Every brand, every product, every person has a “voice”. Your voice comes through in all the ways you communicate – from memos to brochures to video interviews. It is the type of language you use, the tone you apply, and the pace at which you communicate.
Take the example below. They relay the exact same information, but listen for the voice.
Sample A: On Friday January 12th we will be hosting a writing skills workshop. Students will learn how to generate a hypothesis, align proof points and summarize their perspective. The course will begin promptly at 8 am and students are expected to bring a personal computer to participate in class exercises.
Sample B: Wanna be writers, do we have a workshop for you! Come hang out with us on Friday, January 12th and learn how to organize your thoughts on paper. We’ll be doing hands on exercises so don’t forget to bring your computer. Class starts at 8 am so bring your energy and your caffeine!
Do these “voices” appeal to the same person? Probably not. How we communicate is as important as what messages we deliver.
I’ll be the first to admit that early in my career I rolled my eyes at anyone that used the word “voice”. I dismissed the “brand police” as getting in my way with arbitrary reviews that did nothing but slow down my productivity. As I matured, both in age and experience, I’ve come to appreciate how important creating a consistent voice is to our communication. In fact, when applied correctly using a specific voice can speed up the writing process.
What’s the right voice to use? Each of us has a natural voice whether we are conscious of it or not. Left to our own devices we write, present and share in our natural voice. But, and here’s the big but…our natural voice doesn’t matter all that much unless you are a stand up comic. If you are trying to sell or market a service, raise money, teach students or entertain a group of co-workers, we need to communicate in a voice that our target audience will understand, differentiates you and is what the audience respects. If I attend a workshop promoted with Sample B language above I’m going to expect my professor to be funny, use lots of positive reinforcement and give me a bit of runway to use my own opinions. But if I attend a workshop promoted with Sample A language I am expecting someone to share best practice “right” ways of doing things. I anticipate a teacher who is going to be very structured and provide feedback in an academic fashion. One is not better than the other, but they are different.
Can you represent someone else’s voice effectively? Writing in someone else’s voice is hard. If you aren’t familiar with an individual or brands voice writing “like” them is not for the uninitiated. I’ve only met a handful of colleagues who consistently do this well. And most of us get paid to write for a living. But you can learn to write and speak in a particular voice with the right coaching and practice.
How do you keep voice consistent across authors? If you are the only person writing on behalf of a brand consistency is pretty easy, but probably exhausting! If we are lucky we collaborate with people and that means we have to merge personal attributes into a corporate/brand voice. The best way to enable this is to train people on the voice you expect them to use. Write it down! Give examples, and most importantly when you edit work explain why changes are needed, don’t just make them. Instead of being the “brand police” build brand ambassadors.
Doesn’t consistency get boring? Thankfully, the answer is an emphatic NO! Being consistent does not mean that you are always the same. Some communications may need to be loud – celebrating success, responding to slander, offering a promotion. Others may need to be soft – thanking someone, responding to a loss, addressing a mistake. Having a consistent voice does not mean you have to always use the same words, it simply means you must be able to recognize who has shared the communication. Evolution of voice should be purposeful and planned.
Can you have a personal voice among a brand? Yes, individuals can and do have personalities and that comes through particularly in social media communications, phone calls and in-person presentations. But, your personal voice needs to be consistent with the brand you are representing. If I teach a workshop from Sample A I can involve students in adjusting the agenda. I can even crack a few jokes. But the types of jokes I tell have to be “professional, smart and witty”. While Sample B might inspire a barefoot led class, in Sample A I’m wearing sensible shoes, albeit with a surprising splash of color. These things sound little, but they all play a part in the voice we project. Be genuine, but be consistent.
May your voice be with you! Sorry folks, I couldn’t resist the Star Wars reference. It’s part of my voice.