How to Train a Content Team to Have a Singular Brand Voice

If you’ve delved into the realm of content marketing or created a content team, you’ve likely come across the term “brand voice.” You’ve probably also run into sources that argue how important brand voice is—and they’re right.

Nailing down your brand’s story and voice is vital to your content marketing efforts, because giving your brand a voice makes you more personable as a company.

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And being a more personable brand is really important, considering 81% of consumers have either unliked or hidden a company’s post on Facebook. And, 41% of Twitter users have unfollowed a company before.

So why are consumers ignoring branded content? As social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk said, “You cannot underestimate people’s ability to spot a soulless, bureaucratic tactic a million miles away.”

So, if people are unfollowing and unliking brands because their content is soulless, then it’s easy to see why you need an authentic, personable brand voice—it keeps consumers interested in you and your content.

But, if you’ve worked with a content team before, you know how difficult it can be to nail down your brand voice at all, let alone train all content team members to have the same voice. And yes, training various writers and editors to use the same voice is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Here are my suggestions for training a team to have a singular voice:

  • Put thought into deciding what your brand voice will be
  • Create a content persona
  • Identify tone used for various content mediums
  • Create brand voice guidelines

Choose Your Brand’s Voice

Before you train your content team to have a singular voice, you need to decide what that voice sounds like. Many brands develop their voices unintentionally overtime; however, to make your voice relevant to your business and your customers, you should take the time to do a little research.

To help you identify what that voice looks like, you need to answer these basic questions:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. Who is your company?

1. Who is your target audience?

I’ve know I’ve talked about identifying your target audience before, but it really deserves repeating, because if you don’t know how your audience sounds and communicates, how do you hope to produce content they’ll enjoy and share?

Start by asking these questions:

  • What/who influences them?
  • What types of sites do they visit (Reddit, Mashable, NPR, etc.)?
  • What are words you would use to describe those sites?
  • What words would you use to describe your readers’ comments, Tweets, posts, etc.?
  • What types of sites do your readers share on social media or in comments? (This might be different from the sites they visit)
  • What sort value are your readers looking for (entertaining, educational, etc.)?
  • What type of language do your readers use (abbreviations, jargon, etc.)

2. Who is your company?

If you’re going to become a personable brand, you need to start thinking of your company as a “who,” not a “what.” Much like discovering how your audience sounds, discovering what your brand sounds like involves delving into your brand’s personality.

Start by asking these questions:

  • What are words you would use to describe your brand?
  • What are words you would use to describe your employees?
  • How do you communicate internally?
  • What are your values as a brand?
  • What makes you different from your competitors?
  • What’s your unique selling point (USP)?
  • How would you describe your past as a brand?

Where do those answers intersect?

Now that you have an idea of what your brand personality and your consumers’ personalities are like, you need to find the points where they intersect:
  • Are there similarities to how you communicate internally and how your readers communicate?
  • Are there similarities in how you described your brand and how you described your readers’ influencers?
  • Is your USP similar to the type of value your readers are looking for?
  • Do you share similarities with the sites your readers frequent and share?
  • Is how you communicate similar to how those sites communicate?
Those are just a few questions you can ask to find the similarities between your target audience and your brand.

Keep in mind you shouldn’t ditch your brand values for whatever strikes your readers’ fancy, but you should try to position your brand’s voice as one your readers will share and appreciate, which might mean upping your appeal and making the similarities between you and your readers more obvious.

For example, if your readers communicate casually and use abbreviations, but your content is a little more formal and uses jargon here and there—you probably need to loosen up a bit and get more friendly with your readers.

At this point, write down a list of words that describe the voice you’re trying to achieve—based on who you and your audience are.

Create a content persona

Now that you have an idea of what your voice will sound like, you can create a content persona who will embody those characteristics. Like a buyer persona, creating a persona for your content will allow your team to really assume the character your content will take. If you have a mascot, you might flesh it out a bit more to assume the characteristics of your content persona, as your team might easily be able to assume your mascot’s personality.

To start creating your content persona, begin with these three questions:

  1. What’s your purpose?
  2. What’s your personality?
  3. How do you talk?

What’s your purpose?

Each piece of your content might have a different purpose to varying degrees, but overall your content persona should have an overarching goal. This purpose should likely answer the question you asked about your audience: What value are your readers looking for?

Take a look at these brands and how their purpose is quite clear in their content:

NPR

NPR

NPR is clearly creating content for educational purposes. One headline talks about something readers haven’t heard of, while the other explains “the why” of something. If NPR had a content persona, the purpose of him/her would be to inform, educate, and stimulate discussion.

Lifehacker

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Again, you can tell just by reading the headlines what Lifehacker’s purpose is. Phrases like “how to,” “the complete guide,” and “improve X” are all indicators that Lifehacker is out to provide actionable, how to, practical advice to readers. While Lifehacker is still informative and educational like NPR, the purpose isn’t just to inform, but to teach the reader how to do something.

