Part I: Building Your Voice
A clever business knows better than to marginalize the importance of voice within content. With agility and aplomb, these organizations produce content that’s teeming with presence. This kind of copy resonates with the social media agents that insatiably consume and share it.
A booming voice in your content is quantifiable. It’s not theory. Its practice generates predictably positive results, each and every time.
I learned about the importance of having a strong voice in my writing very early on in my career — or, more accurately, right before I penned my first professional piece. A journalism professor of mine kept offering up the same critique of my writing: I needed to find my voice, she repeatedly advised. The writing was strong, she’d add (and I would, too), but the deficiency made the writing forgettable. Instead of grabbing readers by the shirt collar, the writing in question repelled them with the efficiency of bland gruel at lunchtime. Only the most committed readers could endure such a dish from start to finish.
The tie-in is this: If you haven’t given your brand’s content a well-defined, echoing voice, then you’re distinctly disadvantaged. At Exclusive Concepts, we want our individual voices to harmoniously shine through all of the content we create. We have this blog that you’re reading. We also produce countless pages of copy for our clients on a daily basis, as well as copy for our own internal marketing efforts.
Part II: Branding Your Voice
The most compelling case for having a branded voice can be distilled very simply. If you place any value on your company’s image, then you must be in control of the voice you wield. When you shape a piece of content to conform to your brand’s voice, you’re creating a clear-cut message that will resonate in readers’ minds. The culmination of these messages amounts to your company’s image. And that is where revenue is made or mourned over, in many cases.
By the time it began to garner substantial traffic, Woot.com was by no means alone in the one-deal-a-day category. The advantage that it possessed was not in its format. By then, numerous competitors had duplicated Woot’s sales approach with relative success. The upstart company’s competitive advantage was in its carefully cultivated brand voice. It was sharp, biting and measured. The experience was so compacted and seamless that it became a secondary commodity; it began to draw visitors on its own merits. Now, does a company like Woot grow its yearly revenue beyond the $100-million mark before getting acquired by Amazon without a masterfully crafted brand voice? I’d bet my keyboard that the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”
For small businesses like the ones that Exclusive Concepts advises on a daily basis, this is an arena where David may have the upper hand on Goliath. Consider the Woot example. Creating a one-off experience with your content, whether on the social front or on your site’s homepage, is much easier for a quick-pivoting small business than a laboring behemoth. (But holding on to it as you grow can be difficult, as Groupon demonstrated.) Often times, the biggest hurdle isn’t capacity. What holds most companies back is directive and perceived incentive. If you identify with the latter group or have lost your way, don’t forget about Woot and the many other examples of businesses who owe their success, in large part, to their brand’s voice.
Let’s take a nitty-gritty look at a brand’s voice in action. The selectively censored copy below was not taken from the pages of Mad Libs; it’s a product description excerpt written for a well-known brand.
The censored description above was written for — wait for it — a Nike running shoe. (Follow this link to see the original copy.) Only text that directly revealed the product or company was covered. Once stripped of its brand name and a handful of telltale descriptors, the copy fails to reflect the product being peddled or the company doing the peddling. Nike is a sporting goods company that’s engrained in the Fortune 500 and has a brand so synonymous with its products that it’s joined by the likes of Jell-O, Kleenex and Jacuzzi. And yet the copy lacks any of the imagery, language and, in turn, voice, that one would associate with the brand.
The flaw within the copy above is not uncommon; there are a lot of companies, large and small, that don’t always get their voice exactly right. It takes time and effort. The sad truth is that many companies are too preoccupied with other content efforts — the low-hanging fruit, if you will — to place sufficient emphasis on identifying and developing this integral content component, let alone implementing it into all of the copy they create.
Part III: The Lesson
It takes considerable effort to distinguish your brand’s voice from the noise. But as with many other things, true clarity can only be found through a painstaking devotion to the details.
Having an editorially savvy person that’s wholly dedicated to such pursuits makes it easier. If you’re that person, then you don’t have the luxury of managing your progress from afar; your results will depend on your own elbow grease. To that end, make sure to practice editing for voice. Like any other line item on an editor’s checklist, the presence of voice is entirely detectable. A good rule of thumb is the writer’s ability to engage the reader. A captivating topic can just as easily be dulled as it can be accentuated. The same holds true for the banal. A boring topic can be engaging and entertaining under the right light and in the correct voice.