People do business with those they know and trust. That’s why key account managers have expense accounts to wine and dine their customers, and why data mining helps advertisers zero in on their demographics using purchase history and social media activity.
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C business, you want to reach out to your markets on both an emotional and a pragmatic level, and you want your audience to feel confident in your brand’s ability to address their needs. Your online presence may be the first impression your company makes on your prospects.
Is your content barking up the wrong tree? It could be if your brand doesn’t have a consistent and distinct “voice” for your online brand identity, shaped to appeal to your ideal demographic.
Voice vs. Tone
Think of voice as an expression of your brand’s core personality. Blog posts, landing page content, and video scripts should appear to spring from the consciousness of a single character, whether that character is representing an individual, a small business, or a large corporation.
Tone is how your brand’s character articulates your message as appropriate to the topic at hand.
For example, an insurance broker might use a lighthearted approach when writing about his RV policies, but he’ll shift gears when he’s stressing the importance of supplemental critical illness insurance. Yet the “voice” representing the agent remains consistent.
Modeling Your Character Profile
You don’t have to go through a harrowing life experience to develop character. What you do need to do is sit down, close your eyes, and visualize the personality you’d like to represent your brand’s persona as it “meets” your audience. After all, like we said, your digital communications are likely the first point of contact between your brand and your potential customers, and image is everything.
Let’s take a look at four types of voice, painted in broad strokes:
1. Authoritarian Elite
Certain industries maintain an austere, formal voice to convey respect, responsibility, and decorum. Imagine a silver-haired gentleman in a five thousand dollar custom suit. He’s providing an overview of recommended mutual funds. You, as the person sitting across the expansive wooden desk from this somewhat intimidating presence, might be a little bored and overwhelmed, but you trust that he’s been around the block and has forgotten more than you’ll ever know about investing.
He “speaks” with sophisticated words, and he rarely uses contractions. “We built the foundation upon which this nation’s prosperity flourished. We are rather fond of reminding everyone of our significance.” His firm’s website content is populated with dry, authoritative analyses of current market trends and predictions and with complicated bar graphs and pie charts.
“If you can prove you are responsible, intelligent, and worthy, you may be in a position to deserve (or have earned) our esteemed services.” This attitude works for those shopping for high-end luxury items, B2B executives, and other audiences who feel their choices bolster their own positions as authoritative figures.”
Chances are, this fellow’s tone doesn’t waver much, and he wears suits whether he’s attending a board meeting or… wait. We can’t picture him doing anything but espousing his financial expertise unless he’s on the links at his Connecticut country club with a corporate client and one or two of his business partners.
Just as investment firms adapt to economic conditions and investing trends, they’re adjusting the way they appeal to their evolving markets… but still, their language and voice need to remain reserved.
2. The Insider’s Opinion
Have you ever had an industry “inside man”? Perhaps it was an old college buddy, an aunt, or a family friend. You’re about to make a major decision, and you don’t want to be fleeced, so you seek this trusted person’s advice. “Knowing what you know from that side of the desk, what would you do?” you ask.
Brands using this approach convey authority tempered with familiarity. You trust them to guide you through the task at hand with the same consideration they’d give their own dear mother.
“I could charge you full price, but then your Aunt Cloe would make me sit at the kid’s table next Christmas. Ha ha! No, seriously. I’ve never been one to take advantage of a bad situation. Let me take a look at your car, and give you some pointers so you can avoid getting ripped off in the future.”
This voice is intimate. It’s almost a one-on-one conversation capitalizing on the “I want to believe in the good of humanity” ideal. You might as well embed this soundtrack on your site.
This tactic has kept The Shane Co. in business for nearly five decades. Their tagline “Now you have a friend in the diamond business” is reflected in their online content, and many of us grew up hearing Tom Shane read his authentic-sounding ad copy in radio spots. We trust “Uncle Tom” and his family’s humble dynasty. After all, he’s taught us how to pick the best stones and how to get the best value. He’s told us how the big shots in the industry operate, and why he’s looking out for our best interests. Now that his son has taken up the torch, we’re more likely to assume Rordan Shane maintains the same values.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the company, but it’s definitely a salute to their compelling brand voice.