What’s your personality?

Your persona’s purpose is really the why behind your content, but your persona’s personality is more of the how. How content is approached and delivered will largely be determined by your persona’s personality. Is your persona casual, witty, inspiring, serious, etc.?

Take a look at these brands and how their personality comes out in their content:

The Oatmeal

oatmeal

The Oatmeal is a more extreme personality example, but you can see in this comic The Oatmeal is not just trying to be funny, there’s also intelligence, wit, and sarcasm involved. Those subtle descriptors drive the way The Oatmeal communicates with readers—shaping its overall voice.

 

Crowdrise

crowdrise

Crowdrise is a very professionally laid out site, but they make their personality known by adding in little snarky, punchy comments throughout their site. All of which makes their persona’s personality subtle and unique.

How do you talk?

How your persona talks is just an extension of purpose and personality—all three should be connected. However, it’s really helpful to have actual language examples of the voice you want to achieve when you’re writing branded content.

Take a look at these brands and how their language is clear in their content:

Zillow

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How does Zillow’s persona talk? Definitely casual, as you can see in the headline. But as you read more into the article, it’s clear that the language is really conversational—while still being really helpful and having a clear purpose.

Etsy

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Etsy’s persona, on the other hand, talks in very flowery, descriptive language. There are tons of adjectives that describe everything, like “they make a sweet homespun gift.” The purpose is similar to LifeHacker—how to, helpful, actionable—but the language is totally different.

Identify tone for various situations

So far we’ve been talking about voice, but now we need to talk about tone. So, what’s the difference?

In short, voice is largely persona and personality driven, while tone is largely determined by situational circumstances. For example, your brand might have a really punchy, direct voice, but your tone is going to be different when you’re dealing with a customer complaint than it is when you’re announcing a new product.

Check out these two examples of BBC taking two different tones:

BBC World News

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CBBC (BBC for children)

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This is the same story, but the first one is on BBC World News and the second one is on CBBC (which is basically the BBC for kids). The tone is entirely different—the sentences are shorter, the language is a little simpler, etc. The purpose is still the same—to educate and inform. The personality is the same—straightforward, smart. But the tone is entirely different.

Your brand might need to use a slightly different tone in various situations as well, whether it be a product announcement, blog content, etc, so make sure your writers know when to use which tones.

Create brand voice guidelines

I already talked a bit about creating a style guide in my last post, but I want to highlight how a style guide, or voice guidelines, can help direct your content team when they try to assume your brand’s voice.

A stylebook can include:

  • Strategies to achieve brand voice
  • Preferred point of view
  • What do you want the reader to think, feel, do?
A stylebook should have plenty of examples that show your content team exactly what you want to achieve.

MailChimp has a really great style guide that specifies exactly how writers can achieve the brand’s voice:

mailchimp

This guide is very simple, but effectively explains how to achieve voice by including:

  1. The type of content this voice should be used for
  2. What MailChimp wants the user to feel
  3. The desired reaction from the user
  4. Actionable tips for the writer on how to make that happen
  5. An example
Your content team will be much more effective if they know exactly how to achieve tone and what response they should try to evoke in the reader.

Final Thoughts

Achieving a singular brand voice is tricky, and your team might need time to adjust and work through a trial and error period. The steps we covered here can help you get started:
  • Put thought into deciding what your brand voice will be
  • Create a content persona
  • Identify tone used for various content mediums
  • Create brand voice guidelines
Once you have those in place, I would emphasize the importance of seeking out inspiration. Look around for brands that have a voice you like or find interesting. You can also look for bands that you don’t want to emulate—both can be helpful in getting your team to write with one voice.

Kyra Kuik

Kyra Kuik

Kyra Kuik focuses on content strategy, ideation, writer management, and editing in her role as Distilled's Content Coordinator, where she gets to embrace her passion for writing, content...   read more

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2 Comments

  1. My content team and I developed our voice chart as a team exercise, including working through the Do's and Don'ts and coming up with shared descriptions of the core voice and tone attributes. It was a great way to obtain buy-in and ensure understanding across the team.

    reply >
  2. Kyra,

    First, I always enjoy your writing. ...Clear, fact-based, informative. I have read and re-read this piece numerous times, always walking away with the sense that "more brands should be recognizing the need for having one brand voice."

    As a content strategist, I take it as my charge to reinforce this notion continually and vigorously. I've found that beginning with the end in mind works in influencing leaders of the need to create one voice for the brand.

    I love to say "Let's pretend we're making a movie, and we're starting with the end first. Everything that happens previous to these moments must align."

    It's the same with creating a singular voice, though in the opposite direction: Lock down where we want to end up, then ensure that everything we do, across all platforms and mediums, is in alignment.

    It's worked so far.

    RS

    reply >

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