There are a number of disparate factors that influence the direction of your brand voice. Target audience, marketing objectives, existing brand guidelines—the list of contributing elements can be massive. It’s not enough, however, to simply identify these needs. In order to find your brand’s voice, you must bring everything together cohesively.
There is no magic formula for creating the perfect voice and there will likely be some trial and error along the way. But in my experience, one vitally important element of this process is often left out: Where exactly do you want your content to live?
This question does not speak strictly to physical location, although that plays a part. What this question is really asking is: Do you want your content to serve as thought leadership that supports your website and its existing content, do you want your content to be the backbone of a completely separate digital publication, or do you want a blend of the two?
If the ultimate goal for your new content is to supplement your existing branded content marketing, the amount that this will play into your brand’s voice is fairly straightforward. Because this content will live directly on your site and be integrated with your other content, you don’t want to manufacture a wide gulf between your various types of messaging by using wildly different styles. Sure, this particular content won’t specifically mention individual services or highlight your latest and greatest product offering, but it will still have that lingering association, so it makes more sense to lean in rather than shy away as you develop your content’s voice.
This is a perfectly viable and battle-tested content strategy, and in this case your voice and tone will be closely tied to your overall company brand guidelines.
It might seem like creating a digital publication for your content would make things more straightforward as it relates to developing a specialized voice. In truth, it adds additional layers of complexity. These additional wrinkles aren’t problems, but they require a more targeted approach to your voice’s development.
Creating your own publication allows you flexibility to incorporate multiple perspectives in the form of individual contributors and to segment your content into categories (and even sub-categories) to further differentiate your content, and it provides greater leeway with regard to those aforementioned brand requirements.
There are many paths you can take to put your individualized stamp on your publication, but to get it right you have to find a brand voice that simultaneously promotes your organization and distinguishes itself.
When you talk about your content’s “voice,” you are often speaking conceptually about the overall feel, tone, and style that your content will consistently project. But there is a far more literal connotation as well. While you drive the creation of content topics and requirements, someone else has to take that direction and turn it into stories that will be relevant to your audience. Unless you work with a team of internal contributors on a day-to-day basis, the stories you create will be written by people who don’t work directly for your organization. This means that you have to figure out early on what type of writers you want.
It’s not as simple as saying a writer needs X amount of experience or have written for Y number of industry publications. You have to decide before you start working with these people whether your publication wants these creatives to regress to the proverbial mean or have license to take these stories wherever they think they should go.
Image attribution: Yerson Retamal
You’d be surprised to find out how many companies get to the jumping off point of content creation, only to stall because they haven’t already settled on who they want to serve as their company’s digital proxies.
No matter how much time you spend doing market research on your audience, exhaustively listing characteristics your content should embody, or establishing overarching content requirements, all of these decisions mean little if you don’t have the right team of writers to support your mission. There is no getting around the fundamental importance of this part of the process. Figuring out exactly what you want out of a writer before you start enlisting them to write your stories is critical. You need them to be able to carry out your carefully sculpted content plans and help you establish your burgeoning brand voice.
But to do this you have to understand what these various writer types provide.
These writers are your jacks-of-all-trades. What they lack in subject matter expertise they make up for with their ability to adhere to a prescribed style and craft thoughtful stories. If your goal is to present a unified, consistent tone, these writers can take what you’ve outlined and run with it.
While sometimes a bit rougher around the edges than brand journalists, these industry experts generally account for any deficiencies in prose with an unimpeachable well of information in whatever industry space you occupy. If you’re looking to find instant credibility for your publication and an air of authority that permeates your content, this group will do that for you in spades.
In the digital age, a large social media footprint is practically essential to ensure your content is finding your intended audience. Finding writers that create and promote content is vital to establishing your presence and beginning to spread the word about your new or expanding digital publication. If amplification is as important to your brand as content cultivation, enlisting influencers is your best bet.
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It’s important to understand what these various writer types can do for your content, but the decision doesn’t just end with a choice. Even if you do initially decide to favor one type over another (say, because you’re a digital security publication and you want your readers to consider your guidance to be beyond reproach), you shouldn’t close yourself off to the idea that your brand voice will grow organically as your publication does.
That’s the beauty of building a publication from the ground up. There are no rules. You are in control, and should you find that relying solely on experts to tell your story is getting stale or causing your audience to tune out, you have the flexibility to make a change. Maybe you experiment and bring in a brand storyteller to show the more human side of a previous case study, or maybe you look to an influencer to jump start your publication’s resonance. You might just find that the original conception of your desired voice is far too narrow and limiting for your blossoming publication.
The process of letting go of what you think you need and embracing what is working for your audience is exactly how a true content marketing publication is forged. If you hold on too rigidly to the expectations you initially set for your content, then you’re going to miss out on so many opportunities to tell amazing stories. These stories, combined with your industry expertise and cutting-edge thought leadership, will serve to inspire, enlighten, and entertain, helping your publication find a voice that your audience will truly hear.
Ben Chamas leads a discussion on cultivating your brand’s individual voice at Forward 2017, the premier brand storytelling conference, on June 15 in Boston, MA.
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