How you say it matters just as much as what you say.
So how do you go about finding the right “voice” with which to communicate through your content marketing efforts? If you’ve spent any time at all on social media sites or pondering content marketing, you know it’s not the same one in which your wrote your senior thesis. It’s also not your job interview voice, and it’s not strict adherence to the reverse-pyramid AP style book.
Content marketing expert Patricia Redsicker provides a great example of the difference a voice can make in communication, content, and brand. “If I read an article on how to braise a chicken from Martha Stewart, I expect a formal, scholarly, exact approach. If I read Emeril Lagasse, I expect a casual approach, with recipe flexibility and punctuation—BAM!”
Neither Martha’s nor Emeril’s voices, cooking or recipewise, are “right” or “wrong.” Instead, each is different, distinctive. It’s their unique voices, approaches, and personalities that lend a certain caché to their recipes. Each stands out, and each has a broad and loyal following. Each also is recognizable and has a distinct personality; at the same time, each is clear and understandable.
What’s critical here is that both have a vice that’s not only inextricably linked with their respective identities, but also defines the way they relate to their respective audiences, and their audiences (in turn) to them. One’s a somewhat prim and correct— and very feminine—Connecticut Yankee hostess; the other’s an earthy, informal, and somewhat macho ‘Nawlins native. Each voice reflects not only personality, but also product and brand, complete with taglines. (“BAM!” and “It’s a good thing.”)
Each is effectively defined by a voice that’s human and genuine. Those two qualities should form the basis of the way content addresses an online audience.
Here are a few things an online voice should not sound like:
- A formal newspaper article
- Edward R. Murrow
- A legal brief
- An instruction manual
- Your senior thesis
- A sales brochure
- A commercial
These formats—and their attendant voices—aren’t bad in and of themselves. However, when you are creating online content—whether in written text or spoken word—you should make an effort to strike a more informal, conversational tone with the audience. To some this comes easily. It’s second nature. For others, it’s more difficult to strike the right balance.
For this latter group, it may help to write the way you talk (rather than the way you usually write). Imagine you’re sitting down with a customer or a prospect, or even talking to a friend about your business, products, or services. You likely speak with animated passion and enthusiasm. You speak conversationally and in all probability, much more informally than you’d write what you’re actually saying. You strive to create a bond with the person (or people) you’re addressing, to encourage their interest and willingness to engage. You’re concerned less with being formally “correct” than you are with really communicating on an engaging, personal level—with creating an emotional bond.
You also would adopt your voice for the channel. You’d be more formal in a whitepaper than in, say, a tweet in which, limited to 140 characters or less, you’d have no problem resorting to common social media abbreviations (LOL!).
Spokesperson or Spokes-Character
This technique isn’t for every business, but some organizations have found great success in creating a character that clearly represents its online voice. We’ve already seen plenty of cases, mostly in online video, in which these characters are real people: Wine Library’s Gary Vaynerchuk, for example, or Blendtec’s Tom Dickson.
But taking a page from traditional marketing’s tried-and-true spokescharacter concept: The Pillsbury Doughboy, the Geico Gekko, Madge the Manicurist, Mrs. Folger, or Mr. Clean (to name but a few) online spokes-characters work well for some as representatives of the overall brand—and brand voice.
A stellar example is the fictitious Emma. She even has a company named after her. MyEmma.com is the domain of Emma Email Marketing, a brand organized around Emma.
Who’s Emma? “We all are,” states the company website, next to a photo of the entire staff. The About Us page goes on to explain, “Sure, it’s a nice and handy abbreviation of the phrase email marketing, but more importantly, it brings with it an inherent human quality. It’s a real name—like Antoinette or Frederick, only shorter.”
Emma is personified on the site by a cartoon drawing of an intelligent-looking young woman. (She wears glasses, after all.) The company isn’t trying to convince you it has an actual Emma at a real desk somewhere. Rather, Emma is a state of mind and a tone of voice who can authoritatively, yet with humor and intelligence, address your email marketing needs. Here’s how she talks about her clients:
“More than 30,000 fine organizations around the world use Emma to power their email campaigns and surveys. And though they have different brands, goals, and opinions on the best Hall and Oates song, they all share a common desire to bring style, ease, and success to their marketing and communication efforts.”
Such examples date back to the beginning of dot-com businesses. Who doesn’t remember the Pets.com sock puppet, who lived an afterlife longer than the company that the floppy mascot represented?
Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome, first used in a 2004 ad campaign, has become that company’s de facto mascot, as shown in Figure 9.2. (Fans can even now buy a replica gnome on Amazon.com. When you can sell your advertising at retail, that’s a sure sign of success.)
In intervening years, the gnome, who speaks with a distinct accent—talk about voice—has had his own (now defunct) website, tweets, has appeared in two feature films, has Facebook and MySpace profiles, and is inextricably linked with the brand he represents. He’s also a primary voice for Travelocity.
Another online travel company, Priceline.com, has its own high-profile voice in the person of William Shatner. Infamous as Captain James T. Kirk, the intrepid voyager from Star Trek, there’s definitely a travel link between the spokesperson and the brand. In this case, Shatner-as-spokesperson represents just one of many examples of the celebrity spokesperson, another opportunity for developing a voice this book would be remiss if it were to overlook.
Celebrities can accord many benefits to brands, which is why many of their voices have been interchangeable with brand voices for decades. Online, it’s no different— only the channels are. For tens of thousands of dollars, the irritating Kardashian sisters or Paris Hilton might consider tweeting on your behalf.