To document, or not to document: it’s not really a fair question. You should definitely document your content strategy. Without documentation, you cannot maintain consistency throughout internal changes and across cross-functional teams.
Consistency isn’t just icing on the cake; it’s vital to success. In our 2016 Benchmark Report, we found that “85% of B2B marketers agree that consistency across content, teams, and channels is the backbone of an effective customer experience.” If you’re not working to create a reliable experience for your customers, you’re just asking them to find another organization to address their pain points.
A major cause of inconsistency comes from team member changes. With a slight alteration to an old proverb, we might say, “When a [team member leaves], a library burns to the ground.” When a coworker leaves, whether to a new department or a new company altogether, all their hard-earned insights and know-how disappear from the company—that is, if you don’t have a means of transferring their knowledge on to the next person. Change is an inevitable aspect of an organization, but the loss of knowledge doesn’t have to be.
Even in times of team stability, maintaining consistency in a siloed company is difficult. When all departments stay focused on individual projects, individual teams may lose sight of the broader priorities of the company. Every project may indeed seem vital to the operations of the organization. But misaligned projects have a significantly weakened ROI for the effort.
So, how do you ensure strategies and guidelines survive changes and cross-departmental exchanges?
Simply have it written down somewhere—somewhere everyone can reference to stay on track. An easily accessible document is as important for the big picture elements, such as company-wide objectives, as it is for the more day-to-day guidelines, such as your style guide.
A document dedicated to defining the voice and tone of your brand is essential to creating a strong message throughout your content. This documented resource is the bridge between high-level company messaging and on-staff writers or freelancers. Maintaining a consistent voice across all forms of content will ensure the message you want to convey indeed aligns with those company-wide priorities.
Develop Your Brand Voice
Establishing the voice of your content relies on two essential elements of your content strategy: buyer personas and brand personality. If you’re ready to define—or re-define—the voice of your company, begin with the buyer personas. If you’re still working on how to develop your buyer personas, check out this article for an in-depth discussion.
Brand personality should be informed by your target audience (the buyer personas) and how you want to speak to them. Think of defining your brand personality as an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the market. Perhaps the target audience you’ve identified are start-up strategists. You may discover through your research and experience that they’re tired of trendy buzzwords and want to discuss strategy in a clear and simplified manner. Maybe you’ve had successful interactions with top execs that took on a more formal tone. Remember: don’t feel penned in by convention. You won’t stand out if you follow the crowd.
Identify your brand personality within a spectrum, where the extremes are labeled with qualities ranging from personable to professional, modern to traditional, fun to serious, accessible to sophisticated, etc.
Then, using all the above research, condense your brand personality to three to four words. These words should be distinct, yet purposefully broad. The specificity will come next. Choose three base notes that you want your content to hit. For example, “direct, friendly, extensive,” or “enthusiastic, informative, helpful.”
At this point, you’ve done all the work needed to express your brand’s voice in just a few sentences. These sentences should be clear and concise so your writers can quickly understand both how and for whom they’re writing. You’ll create a rather broad definition of how you want your brand to come across concerning rhythm (length of sentences, passive or active voice, etc.), vocabulary (level of writing, use of jargon, etc.), and your key brand words.
Difference in Tone
Tone is more varied than voice and depends on the channel of content; it’s the mood lighting in a room that’s furnished by your voice. You don’t want to address readers the same way in a deeply researched case study as you would trying to grab their attention on social.
Consider the following content channels: an eBook, a case study, a blog post, and social post. In an eBook, you might want to be personable while maintaining a level of professionalism. A case study may be more technical but still employ lighthearted language. In a blog or on social, feel free to let loose with your witty undertones, but remember to remain authoritative on the subject matter you choose to discuss.
The use of language is distinct across all these channels, but throughout, the voice of personable professionalism persists. Voice remains consistent; tone, then, is consistently varied.
So, now we understand the value and how-to of establishing brand voice and tone. Does that mean we pat ourselves on the back, send this lovely voice and tone reference sheet across the company, and wash our hands of the whole thing? We’re done, right?
You wouldn’t follow a stagnant business model, right? You wouldn’t just keep bashing your head against a wall, right?
As Content Marketing Institute said, “[…W]e find that those brands that write a plan, review it consistently with their team, and treat that plan as a living document, adapting it as they receive data, are by far the most successful.”
Documented strategies are only valuable if they deliver results. When the market changes, so should your strategy—and, thus, your documentation. Any documented strategy should be considered a living document that evolves with the times. Periodically revising your documented strategy is key to success.
What do changes in strategy mean for your voice and tone document into which you poured your heart and soul? Fear not; an update does not necessitate scrapping the original. The foundation of your voice and tone are the buyer personas and brand personality. Keep a weather eye on them. If you want to start targeting a new buyer persona, you ought to adjust how you’re voicing your message.
You might not need to change too much. Maybe put fewer puns in your blog posts or place more emphasis and resources on writing stellar eBooks. You may not need to alter your documentation too much. The core values of your brand personality probably haven’t changed all that much.
Rebranding is a whole other ballpark, and in that case, you will need a more in-depth alteration to your documentation. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. A merger or acquisition will follow a similar intensity of redocumentation.
The key takeaway is to maintain clear and comprehensive documentation. Documentation is the means of communicating across the company. Achieve a consistent message through all channels by maintaining an evolving voice and tone reference. With such documentation in place, all your writers—from freelancers to product and content marketing to executive authorship—convey the goals of the company as a whole. Documentation feeds the consistency needed to provide a positive customer experience, which is ultimately what we’re all working for.