3. Millennial Speak
Companies targeting this demographic should focus on easy-to-consume, responsive, “on the go” content created in an inclusive voice. (“Amiright?”). But watch out: They’re repelled by trite overtures, especially awkward attempts at millennial vernacular.
They value social consciousness, so occasional blog posts and company mission statements espousing outreach projects and sustainable practices go a long way.
Millennials respond well to a casual voice representing a slightly older, more experienced peer. Someone they’d hang out with at a wine bar, who’s sharing their own experiences rather than “talking down” to them.
“If you’re like us, we really think you’ll 100% like X.” You’re part of our crew, right?
Keep things casual, and be subtle with your authoritative approach. Feel free to use “we’re in this together, come with me!” language, using the first-person perspective to validate your audience’s pain points and offer a solution on which they can act as soon as possible. This approach works just as well with blog content as it does with product landing pages.
Here’s an example of content crafted to address the average millennial’s pain points:
“You’ve purchased a pair of jeans from your favorite local shop, only to find out they’re made from unsustainable cotton and sewn by underpaid and exploited workers.
We’d return them, too. Because like you, we care about how we source our products, and we’re committed to giving back. You can feel good about wearing our fair-trade Green Scene Jeans because for every ten pairs we sell, we donate one pair—or the equivalent retail value—to your choice of these organizations:
- Sad Panda Foundation
- Pantsless Refugee Outreach
- Global Studies for Sustainable Agriculture
This week, we’re spotlighting Pantsless Refugee Outreach so you can see out how you’re helping us make a difference…”
Millennial brand loyalty is fickle. Members of the largest generation are experience-oriented and easily turned off by companies they don’t trust. That trust is easily broken.
Contrary to the stereotype, millennials don’t have short attention spans. They’re wired to skim through content to identify the information they want. In response, your “character” shouldn’t be long-winded. Get to the point, be accurate, and be genuine. Keep your headlines true to your content be sensational; this generation hates being tricked. Break up your content into subheaders, bullet-points, and text “call-outs” to avoid the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” (TL;DR) response that triggers your audience to move on to the next article.
On the other hand, “real life stories” help this demographic identify with your brand and envision the “what if” consequences of not heeding your call-to-action.
4. The Mainstream Appeal
If you’re trying to reach a general audience, your voice should more closely match that created for the Millennial segment. As with the Authoritarian Elite persona, you want a “follow the leader” attitude, but your mainstream audience is more concerned with value, convenience, and consistency than it is with novelty, luxury, or sustainability.
“You should buy X, because it’s the best-selling—and best value—in its category. And because you think I’ve got my act together, and I’m a solid role model. Do as I suggest, and everything will be okay!” This voice speaks from a more authoritative position than that addressing millennials but with the least sophisticated language.
This voice usually comes from a warm but socially or experientially elevated position. Take a look at Oprah Winfrey’s website content and the products she endorses. We all know that she can buy anything she wants, but thanks to her shopping tips, we feel we have a chance to emulate a certain lifestyle.
Humor and lightheartedness work well for broader audiences, as long as the jokes aren’t too esoteric. A shared laugh is a great bonding experience (hey, look! I get your joke!) and quirky, fun content makes your brand seem approachable and friendly.
Laying the Ground Rules for Content Continuity
You’ve got a business to run, so it’s up to your marketing team to help you outsource your content copywriting. Our agency collaborates with talented freelance writers with experience in your industry. We might match you with one or two writers, or cast a broader net to tap into a wider talent pool.
Once we’ve identified your market, created your voice, and lined up your content creators, how do we make sure your content remains on-brand?
Editorial guidelines provide copywriters with content examples, your company’s character profile, and your ideal customer’s demographic makeup. An editorial calendar allows you to assign blog topics that address your audience’s needs based on product launches, seasonal activities, shopping holidays, current affairs and other noteworthy triggers that will help your message resonate. Your editorial guidelines and editorial calendar are the framework for your content campaign’s continuity, no matter who’s creating your content.