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The Face of Your Content: Message, Voice & Tone

Establishing a strong, unique brand identity is critical to your success. When you find just the right voice and tone for your content, you show readers the personality that you want to convey and create a positive perception for your brand.

Now that you’ve learned to perform a content audit and analyze your competition, you’re ready to get working on what will serve as the face of your content strategy. Before you start planning any actual content,  you’ll need an exact idea of the message you want to convey, and the voice and tone which will convey it.

Without this step, your brand identity will be unclear. Be consistent so that no matter what piece of content a potential customer lands on, your brand appears the same. Every page of your site is a potential first impression depending on how people are navigating to you—each page’s impression should be identical.

Figuring out message, voice and tone is too important to be a one person job. This requires some deep thinking on the part of all your company’s key players since it has to encompass each person’s role and serve as a foundation for each client-facing communication. Once you have a representative team together, start by breaking down message into three key areas: core strategy, brand promise, and brand slogan.

Core Strategy

Your core strategy is your high level overview of what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. A company’s mission statement is the first half of this strategy because it details what the brand charges itself with accomplishing. Some brands like Nike have fairly broad and large goals:

This might seem outlandish, but if you aim high, you will set yourself up to make a plan to achieve a higher level of greatness. You might not want to set the unrealistic expectation of inspiring every human being as Nike does, but wanting to be the industry leader in a specific niche would not be a bad place to start. Then when you are creating the rest of your content plan, you will include every element necessary to get ahead of the competition.

Brand Promise

A brand promise is less about your needs (what you want to achieve and how you will do so) and more about what you have to offer. Have specific guarantees on product quality, customer service, relevancy, and whatever else might be important to your business. Don’t forget that less tangible promises to stay transparent or ethical can also provide great value to your customers. For example, Nike promises to maintain a high level of corporate responsibility and regularly works toward helping adolescents and the environment.

Brand Slogan

The brand slogan is unique from the core strategy and promise. Its main purpose is to provide a short, catchy phrase by which your brand can be remembered, while at the same time representing something important and inherent to your brand. Nike has one of the most famous slogans of all time…

Voice and Tone

In order to convey your message most effectively, you’ll next have to decide the personality and attitude with which you’ll portray it. The best way to determine this is to think of your brand as a person. What type of person would your company be? A superhero? A geek? Friendly, laidback, helpful? More serious and authoritative? Voice and tone are closely related so I wouldn’t worry about trying to define them distinctly; focus on an overall image you want to portray and think about how that image could be best communicated.

Make sure when you are creating guidelines and examples of how your voice will sound, you also make a what not to do section. It’s great to have examples, but providing your team with only examples of what they should do may not be explicitly clear enough. Try to set up your voice and tone in pairs of what is ok and not ok. For instance, a brand can strive to be friendly yet professional or young and fresh but not inexperienced.

A Winning Example

MailChimp’s guide on Voice and Tone for their brand is frequently sited as a go-to example. It’s no coincidence that they have an entire domain dedicated to it: http://voiceandtone.com/. One of the great strengths of this guide is that it provides specific examples of every possible content type, including social interactions on Facebook and Twitter, press releases, and error messages. Then for each type of content they provide a scenario of what the user might be looking for, the user’s feelings in this case, how MailChimp should be responding, and tips for success which include dos and don’ts.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this comprehensive guide is only one piece of MailChimp’s strong voice. It starts with their messaging and extends through their entire online presence. They illustrate their core strategy on several pages beyond their “About Me,” including sections on their approach to business, their view of user experience and even their practical jokes. Within these and other pages they also make many specific user-geared promises such as a commitment to security.

Takeaway: the more of a personality you develop, the more ways for your audience to interact with you and build loyalty towards you.

So does having a strong message, voice and tone pay off? Absolutely. From both an SEO and social standpoint, MailChimp is winning.

MailChimp ranks in the top five for “best email manager,” “best email campaigns,” “best free email marketing,” and variations of each. What seems more interesting from a content strategy point of view, though, is that it ranks number one for phrases like “best email practices” and “best email subject lines.” They have put together so many guides and blogs surrounding all there is to know about their niche industry that they have become a top resource. They have truly embraced content marketing by extending their core strategy far beyond their product.

The result? Thousands of dedicated brand fans and tons of positive sentiment floating around the Internet. They have over 52,000 likes on Facebook, and comments from clients saying things like, “Loving the new editor. Keep the good stuff coming, MailChimp!”

Their general Twitter account has over 80,000 followers. Their resources and product are useful and important, but the real secret to their social media success is in their unique voice. Their followers praise them for portraying their brand as fun and quirky. For example, people are loving their current “Monkey Hat for Cats” giveaway. It’s unrelated to anything they do, but it gets their followers involved, makes people smile, and differentiates them from the competition. This off-topic but engaging component is not to be left out of your strategy.

Who Will Your Brand Be?

You are now faced with a lot of big decisions, but hopefully you can take some inspiration from Nike and MailChimp and realize that having a little fun with your messaging and voice can go a long way. Sure a comical brand image is not going to work for everyone or every industry, but a boring message and voice will work for no one. Find at least one quality that no one else in your industry is portraying and make yourself stand out. What is it about your company that’s entirely unique and setting you apart? Once you’ve identified this, make it a top priority to consistently represent this characteristic in every piece of content you create from here on out.