Oct 1 '14
The regular readers amongst you will know that we write a lot of content – specialising in words that span the different forms of media, both on and offline. We’re regularly asked to produce content that has a clear, brand-related tone of voice. No problem. Indeed, frequently we’re the people establishing how the brand can be extended into the written word. Again, no problem. But is this where it should end? Is the tone of voice dictated by the brand?
In a nutshell yes… but not in the way you’re thinking. Let’s go back to the start. What is a brand? Here at EC Towers we could spend hours postulating on the origins of a brand. To us a brand is not the visual representation that your firm might use but the things it stands for. The sum total of what your collection of people are saying and doing.
So how does that translate to the written word? Well, actually, it leads on nicely. Across your firm you’ll stand for many wonderful things. You may call them your ‘values’ or relate them to your mission or vision. Yet we’re pretty sure that the way in which these translate into practice varies, depending on the individuals and area of work. Why? Because they’re all talking to different people.
You see the ultimate factor that sets out a brand is the target audience. The word ‘innovation’ means something different depending on the person reading it. If they’re seeking a tax lawyer ‘innovation’ may not be something they want to admit they’re looking for… but if they’re in IT start-ups a genuinely innovative firm may be exactly what they hope to find. Yet when you picked that word as one of your values you picked it because it applied equally to everything. The way your tax team interprets it will be differently to your IT team, yet the importance remains the same. So how do you change it to make sure that each audience gets the message?
You start at the end point. Personas.
If you want to ensure you’re talking the right language you need to, first, understand the target audience. We use a technique called personas. Stay with us. We’re not usually sucked in by marketing agency hot air and techniques but this approach underpins every piece of writing we do.
When we’re starting out we visualise the reader. This means everything about them. Their name, where they live, work and how they spend their free time. Their passions, interests and problems. An example of a persona we’ve written (for a tax firm, actually) is here:
Georgie and Eamonn set up their design and copywriting business in 2005, based in Stroud, and now turn over £1.4m per year. They have ten full time members of staff who help out covering account management, new business development, junior creative work, admin and book keeping. They are comfortable with the size of the business at the moment and feel that they need to get a better infrastructure in place to support growth, before moving to the next level (employing junior staff). Born and bred in the local area they have strong links with other businesses in the area. They get a lot of their work from networking groups and referrals. They have two children (15 and 12) who go to a local secondary school. They own their own property (a four bedroom house on the outskirts of Stroud) and work from a purpose-built office on an adjacent plot of land. Their spare time is largely spent ferrying their children around but they also enjoy DIY projects around their home/garden, walking and travelling. They have one international trip per year as a family. They insist on eating organically and grow many of their own vegetables. They have chickens. They are strong supporters of the local market and read the local papers each week.
This was one of four personas we wrote for this firm. Each different.
Apply key words
Of course, writing these personas is only ever going to be hot air if you don’t then do something with them. These should be the benchmark against which you test everything. Every piece of marketing and business development and certainly every piece of copy. Will Georgie understand what you’re trying to say? Will it tick the ‘worry’ boxes that Eamonn has? Does your use of language map to theirs? Do they like the sound of the person talking to them?
The next stage is to draw up a list of key words. This doesn’t, for once, mean SEO… although those key words can be included. What we mean is that you should draw up a list of the phrases and words that are important to you. That you like and want to use, as well as those you need to.
From this you need to check understanding. Ask yourself what each of these words and phrases will mean to each of your personas. Do you need to adapt or change them in any way to ensure that the meaning is as you wish? Quite often we do this exercise in a table, with the person at the top of each column, so we have a checklist to work from as we write.
Then, finally, once you’ve gone through each of these words and phrases you need to ask yourself two questions: what do they need from us and what do they want from us? When you put the actual content together this understanding of need and want will be rather like the black lines on paint by numbers. The guide within which you create the picture. The words you’ve agreed on prior to this, the colour palate. Now it’s time to write.
Check and check again
However great you become at copywriting there will be times, even after this process, when you’ll just miss the mark… first, second and tenth time. The important thing is not to check whether you as the firm like it but whether each of your personas will. Take a step back and ask yourself whether what you’ve eventually crafted achieves both the needs and wants. Does it include the words and phrases you’ve settled on. What is the effect, collectively?
The final question is the most important test of all. Does it sound like one of your experts would have said it, sitting over a desk, in a meeting with that client? Is it real?
If the answer to this is all a big fat “yes” then you’re home and dry. Using this process you’ll have produced content that is 100% on brand but may have somewhat different tones of voice for each area. The important thing, however, is that, whomever you ask should give the same, ultimate view on what your firm stands for and the value you bring.
For advice on writing your content, whether for a website, blog, social media or print materials, please contact us. You can read more about our approach to producing digital content here.