Many companies approach brand voice as an afterthought. Although it’s important to ensure that you’re creating great content, publishing on a regular basis, and keeping an eye on your overall content strategy, without a cohesive and consistent brand voice, you could end up confusing your most loyal fans or deterring would-be customers.
In today’s post, we’ll be looking at the elements of brand voice, how to develop brand voice through content, and we’ll also examine several examples of brands that have leveraged content to strengthen their brand marketing and reinforce key messaging.
Simply put, brand voice is how your company expresses its messaging. Brand voice touches virtually all aspects of corporate communications, from advertising and slogans to blog posts and visual assets.
In today’s highly competitive business world, it’s simply no longer enough to publish blog posts and hope for the best. Your content should be instantly recognizable, convey your brand’s core values, and be entertaining, useful and relevant – a tall order indeed. One way to accomplish these things is to think about, and focus on, developing your brand voice through your content.
Before I explain how to do this, let’s break the term “brand voice” down into two of its constituent components, and what each of them means in a little more detail.
Whether you’ve already been blogging for a while or you’re still in the planning stages, it’s worth thinking about the overall style you want your content to have. This is especially important if, like WordStream, you have several people contributing to your blog.
Many newcomers to content marketing confuse style with tone. This is understandable – after all, tone is an element of style, but the two are distinctly different.
Style is the way in which something is written. The style of a piece of content tells the reader a great deal about what they’re reading, long before the topic of the material is even clear. The style of your content will dictate elements such as sentence length and structure, as well as word choice (also known as diction).
The style of your content should align with your ideal reader/customer. Let’s say your target audience is comprised of C-suite managers and high-powered executives. You’ll likely want your content to align with the expectations of these individuals, which will probably be along the lines of the journalistic reporting seen in publications such as BusinessWeek. On the other hand, if you’re trying to reach new parents, you’ll probably want to adopt a more friendly, informal style to make your content more accessible.
Now that we’ve established what style is, let’s take a look at an example of content with a distinct style.
In you’re in marketing, you’ll almost undoubtedly know the work of Google’s Digital Marketing Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik. His blog, Occam’s Razor, is an excellent example of how style can advance the brand voice of an individual.
Kaushik’s blog is one of the best analytics and marketing insight resources on the web. Although he enjoys an enviable position in the marketing world thanks to his role at Google, Kaushik is a respected speaker, entrepreneur and marketing expert in his own right.
Kaushik understands his audience very well – digital marketers – and his blog content reflects the wide breadth of skill and expertise that his audience possesses. Although he isn’t afraid to tackle complex topics, such as this example of multi-channel attribution modeling, the style of his blog posts balances the detailed scientific approach behind this marketing technique with language that remains accessible. Even the name of Kaushik’s blog provides a hint of what readers can expect. Occam’s razor is a methodological principle used in problem solving that was first developed by William of Ockham, an English Franciscan friar, in the 14th century.
Kaushik’s blog may not be what you might call casual reading, but the style of his content is both substantial and accessible, making it an excellent example of how style can advance the brand of an individual while remaining highly actionable and insightful.
To really get a handle on the difference between style and tone, it may help to think of tone as the “attitude” of your content.
This can be another stumbling block for content marketing newbies – in their eagerness to focus on grammar, spelling and all that other “fun” stuff, some first-time content marketers completely forget to add some spice to their work or allow their voice to filter into their content. This results in bland and often boring content.
However, rather than trying to be “sexy” (or anything else) for the sake of it, you’ll need to go back to the profile(s) of your ideal reader and your company’s core values when considering the tone of your content. Some marketers think that humor is off-limits, especially those working for B2B companies, but depending on the type of person you’re trying to reach, humor might be an excellent way to engage with your audience, especially if your industry isn’t known for being particularly exciting.
As I mentioned earlier, tone can be considered an element of style. However, tone is much easier to identify. Let’s take a look at a strong example of content with a unique and recognizable style.
Let’s face it – everybody loves Moz. Not only is Moz one of the single best marketing and SEO resources on the web, it also has a unique tone that keeps its readers coming back for more.
Although it would have been all too easy to choose one of Rand’s blog posts or Whiteboard Fridays to focus on (especially this one, in which Rand extolls the virtues of the full Windsor knot and why underwear should never be seen), it was actually Javier Sanz’s post about adult website PornHub’s marketing efforts that caught my eye (ahem).
Although this is a guest post, it demonstrates the unique tone of Moz’s content that has helped the company stand out from an incredibly competitive crowd. Moz posts are always full of highly actionable information, hard data and case studies, but they’re framed in a way that also makes for an entertaining read. With a few wry puns here and there, it’s hard to mistake Moz content for another publisher’s material.
So, now we know what brand voice is, it’s time to delve into how to develop your brand voice through content. However, before we look at how various content types can help you strengthen your brand voice, we need to examine how your target audience should inform the style, tone and language of your marketing collateral.
Before you even think about developing guidelines for your brand voice, you need to know who you’re writing for (or trying to sell to).
Do you sell shirts? If so, maybe your ideal reader is this guy.
Marketers often create custom “personas” of their ideal customers in order to better tailor their messaging to these individuals. This process should be your first step when thinking about your brand voice.
As a starting point, consider the following questions:
Once you’ve begun to understand what makes your ideal customer tick, you can begin to craft your brand voice to appeal to these individuals. Depending on the personas you create based on this information, you should tailor your brand voice to meet the expectations of your audience.
