Aspiring writers of the literary persuasion will be counseled to “find your voice.” It’s solid advice. You want your writing to pop, to be immediately recognizable as yours.
Content developers receive similar guidance. They are often reminded of the billions of emails, millions of blogs, countless tweets, etc., competing for attention. The key to breaking out, they are told, is using a unique voice. Again, it’s advice worth listening to.
“A consistent brand voice and vocabulary is essential to implementing localized content and intelligent content strategies effectively,” writes Erika Heald of the Content Marketing Institute.
“If you’re not careful, you can end up with a random assortment of voices and tones in the content produced across your marketing ecosystem that doesn’t provide a consistent picture of your brand, or even use the same language consistently.”
(It’s usually not up to content developers to define their brand’s voice, but if that’s something that needs doing in your company, be a hero and suggest this five-step process.)
To ensure you are making the right choices when you apply that voice in your content, pay attention to three simple concepts: style, tone and simplicity.
“Style is your most prized possession as a writer, and it should continue to evolve over the lifetime of your career,” write the folks at QuickSprout.
The best way to develop a style is by emulating (not copying) writing styles you admire, they suggest. “Typically, creative professionals go through three stages of development: imitation, mastery and, finally, innovation. You start out reading and studying the styles of writers you admire. Then you use what you learn to develop your own style.” They offer a nine-step process you can use to develop a unique writing style that has a foundation in your favorite kinds of writing.
And – this is pretty cool – once you’ve nailed down one style. It’s easier to master several styles, at least according to Brad Shorr at Straight North. “Once you have made progress toward developing that sharp, unique style, you will find it easier to develop multiple styles — an incredible asset for an agency writer or freelancer. This sounds counterintuitive, but think about it. If you have no style at all, how can you change it? On the other hand, if you have a definite style, you know how to alter it in a consistent way to achieve a different style.”
No voice is limited to one tone, and that includes the voice you use in your content.
“Voice is consistent and tone is variable,” writes Kirby Prickett at WP Engine. “Think about how our overarching personality remains fairly steady (adventurer, thinker, leader), whereas our moods and attitudes may change depending on our current situation (excited, frustrated, happy).”
Lauren Pope writes at Gather Content that “In life, we adjust our tone according to who we’re talking to and what we’re talking about, but our voice remains the same. Your brand voice is singular, but you can use it with many different tones. Separating voice and tone means you can be empathetic to your users, and I think empathy is what makes the difference between just meeting user needs and really engaging them.”
Pope suggests that companies would be well-served by developing a “voice, tone and style guide” to help shape their content marketing efforts.
Harriett Cummings at Distilled, says that tone of voice is “Not about what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.” And she adds that tone is not something customers need to notice. “The aim is not for your audience to remark on your great writing but, instead, to remark on your great business.”
And, finally, remember not to complicate things.
While he acknowledges the challenge of creating a unique voice, Cory Padgett at Copyblogger says it’s critical to keep your writing simple.
“When we write, we are creating content with a purpose,” he writes. “We want people to read it, to understand it, to enjoy it and absorb it. Maybe we want them to take action — maybe we just want them to feel good after reading it. They are only going to feel a whole lot of frustration if everything you say whips right over their head or they feel like you’re talking down to them.”
Communications consultant Elisa Silverman, writing specifically for email marketers, makes the point that when it comes to writing, “simple” doesn’t meant “dumb” – it means “clear.”
“You don’t need convoluted grammar and SAT words to show you know your business. Your emails aren’t here to test your market’s reading comprehension skills. Short sentences and common words make for easy reading. Easy reading makes it easier to get your message across.”