How to Develop the Right Voice for Your Branded Content

The use of social media by brands continues to grow, as do the number of platforms brands can use to talk with consumers.

A brand developing a content strategy from scratch might have free reign in terms of voice, but it can take time to develop the personality that will resonate with the audience.

On the other hand, a media company can rely on existing content to influence how it relates to followers on new, more conversational platforms.

Maintaining a consistent voice across all these channels is key, advises Marketing Week. All output — tweets, articles, customer service calls, and product copy — is part of product positioning, or how a product is perceived in the audience’s mind.

Start with product positioning

The process of developing a unique voice for content begins with an analysis of both the product and the audience. This is vitally important when the product is the editorial content.

Is your site “the most accessible beauty and style content for 18 to 25-year-olds” or does your product offer “the best way to read news on a mobile device”?

Conduct open-ended surveys to find out how your most reliable customers perceive your brand.

Take a look at your product vision and determine where you want to be in six months, or one year.

Craft a persona for your audience

Don’t fall for the myth that your content is for “everybody” — targeting an audience is one of the best ways to make content highly relevant and shareable.

Think of a persona as a fictional character who represents your target market, but without being generic — think of it as marking the “bullseye” of your target market. A great persona has an age, a favorite movie, lives in a certain neighborhood and has defined habits regarding how she or he might use your product.

Some brands have multiple audiences — if this is the case, develop multiple channels to stay consistent on each, much like Birchbox created Birchbox Man separately from its main account.

Now your content needs a persona, too

Sometimes a persona is driven by the community manager behind the content, but more often, there are many producers sharing duties on blogging, customer service around the web and other outreach.

Kate Gardiner, who works with media brands on social strategy, notes that the existing content at a news brand, such as the New York public radio station WNYC or Radiolab, allows a social voice to come organically for company insiders.

“Setting the tone for my news organizations’ social accounts is usually just a natural happening — we all know how ‘we’ sound in-house,” Gardiner explains. “The person who monitors [social] has to be incredibly smart about what they’re doing — and aware of everything that’s going on, site- or brand- or newsroom-wide.”

In lieu of existing content from which to extract a tone and voice, brands can create a persona much like the one it uses for its target market.

Develop a “Tone of Voice” sheet

A tone of voice (TOV) sheet makes your brand’s identity scalable in your organization. Remember that voice and tone are two separate but related qualities.

Voice refers to the words and phrases used, the style of vocabulary (hipster, upper class) and can be defined with adjectives.

The tone is the “how.” As a person, you talk differently with your grandma than you do with your best friend. Does your brand chat with the audience like a peer, or does the brand inform the audience like an subject matter expert college professor? Think of tone in terms of the relationship between the brand and the audience.

Things to include in your TOV:

  1. Positioning & Persona: Around four defining qualities that make the brand unique from competitors, and a clear definition of the audience.
  2. “[Brand name] is _____”: A list of adjectives that describe the brand. Think “timeless”, “refined” or “humble.”
  3. “[Brand name] is not _____”: A list of adjectives that your brand should avoid. Think “uptight” or “pretentious.”
  4. Samples: Develop an ongoing list of words and phrases that represent the brandreally well. When someone on the team tweets something that works or resonates with the audience, add it to the TOV. Also include a list of samples to avoid.

Listen to feedback. If the media, or your customers are not repeating your brand positioning as they talk about your product, it is not resonating.

“If it doesn’t work, your positioning hypothesis is probably wrong,” explains marketing consultant Venkatesh Rao. “Go back … rinse and repeat. Product tweaks may be required. If two to three positioning stabs don’t work, you may need to relaunch your product with a new name/brand, because you can’t reposition a given brand name too many times.”

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