After writing my latest blog on why and how to do business blogging, I realized that I could have described an example from my own experience dealing with one of our client’s brand tone. If you’re a content creator, or an owner of a company that blogs, creating and serving your brand tone can be sometimes obvious and at other times, quietly ambiguous.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
I think this speaks a great deal about how a company is perceived. Creating this perception is easy. So easy, in fact, that oftentimes, we may be totally unaware that we’re doing it.
Brand tone is a two-fold issue. One is: What you intend to put out. Two is: What is inadvertently read by your audience; how you “come off”. If you need to understand the distinction, just watch the Daily Show, any quote from the GOP about women’s reproduction rights, or any interview with our Toronto Mayor. You’ll see the distinction between the intentions behind the statement and how the subject “comes off.”
Understand your brand before opening your mouth
Is your company a B2C or a B2B company? The way you communicate should be different for each (in theory). If you’re talking directly to customers then you need to be funny, colloquial, interesting. B2B requires you to be blander, official, and serious but not boring!
I think that there is a careful balance between the two. Most blogs I read focus on the distinct differences between the brand tone voice of B2B and B2C. But I believe that blogs are always read by people first (and customers second) so we should always be aware of our brand’s voice.
Don’t be afraid to get personal when you’re trying to come off as professional. To a certain degree, offer your opinion. I honestly believe that more B2B blogs and online content should always be written in first-person (but more on that later).
This isn’t a piece of junk mail you’re writing. This is your life. Your company’s life, that is. And everything online is judged in the same way (and measured in the same way by its click through rates). If it’s funny, compelling, relevant, interesting and human, then it gets read, lingered over, pondered, commented upon, re-tweeted, liked and shared.
Say something compelling with your brand’s personality in mind
When it comes to creating online blogs, a company creates a voice all its own. Your Internet site is your private domain. Here is where your magic begins in terms of creating brand tone. Your job is to make it casually appear that your company’s attitude and manner is exactly what the customer expects: your secret marketing strategy.
Television ads offer a smug, self-serving assumption that they’re not selling anything, nor forcing their audience to absorb their company’s message, nor saying (with ironic hand-to-mouth surprise), “oh, I didn’t see you there…” Are audiences fooled by this vapid attempt at self-effacement? Are they fooled by the mega-corporate messages being spoon fed to us in the guise of puppies and babies?
No. Less than ever, TV ads are being ignored in favour of online engagement.
Unlike all television advertising, inbound marketing attempts to strip away the artifice and allows a company to speak its brand agenda directly and plainly. So do it. Offer direct advice. Offer helpful tips. Become part of a community of interested observers before you try to sell anything.
The difference between blogs and eBlasts
Online and offline content should have a different voice but still be a continuation of the brand voice. When sending out eBlasts, remember to be personal and inclusive. These are your opt-in subscribers, so don’t treat them like outsiders. Give them the keys to the car. Allow them to engage with you in a direct way and respond to them in kind.
Online content is more general. Be commercial, but still personal. Avoid statements like, “we here at United Incorporated…” In fact, the third-person “we” always come off as advertising speak and won’t go over with your audience. Instead, write about the company in the third person as if it were actually a person. “United Incorporated is dedicated to…” …”for a number of years, our company has employed…”
Say something compelling without an obvious marketing agenda
There is a fine line between having a professional brand tone and coming off as a stuffy, corporate machine that is simply generating content in order to be optimized and found. Remember what blogging is actually for: to inform readers.
Information is the best thing any kind of blog can provide. Good information means a positive effect on your brand tone. Useless information (even if delivered in a professional voice) will destroy your integrity.
An example of brand tone at work
Recently, I had a meeting with one of ColdAd’s clients regarding brand tone and what we could do to best convey it. One of my earlier articles was at first discussed because the style of the writing was not in line with the expectations of our client.
This was an easy enough fix, but it made me aware of the sub-categories that are at work within business writing.
When writing the main body text for the website, knowing your audience and their expectations is key in identifying what voice to employ. For example, if one is writing about legal matters, the more dense and specific the language can be, the more a sense of authority is conveyed.
But if you’re writing an eBlast to that same audience, the same level and expectation of elevated, business language isn’t expected. In fact, it may come off as over-dosing the brand tone.
Consider the difference between saying: “Endeavour to employ the machinations of a paradigmatic exemplar experience in the environs of immediacy.”
When all you really want to say is, “Please have a good day.”
So how well can you control your brand’s image?
Irving Goffman writes in his major work “The Performance of the Self” about how impossible it can be to control ones own performance. A person will assume a dizzying amount of personas in order to get through the many interactions they will have in a day.
Consider all the writing that is being done about or for your website right now. How many different people (personas) are creating text for you?
And how many meetings have you had to discuss your online presence? Have you created guidelines about the sort of language every writer should be using? Remember that Twitter and personal social media accounts now make almost everyone on your staff a contributing writer towards the holistic brand tone that your company purports.
Even if you don’t want to get dogmatic about language use, at least consider offering some alternatives. Tell your staff to use the word “affordable” instead of “cheap”. Or even “budget friendly” instead of “affordable” if your clients are more personal.
At a recent HubSpot Keynote speech, it was suggested that some clients prefer the words “Free eBook,” while others may prefer “Complimentary Whitepaper.”
I hope this blog gets you thinking and (especially) writing something new today. I hope you go and try out various branded voices to see which one works the best for you. Have someone read before you send it out. Ask them how it makes them “feel”.
Before selling and thinking about your product, people will feel something about it. Brand tone has always been about creating a feeling in its audience. So it’s your moment to shine.
What do you think about the tone of blog writing?