develop a consistent brand, you begin to take ownership of your own niche in the market. When you choose a position and then consistently reinforce your position, it becomes more difficult for competitors to come in and take that advantage away. The ability to manage your market position trains customer expectations, setting a foundation for continued success." - BrandExtract
Some brands confuse consumers with inconsistent terms. For example, a software company might call a single piece of software a “tool,” “suite,” “dashboard,” or “solution.” This approach could make the user think that software X comes in 5 different versions. Similarly, user interfaces, help text, and marketing campaigns will suffer big time if clear, consistent terms aren’t used.
What’s the solution? How can you stop the madness? The absolute easiest way is to create a glossary and sending it to all your content producers.
I like to make my glossaries in Google Sheets. You might divide it up like so:
Having a glossary will allow content producers to confirm that they’re using the right term, capitalization, and spacing. It can also provide them with helpful alternatives when they’re trying not to be repetitive.
The first step in creating your glossary is taking an inventory of the terms used throughout your content. To do this, make a copy of our glossary template and start reading through your website, social media, sales content, blog posts, customer service info, and help documents. As you read, fill in the term column with terms that you see frequently or that need to be used consistently.
Once you’ve inventoried the terms, start eliminating anything repetitive, or that doesn’t match your brand’s voice. If possible, copy these into a doc and list them as a term to avoid using.
Next, take your lean group of terms and start defining them and filling in the other columns. This step could give you surprising insights into how your brand has been communicating. You might even see that major changes need to be made to product names. But, don’t worry; this is all part of the process of optimizing your brand’s content.
2. Share client stories
Everyone loves a good story. They even prefer a bad story to a list of dry facts. Why are stories so powerful?
The book Made to Stick dives deep into the power of stories. It includes the example of photocopy repairmen sitting around on their lunch break and telling stories. During one story, a repairman goes into great detail on the work he put into resolving a false error code. The reason he shares this story instead of saying, “watch out for this false error code,” is that the story aids in memory and comprehension.
You can leverage this same power in your content. Telling the story of a client dealing with a frustrating situation gives your customers someone to connect with. They could even be in that same situation. Explaining how your product or service solved that paint point will help them to imagine how they could benefit from it too. Finally, bring the story to a memorable conclusion; this will help customers remember the entire buyer’s journey and make your ideas stick.
Try to use this outline when creating a client story:
- Share the client’s situation and make sure to keep it relatable.
- Now, bring up the pain point. What problem are they facing, and what negative impact is it having?
- Enter your product/solution. Explain how the client solved their problem by using it.
- The happy ending. What benefits are they enjoying?
- Call-to-action. Encourage readers who face a similar issue to contact you, learn more about your products, or buy.
3. Share your story
If people are interested in others’ stories, you better believe that they’re interested in your company’s story. Think of a job interview; the interviewer asks you many questions to learn your story and see if they want to be in business with you. Your customers want the exact same thing.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, customers prefer working with companies that share their ideals. In fact, there’s an app called Shape that’s designed to help investors find companies that align with their own morals. The market wants this information about your company too, so give it to them.
Here are a few places where you can include your story:
- Your About page
- A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) page
- Bios on social media accounts
- As part of a newsletter or email series
- In online videos or commercials
- As part of your sales documentation
Besides these key spots, pepper your story into other pieces of content. For example, when announcing a new product, say something like, “we remember building our first [your product] in mom’s garage. Our goal was to help people like you to [benefit]. The [new product] was built in line with that same vision.” Doing this shows that your company has a history of caring for its customers and knows where it came from. This makes your company and its products more appealing to consumers.
4. There’s an email template for that
In 2009, Apple launched the genius marketing campaign lead by the catchphrase “there’s an app for that.” No matter what challenge or difficulty you were facing, Apple had a solution to help you out.
Something similar happens in the business world. Emails are the bread and butter of business communication, but writing effective emails is hard! With so many people writing emails for a business, with varying styles and writing abilities, your brand’s unique voice will break down pretty quickly. But, creating email templates is a handy way to solve this problem.