For example, if your ideal reader/customer is affluent, college educated and has no children, your brand voice will be altogether different than it would be if you were targeting working parents. The buyer persona should inform virtually everything about your brand voice, including the style, tone, diction, and even visual design.
So, now you’ve gotten inside your perfect customer’s head, and thought about how to create content that will appeal to them – excellent! However, before you start publishing beautifully written, carefully crafted blog posts that will be irresistible to your ideal reader, you need to ensure that everything you create and publish aligns with your overall content strategy.
Regardless of what your brand voice “sounds” like, it should serve the same goals and objectives as your content itself.
Let’s use the example of the working parents of a bouncing, happy newborn as an example. They have a moderate household income, both work full-time jobs, and have just had their first child. With these facts in mind, your brand voice may affect your content in the following ways:
Since new parents are often incredibly busy, they may not be looking to make a purchase or even commit to signing up for a newsletter right away. They likely want to find out something about parenting quickly, then get back to the task at hand. This means your content should be highly informational, get to the point quickly, and provide immediately actionable information about the topic in question.
Remember – new parents’ precious little bundle of joy is THE most important thing in their world, so your brand voice and content strategy should reflect this. Parents want to read content by people who get what it’s like to be a parent. Even if you’ve discovered a foolproof way to soothe a screaming baby that works every time, it won’t matter if your how-to posts are as lengthy and verbose as a feature in the Sunday edition of The New York Times.
Keep your ideal reader and your content strategy in mind when developing your brand voice – the two are practically inseparable.
So far, we’ve only discussed how brand voice affects content marketing, but what about paid search? Even with the character restrictions on PPC ads, it’s still possible for your brand voice to inform your ad copy.
The best ads are those that appeal to prospects’ emotions. People don’t want to buy products – they want to solve their problems. If you approach your ad copy with this in mind, you can use this desire to create compelling ads that carry a weighty emotional payoff for your prospective customers and allow your brand voice to seep through – a technique that Perry Marshall and WordStream’s Director of Marketing Amber Stevens discussed in a recent webinar. Perry’s advice? Think about your product or service in the context of your customers’ problems, then use expressive language to appeal to their desire to solve it.
Your landing pages are another place to let your brand voice shine through – an opportunity overlooked by many marketers.
Highly optimized landing pages are essential to increasing conversions. While A/B testing can help you determine which factors are resonating with your customers, writing your landing page copy with your brand voice in mind can also improve your conversion rates. Let’s take a look at a particularly good example of this in action.
Not only did Megan give this Infusionsoft landing page a grade of “A+” in her round-up of landing page examples in a previous post, it also demonstrates how brand voice can – and should – carry through from your site collateral to your landing pages.
The language of this landing page mirrors that of Infusionsoft’s site, which emphasizes the ease, convenience and simplicity of its software. The diction of the copy reiterates these points by including words such as “automatically”, “fastest” and “quick,” as well as highlighting the software’s benefits (and leveraging the prospect’s desire for an emotional payoff) with words such as “grow”, “save” and “get.” This doesn’t just serve as persuasive messaging, it also strengthens Infusionsoft’s brand and results in a seamless experience for the user.
Some brands’ voices are unique and perfectly embody their core values. This voice can be heard in everything from the shortest tweets to lengthy blog posts. Here are just two companies that have mastered the art of building brand voice through their content marketing and social presence.
Admittedly, I’ve never had to sell toilet paper, so I don’t know firsthand how difficult this must be. After all, isn’t every brand of toilet paper soft, luxurious and quilted? Well, the marketing folks over at Charmin certainly know what they’re doing, as evidenced by the remarkably popular marketing campaigns the manufacturer has launched to generate “buzz” about its toilet paper.
As well as positioning itself (sorry) as a family friendly brand by including cute bios about its family of bears, Charmin doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its brand voice is funny without resorting to off-color toilet humor, and even a little goofy. It’s obvious that the Charmin marketing team relishes their work, and this playfulness is evident in Charmin’s brand voice.
With an active and surprisingly popular social presence, an entertaining website and consistent messaging, Charmin proves you don’t need to sell a sexy product to make an impact.
Mountain Dew is just another soft drink, but somebody obviously forgot to tell the marketing department. Like some other beverage brands, such as Red Bull, Mountain Dew has become much more than a mere radioactive waste-colored soda. It actively aligns itself with various extreme sports, music concerts and just about anything else that could be labeled extreme to appeal to its target demographic, and does so magnificently.
Mountain Dew’s brand voice is so keenly self-aware, it borders on parody. You only have to look as far as its promotion for NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – complete with a throne made of car parts, stunt ATVs flying through the air, and a guitarist rocking out on the winner’s podium – to get a taste of Mountain Dew’s brand voice in action.
Mountain Dew is also one of the very few brands that genuinely gets how to leverage the power of social media. Some of the brand’s tweets are funnier than others, but they all convey the unique brand voice that Mountain Dew’s marketing team has managed to cultivate.
C’mon, that’s just lazy…
If you’re in a competitive industry, developing a unique brand voice is essential. Use the advice and suggestions above to develop a voice that not only appeals to your ideal customer, but also aligns with your business’ core values. Over time, you’ll notice a distinctly individual voice begin to emerge from your content – a voice that can help you stand out from the competition and keep your loyal readers coming back for more.
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
See other posts by Dan Shewan
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