“If your logo didn’t appear with your content, could your audience identify the content as coming from your brand?”
- Erika Heald, Content Marketing Institute
Why the hell not?
To really execute an intelligent content strategy, your brand voice should be able to stand alone and accurately define who you are.
I’ve been spending some time working on tone of voice documents recently, which has really opened my eyes as to why so many brands are getting it wrong. It’s not as easy as saying ‘this is our personality - GO, GO, GO!’ It demands a defined strategy.
Whether you’re confident that all your content expertly represents your brand, or not - creating a tone of voice document with these 4 great components will ensure there’s no ambiguity when it comes to your content.
What is tone of voice?
Let’s start with what it is not.
It is not what you say. And it is not just the words you use.
Tone of voice is how you say something. It is the order you put words. The rhythm and pace of each sentence written.
It should convey your brand’s values, and way of thinking; embody both the people that make up your brand, and the core purpose of your content marketing campaign.
And it’s bloody important to get it right...
A great piece of content created without a tone of voice, is like putting a pair of odd socks on even though you just spent hours picking out the perfect outfit.
If you don’t define your tone of voice ahead of your content marketing strategy, all your campaign efforts quickly become null and void.
So, how can you outline the perfect brand voice and give your marketing activity purpose again?
Time to revisit that all important question you probably asked at the start of your brand’s journey... What do I want to say?
As soon as you outline what the hell you want to tell the world, working out the logistics will be a piece of cake.
So, let’s dig in... *hands you cake fork*
Let’s talk templates
Remember what you want to achieve... Consistency! To get this, you need a document that will help anyone write content in your tone of voice. And a quick paragraph isn’t going to deliver this.
Instead, you’ll need to create a document that marries these 5 key components:
- Value scale
- Dos and Don’ts
- Grammar and Structure
Individually, they each nail down a significant part of your company. But together, they tell you what this means when creating content - whether it’s a 2000 word blog post or a 140 character tweet.
1. Personality traits and values
Brand personality and values are key for marketing success and symbolise what you stand for.
But they are subjective. What might be ‘funny’ to one person, might be ‘boring’ to another. Of course we are all going to interpret something differently. Which is why your document couldn’t be this component alone. But it makes a good starting point...
List your traits and values and include a sentence or two about what you mean.
We are insightful. We don’t have generic ideas or opinions, we have and share unique thoughts and insights on our industry.
We are timeless. We don’t jump on the back of hip new trends with the latest expressions, as these will become outdated and as will we. We use the same language to address everything we comment on.
It’s not just a brand value. It’s how that impacts on content creation that matters.
2. The scale of your values
Giving content creators a few words to consider won’t help them translate the brand’s values into anything - or at least not very well. Values and personality traits are a great platform, but it’s important you add more meaning to them - put each one onto a scale and define what it truly means.
Econsultancy recommend taking a Goldilocks and The Three Bears approach - too hot, too cold, just right...
Once you’ve established the two extremes, list or summarise the language and key terms that would work in line with it. Then those that wouldn’t. It doesn’t have to be long. Include a few examples of the language that fits the value perfectly, and examples of the two extremes. For instance...
We are real.
We get straight to the point and keep it honest. While we might swear to get our point across and be provocative, we will never swear at people or be rude. We will also never bullshit around the truth.
The ‘we are / we are not’ scale brings the value to life. It narrows down the language your team should be using and the voice that embodies your brand.
3. The dos and don’ts
Still, this is all pretty subjective. At the moment, you have defined who you are and the language that represents this. But now it’s about teaching your team how to embody this.
This is why examples are so important. They help teams visualise the tone of voice, turn it into something tangible and demonstrate the basic dos and don’ts when writing.
Go through your current content - tweets, emails, images, blog articles - and pick out a selection that get it right, and those that get it wrong.
Highlight what’s right and what’s wrong - and why! And then rewrite the bad stuff in your newly defined tone of voice.
If this is a struggle, then the previous components are missing the mark.
4. Grammar and structure
Right, you could argue grammar and structure don’t necessarily belong in a ‘tone of voice’ document. But when it comes to a consistent brand voice, every detail counts.
Because grammar and structure affect language and how a piece of content is read, it’s a valuable component at the end of your document. Just remember, consistency is key. Which is hard when we are all so different.
We all use different colloquialisms. We all have a different humour. Some of us like swearing more than others… not mentioning any names. The list goes on!
But it’s important to clarify the nitty gritty straight away.
From the use of punctuation, to the degree of formality - establishing some basic rules will improve the style and quality of your content in the long run.
Keep it easy to digest
The document is going to cover a lot because, well, it means a bloody lot. Your tone of voice is just as important as your logo, so making sure you create an easy to understand document is essential!
Putting a name or face to your voice is a really great way of summarising this lengthy document into something easily digestible. But don’t just look to your favourite soap star or author - it has to be someone that has the same tone as your business.
To do this, summarise your tone of voice into four or five key statements. For instance...
- You are intelligent - you are a thought leader who doesn’t spiel off generic content, but creates something insightful and authoritative
- You are direct - you never hide the truth behind bullshit words, nor are you rude. You keep it honest, positive, and meaningful
- You are a pioneer - you write in a confident tone based on your knowledge and experience and you are not afraid to introduce new ideas as long as they are backed up by evidence
- You are entertaining - you are funny and engaging. You are not afraid to use humour in your content and won’t shy away from a pun when appropriate.
Is there a character or influencer that embodies this tone?
Let’s say Ann Handley. She is a pioneer, and she is intelligent, entertaining and direct. Or PIED.
Now you have a well known name and an acronym to summarise your tone of voice. It means your team has something memorable to refer back to when they don’t have a copy of this document at hand.
It’s live, not dead
This document shouldn’t be a one hit wonder. It should be the driving force behind every piece of content you create.
Eventually, you won’t need it in sight to create sensational copy - but that still doesn’t mean it’s dead. Whether you have a new team member creating content, or are creating something new, it’s a guide that will never cease to inform.
As your brand evolves, your message will too. Try and revisit the document to add new or remove irrelevant tone of voice attributes. How often you do this will depend on your brand, but three times a year is a good starting point.
There you have it - go align your content!