Maintaining One Brand Voice When Working with Multiple Writers
By Erin Ollila on July 26, 2018
For content marketing managers, one of the most important responsibilities is presenting a unified brand voice. You want to hire writers with a strong individual voice, but you also want the tone of your brand to remain consistent across your content. Understanding how to balance those individual voices with the voice of your brand can be tricky, but there are a few ways you can manage a content destination with a diverse team while still remaining true to your content marketing guidelines and brand style.
Recruit the Right-for-You Writers
You'd think that it would be best for marketers to only hire writers who can adapt their voice to mimic the brand, but you'd be (slightly) wrong. Of course, good writers shape their tone to complement any client's brand style guide. Yet great writers do that while still holding onto their unique storytelling personalities-otherwise, they'd just be ventriloquist dummies. The most important aspect to recruiting is to find a writer with an established, yet moldable, voice.
I so often see marketers search for writers who can match their brand's voice perfectly. What they fail to consider is that this voice isn't a single entity-it's more like a pieced-together document reflecting their brand's overarching values and messages to their readership. This audience doesn't want one robotic, perfectly unified voice echoing the same sentiments over and over. They want some nuance, some diversity.
Image attribution: Christin Hume
Rachel Haberman, Skyword's content marketing manager and managing editor of the Content Standard, agrees: "I don't believe in finding someone who 'matches' the brand voice-to be honest, I don't think that person exists! But finding someone whose voice complements our brand is very much possible."
She continues, "I'd rather go for a writer who shows personality, even if I have concerns that they might take it too far, than a writer who plays it too safe. When an edgier writer goes over the line, it's easy to rein them back in; it's much harder to get a risk-averse writer to step outside their comfort zone."
So how does one go about finding the right writers for their content? While there's more that goes into recruitment, don't neglect to read a wide variety of the candidates' writing, making sure to look for publications other than just their most recent content marketing efforts. The more familiar you are with how a writer approaches different forms and genres, the better you'll be at judging the particular sound they can bring to your content. Have they ever done any creative writing? Do they write in different verticals? If so, how do they handle the change in topics and tone?
Haberman suggest reading creators' personal blogs, if possible. That helps her "see what their voice is like without the filter of someone else's brand superimposed over it. I'm looking for broad compatibility, not a cookie-cutter of some ideal writer I have in my head. If a writer's directionally correct, so to speak, then we can coach them over time."
Communicate Voice and Style Guidelines
Once you have a team of writers, it's up to you to teach them what you expect from their writing based on the publication's overall voice. Written content marketing guidelines that address tone and writing style should be given to any new writer, but it's also important to review them regularly with writers, even those who have written content to you for some time. In fact, it may be the writers who have been with you the longest that begin to sound off brand, especially if aren't immersed in the range of content you're producing and don't see how your brand is gradually evolving over time. They too need coaching to make sure they're being consistent and aligning their content with the needs of your target audience.
While brand guidelines are important, a document alone won't be able to guide your writers to develop their voice in a manner that also reflects your brand. Editors must shape their communications with writers to address tone regularly and give them resources to reference to make sure their work is on track.
Image attribution: Thought Catalog
Haberman says, "The best advice I can give is to provide examples. I'm a language lover, but language is also slippery. When I tell a writer, 'Less bloggy, more editorial,' I know exactly what I mean, but their frame of reference will be different. If I point to an article and say, 'This is what we're going for in terms of tone,' it's much easier to understand."
She also offers an additional suggestion to marketers struggling with maintaining a unified, yet diverse, collection of voices: "I like to encourage our writers to read outstanding examples of each other's work, too, to understand the range of personal voices that fit under the broad umbrella of the Content Standard’s voice." This recommendation not only shows writers a high standard to aspire to, but it encourages the writers to consider how their own unique style contributes to the overall brand voice and to continue to expand and improve on their past performance.
Finally, Haberman reminds us, "The other thing to keep in mind is that you can't just deliver some guidelines and then walk away. Keep delivering feedback. Keep providing strong examples. It's a process, and even the best writers need coaching."
Approach Editing with Respect
Your content's voice isn't shaped solely by writers; it's also refined during the editing process. You may onboard a team of dedicated writers and provide them with a thick document of style guidelines, but the content still needs an editor's skills to shape it into a cohesive final product for your readership.
How much you choose to edit and how you approach editing will vary, but the number one thing to keep in mind when sitting down in front of a draft is that you aren't editing for personal preference or to distill creative elements into a generalized brand memo.
Haberman offers a suggestion on how to handle edits from a different perspective. When it's time to edit your writers' work, consider what you know about your audience.
She says, "When I edit an individual assignment and compare it to our overall brand voice, my stress test is usually whether I can imagine our audience responding positively to it. Some of that is a gut reaction, but it's also based on what I know about our target audience and feedback that we've been able to collect from subscribers.
"For instance, we did a survey that showed us that half of our readers have at least ten years of experience in marketing. That informs the Content Standard’s voice, because the way you cover a topic for a newbie marketer and the way you cover the same topic for someone with a decade under their belt (even if they aren't yet knowledgeable about that particular topic) will be different. How Erin Ollila addresses that marketer and how Rachel Haberman addresses that marketer may differ, because we're different people. What creates continuity across our writing is that we're both addressing the same person."
The next time you're assessing a writer's content, ask yourself: Does their individual personality shine through? Does their tone complement the overall brand? If you can answer yes to those two questions, you'll know the work you have in front of you is on track.
Struggling to find creatives to bring your content to life? Learn more about how Skyword connects marketers with the right creative talent.
Featured image attribution: Matheus Ferrero