How to Craft a Brand Voice That Carries Across Platforms, Formats, and the Space-Time Continuum
We’ve talked about brand voice, what it really means, and how to create one that communicates your brand vision without sounding exactly like everyone else’s. Now there’s just the matter of maintaining that voice across every piece of content your brand creates, on every possible channel.
If you imagine your brand voice as being at a dinner party, the way you speak to a roomful of strangers reflects your voice and identity—but only in that isolated setting. What if instead of a dinner party, you’re in your living room with your closest friends? Your identity and personality don’t change, but the way you communicate does. You adapt to the new context, and change what you say and how you say it based on the norms of the situation.
Approaching cross-channel content is no different. You don’t speak the same way in a white paper as you do in a tweet, but the “you” who’s speaking remains the same. The core identity and message should stay constant. What changes is the context.
Accomplishing this kind of segmentation is easy in some ways—turning blog or microsite content into newsletter content doesn’t require reinventing the wheel when it comes to tone. But when you add Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Medium, Reddit, and countless other platforms to the mix, things start to get messy.
Each of these platforms has its own style, vagaries, and audience. The context is always changing, and you have to adapt to each setting, or else you’ll face two possible outcomes, both of them bad: 1) Your brand voice will sound at best diluted and weak, at worst schizophrenic; and/or 2) You’ll get hit with the dreaded accusation of tone deafness, a charge reserved for brands who tragically misread the norms and contexts of digital platforms, and then shove their feet in their mouths . (Here’s an example; here’s another one.)
So how do you maintain some level of tone/voice continuity across all of these different settings? If I had a perfect one-size-fits-all answer, I’d have spent this week peddling it at some SXSW booth. Unfortunately, it’s a wholly subjective endeavor that involves constant judgment calls—much like creating content itself.
The best practice to make cross-channel continuity as seamless as possible is to establish a strong foundation for your voice in the first place. One of our initial tasks when creating a content strategy is to produce a Style Guide that outlines what the voice is, and what it isn’t, in as much detail as possible. What words or phrases would your brand never use, if any? What headline would it never run? On a broader level, why are you creating content in the first place, other than to create touch-points and lure people into your funnel and all those other business objectives that have little to do with whether or not someone actually wants to read or watch a piece of content?
Workflow is also an important tool for voice continuity. Once your content strategy is established and executed, chances are high that the person writing every blog post is not the same person writing every tweet or the same person publishing every thought leadership article. So the question becomes: How do you have multiple people all communicate with the same voice/tone?
One obvious answer is: Only hire people who care deeply about content. Make sure that the people you task with creating your content actually enjoy doing it and are talented at doing so. And beyond that, make sure that you only staff people on your content team who truly “get” the brand voice.
A bit more wisdom on this from Kevan Lee, who works on content for Buffer:
What’s been key for us is in bringing on people who are closely aligned with the values at Buffer. This has had the effect of allowing people on the team to speak naturally with customers, and the natural way they speak is in line with the message we hope to send as Buffer. Things are quite smooth this way; we feel confident in having multiple people in ‘voice and tone’ positions and knowing that the right emotions and feelings will come across to the customer.
At the end of the day, content isn’t about perfection. You don’t have to wring your hands over whether every tweet is a perfect representation of your brand’s voice. But you do need a strong foundation and a team that understands it on a deeper level, so that they’re capable of doing a gut-check to determine if something, or anything, is really off. Imagine if your Breaking Bad obsessed friend—you know, the one with six Los Pollos Hermanos tees in his closet—started ranting that Bryan Cranston was the worse actor of his generation. It would creep you out. Similarly, it will irk your audience if your brand sounds like one thing one day and something entirely different the next—making it something you have to avoid at all costs.Image by Jiri Miklo