How should you go about this? First, get someone with solid writing skills and an understanding of your brand’s voice. Have that person go around to people who regularly send emails; this will mainly be sales and customer service. Find out what types of emails they typically send and which formats give them the best results. Then, create a series of templates based on common emails, employee suggestions, and your brand’s voice.
Once you have a set of emails, make sure to clearly mark your variables so that they’re always filled-in correctly. An easy way to do this is to put variables inside of square brackets and highlight them in an obnoxious color, like so “[Client name].” This will prevent any embarrassing mishaps.
Also, think of guidelines to give employees for their follow-up emails. Having an initial template is great, but you need something in place for emails further down the line. Take steps in advance.
Finally, make it easy for employees to use the templates by integrating them into your email service (for example, in Gmail, you can set up canned responses, which serve as email templates). Also, explain that you’re not trying to micromanage their emails, you’re simply making sure that the company is always accurately represented, and following these templates and guidelines will help them to do a better job.
5. Where’s your content taking you?
You might be familiar with the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That whole journey is made up of millions of individual steps. Each piece of content you create is a step in that journey, but where are all those steps taking you?
Content strategy is the process of taking strategic business goals and using content to achieve them. For example, you might want to raise awareness, get more email list subscribers, or increase your sales. These smaller goals all contribute to your company’s mission. They’re like a road map.
The problem is that a lot of companies produce content inconsistently and without direction. They take a step to the right, a step to the left, a step back, and a step forward. In their minds, they’re really moving, but they’re staying in the same place. Don’t make that mistake.
Even though content strategy is a full-time job, small brands with limited resources can still use and benefit from it. Here’s a simple way to define your content strategy:
- Research: Get to know your audience. Answer questions like: what kind of content do they want? What’s holding them back from buying from my company? What other needs do they have that my company could also take care of? How do they consume content? Once you’ve answered these questions, turn the data into buyer personas (characters who represent your ideal clients).
- More research: Now that you know who your audience is, you need to find out what they’re searching for online. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to find terms that your target market searches for. Also, considering using a Google Form to survey your existing customers to see what topics they care about. Turn all these keywords and topics into a list.
- Set goals: Based on your research, what goals could your company achieve within the next year? If possible, create a few SMART (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, time-based) goals and align the content you create with them.
- Create content: Based on your list, choose a main topic or series of topics to cover. Spread these out onto a content calendar so that you move in the same direction consistently. Then trickle out the content.
- Promote your content: Some think that creating content is the hard part, but promoting it is the real challenge. Set up a promotion checklist in advance. For example, every time you create a new blog post, your promotion checklist might be: 3 tweets, 1 email to your list, post to Facebook groups, republish on LinkedIn, syndicate on sites with a similar audience. Having a checklist ensures that each post gets the promotion that it deserves.
- Analyze: Every few months look at the analytical data to see if you’ve reached your SMART goals. Have you increased web traffic? Do you have more sales? Do your clients have a better impression of your company? If you see that your content efforts haven’t moved the needle, revise your strategy and try again.
Content strategy can be complicated, but if you follow these basics steps, you’re sure to gain a deeper understanding of your audience and have content that moves your business forward.
6. Tractor beam them with benefits
If you’ve already heard this a million times, then let me say it to you one more time. People buy benefits. They don’t buy a blanket with 300-gram wool; they buy a warm blanket. The benefit matters more than a specification ever could because a benefit relates to emotion and not logic.
Unfortunately, brands continually forget the first lesson in marketing. They focus on why their products are better instead of the benefits. This leads to the cardinal sin of content...being boring. You don’t want your brand to be boring! So, what can you do?
Let’s compare two pieces of copy from two-made up car companies. Which one do you like more?
Example 1: Feel like the king of the road while saving fuel and protecting the environment. With a clean design that eliminates waste, the X2 is the culmination of what a car should be. Get yours today.
Example 2: The X3 uses a high-efficiency fuel system to increase torque while reducing consumption. This advanced efficiency is also reflected in the X3’s low emissions and reduced risk of breakdown due to carbon build-up. The X3 can be purchased from your nearest dealer.
