Mastering tone of voice

Do you dedicate much time and thought to the way you say what you say?

Contrary to popular belief, content isn’t everything. Not in isolation, anyway.

Tone of voice is crucial if you really want to stand out in your market – rather than just in it.

It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.

There’s tons of content out there covering pretty much every topic imaginable.  So it’s going to be tough for most of us to successfully disrupt a market and differentiate ourselves without addressing delivery, with the ultimate objective being to evoke emotion.

Think about it.

What do you remember more vividly – the words you’ve read, or the way they made you feel?

Watch your tone…

When you’re communicating with someone face to face, you pick up on social signals that influence how you respond.

Think of content as meeting someone for the first time. You gauge a person’s character, demeanour and intentions within seconds, and then subconsciously process this information to determine how best to respond; both verbally and through body language.

This ability to gauge the thoughts, opinions and feelings of others around you is how we all survive in everyday life. It’s how we make friends, how we engage with new people and how we capture and keep people’s attention.

Fear not, the written word! For cowardice is crippling in content marketing.

Many people fear the written word.

They feel pressure to be overly formal and get stuck when it comes to knowing exactly how to express themselves. Yet we all manage to hold conversations in real life, don’t we?

And that’s what content marketing is today. It’s a conversation. Not a formal, ‘salesy’ or stiff description of your company and what you do.

Instead, written content should be your chance to chat with readers; to give them the opportunity to get to know the real you.

Of course your content needs substance, and it needs to be informative or educational in some way. But remember that tone of voice is what sets you apart, and this needs to come from who you are.

It’s time to slam dunk how you say stuff.

Content marketing guru, Doug Kessler, believes that you could double or treble your return by mastering tone of voice.

Referring to it as “the UX of content” at a recent TFMA event, Doug explains his tone of voice methodology in the following way:

Story (the ‘what’) x voice (the ‘how’) = impact

The ‘what’ needs to solve a problem for your target audience; the ‘how’ needs to come from within. And if you get them both right, you’re on to a winner.

Have you noticed how successful brands and bloggers have this really distinctive voice?

Take Hubspot for instance; their content is not just smart and informative; it’s unique.

Their voice is their personality; it’s what makes ‘them’…well, ‘them’.

And it is their personality that stays with us and makes them memorable. I know that next time I’m looking for the answer to a marketing problem, I’ll look out for something written by these guys because I like the way they explain things and ‘keep it real’ at the same time.

(That’s my personal opinion…but based on Hubspot’s success, it seems it may be popular opinion too.)

And that’s essentially how inbound marketing works.

Don’t underestimate the importance of tone of voice

It is not a ‘flavour’ or added benefit; tone of voice is a fundamental aspect of the content you produce.

And you need to manage it – not just leave it to chance.

Doug’s top tips for managing tone of voice include:

  1. Don’t ‘police’ company content. Instead, coach new hires, writers, editors and approvers so that they understand and ‘get’ your tone of voice strategy.
  2. Create tone of voice guides. Make sure you actually write your guide in your chosen tone of voice (sounds obvious but it’s a good way to lose the respect of your best writers), include good and bad examples of content and create a ‘tone table’ (e.g. write like this, not like this).
  3. Choose 3 base notes that accurately describe who you are (your personality) and how you want to be perceived. For example, we’d describe Innocent as: simple, friendly and silly.
  4. Add accents and don’t be afraid to adapt your tone of voice for the audience, the medium and the situation. Go for ‘consistent variety’; that is, maintain the same core personality but think of different ways to convey it.

It’s only words…but words are all I have

Doug Kessler said; “Fire your good writers – you need great writers.”

And he’s right; ruthless but right.

Because good just won’t cut it anymore.

You need kick ass, confident writers – wordsmiths who’re unafraid to take risks; who fail fast and push new boundaries.

It’s hard to produce content that is 100% original, yet no two people are the same. We can’t ever have the same experience of life, the same perspective, the same mind as any other person.

Use this to your advantage and let your personality differentiate your product, service or solution.


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