Which car company are you more inclined to buy from? The X3 has features that you didn’t even know you wanted, but the content is a bit dry. The X3 may be logically better in every way, but it has zero emotional impact. However, the X2 appeals to emotion while sharing a few key facts. This style appeals to a broader audience and brings emotions into play, allowing it to blow the X3 out of the water.
If this is something your company struggles with, then ask yourself these questions:
- Get into your customer’s head and imagine what they’ll do with your product or service. What impact will it have on their life?
- In real-world terms, how is your company providing a better solution than the competition?
- What problems can your customer avoid by using your solutions?
- How will using your solution impact the lives of those around your customer (for example, their family or co-workers)?
The answers to these are the benefits you need to inject into your copy to make it appealing on an emotional level.
7. Destroy your second face
Has this ever happened to you? You’re buying a new product, and the salesperson is great. They understand you and get you excited about the product. Their great attitude makes you really trust the company. In the following months, you enjoy interesting emails and blog posts from the company. But then the product breaks, and you need to contact customer service. You get grilled about what happened to the product, they’re rude to you, and the company doesn’t fulfill its warranty. Trust broken.
This is an everyday case of two-faced company syndrome. Somewhere between sales and support, there’s a disconnect. This leads to clients who feel deceived and will bad mouth your company every chance they get.
There’s only one way to combat this: destroy the second face. You need to be the same company through and through to maintain loyal customers and improve your brand voice.
To achieve this, you need global guidelines that apply to how your company communicates and behaves toward the customer. Here are a few ways that you can make your company’s communication more consistent:
- Be upfront about restrictions, exceptions, and any other “negative” things the customer may encounter further down the line. This eliminates any surprises that could hurt your relationship with them.
- Create guidelines for Customer Service to use. As I mentioned earlier, email templates can help with this, but you also need to give guidelines to ensure that Customer Service doesn’t break your company’s image.
- Give the customer an outlet for their suggestions, concerns, and complaints, and show that you listen. Just feeling heard can have a huge impact on how customers view your company.
- When the customer runs into an issue, offer a gift or a free bonus. Inject the negative situation with a touch of positivity so that it doesn’t damage how they view your company.
Implementing these suggestions may require doing a little bit of restructuring, but they can go a long way toward building a more loyal customer base.
8. Collaboration fuels imagination
“Stop, collaborate, and listen.” Even though the command to “collaborate” makes absolutely no sense in the opening line of "Ice, Ice Baby," it can be valuable to us. For years, musicians have understood the power of collaborating with others. The results are exciting, interesting and expose each musician’s music to new listeners.
As a brand, you should take a page from their playlist and collaborate with businesses or industry experts. This gives you credibility and can help you expand your audience with minimal effort.
Here are a few ways that you can collaborate:
- Is there an industry expert with a new book out? They’d probably be eager to share their ideas with your company’s audience. Have them do a few posts on your blog based on their book. This will give your audience interesting new content while giving the author a platform to promote their book.
- Does your company have any key partnerships? Exchange articles or social media posts with your partner. This will strengthen your partnership and help your customers to better understand how you collaborate with others.
- Have your company create its own unique content to syndicate. Share it with industry publications to establish your expertise or publications/websites your customers read to use as a lead tool.
Collaborating gives tired content a jolt of creativity and excitement. This can be just what your brand needs to hold its audience's attention.
8.5 Use the best and cut the rest
Case in point, this guide started out as 23 points. Don’t bore people or lower your brand’s perceived quality by pushing out sub-par content. 5 great pieces of content will always do better than 100 mediocre ones.
Bonus point: Create a brand voice
Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Yes, the simplest way to improve your brand’s voice is by creating a brand voice. In fact, your brand voice guidelines can help you to apply all the above points and more.
How will a brand voice benefit you?
- A brand voice makes your content stand out.
- A brand voice shows that you care about your audience’s needs.
- A brand voice cures two-faced company syndrome.
- A brand voice gives your brand a consistent personality.
- A brand voice simplifies your long-term content strategy.
Don’t get stuck in stale, outdated marketing approaches. Join the next generation of marketers. Create a brand voice today!