What use are brand guidelines and tone of voice, and how do you translate these internal documents into powerful content that helps you attract more sales and evolve? Enough questions. Time for answers.
As someone responsible for marketing in a business, getting your head around brand identity and content marketing is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the dark. Understanding visual branding and digital marketing is hard enough, without adding words into the mix. Let’s set you straight.
DEFINE AND DIFFERENTIATE
First off, what is brand identity?
A brand is more than a logo, colour palette and font. This visual stuff is crucial, of course, but brand writing (or verbal branding) is a huge part of the blend which many businesses undervalue. This is a big mistake. You can spend thousands on design, photography and video, then devalue it all by churning out mediocre words which make you sound like everybody else…and you don’t want to do that.
A guiding hand
Your brand guide is a strategic marketing and change tool which spells out your identity in a clear, punchy narrative. No Powerpoint presentations. No bland, regurgitated marketing statements full of pie charts and bullet points. This is a useful document you’ll enjoy reading again and again (which is handy, as you’ll need to refer to it time and time again).
It features an intricate explanation of your values*, brand persona, goals, competitors and sweet spot (that special thing only you do to solve your customers’ problems). It defines who you are, what you do and why you do it; it spells out why you are different from your competition (something you may not even be aware of yourself).
*(Please, for the love of Allah, don’t say your values are: ’professional, dedicated, passionate’. These are all minimum service requirements of any business, and they’re hackneyed, meaningless words which could relate to any brand).
Your brand guide also includes a comprehensive profile of your customer — you can’t speak to them if you don’t know them inside out — which is used in the tone of voice guide (we’ll get to that below). There’s also a section called ‘What it is / What it isn’t’ (it’s just as valuable to know what you aren’t as what you are). All this brand-pleasing stuff falls out of deep questioning during a brand workshop, the likes of which you may never have experienced. Done right, it will help you evolve.
When do you need a brand guide?
Blue Scribe clients ask for a brand guide when they’re a bit lost for words. They can’t quite express who they are, what they do and why they do it in writing. They know their market, their key messages, their product, but every time they put fingers to keyboard they start sounding stale, formal, and just like everyone else.
‘Don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh’
This quote lies at the heart of tone of voice (ToV), which is all about the way you communicate in writing across all channels. A ToV guide is an internal document and a blueprint for writers. It spells out what language you should use, how you use it and when, so you maintain consistency whenever you ‘speak’ in writing. It’s part science, part art, and it’s backed up by a brand guide, or included within it.
Not what you say, how you say it
To compete in today’s marketing, the language you use in customer-facing writing needs to illustrate your values, personality and vision, not just state them. It needs to spark an emotion to incite action. So, instead of writing this: “We are friendly, approachable experts aiming for excellence in everything we do,” which is meaningless pap, you need to write in a friendly and approachable tone which instills confidence in the reader that you are experts striving for the best in everything you do. (Then back it up with evidence, without being to showy.)
Easier said than done?
Well, actually, it is easier written than said, as you have the benefit of editing, so you can take time to choose your words carefully. Synonyms, similes, alliteration, cadence, and all sorts of other marvellous (and powerful) grammatical tricks are your tools here. So use them well.
Show, don’t tell
‘Show, don’t tell’ is an age-old writing technique which draws the reader into your copy through emotions, actions, and evidence, not just description. It’s nothing new. Advertising copywriters and marketing writers have been using these techniques for decades; storytellers for millennia. Today, it’s even more fundamental to branding. It’s no longer enough to capture your personality in a logo and images, then tell people how amazing you are in words. You need to express your persona through carefully chosen words — and words are expressive beings crying out to be used.
If you really want to get your larynx around tone of voice, here’s a lengthy how-to guide on the subject. Save that for later as it’s a biggy. In the meantime, read on to see how to apply all this stuff to customer-facing content.
Harnessing the power of words in your branding is part of an overall winning strategy to entice and captivate readers, so they fall in love with the brand and they want to tell the world about it. Then, when it comes to buying, your leads are warmer, they feel like they know you — you are one step closer to making a sale.
WORDS IN ACTION
Don’t stick that brand guide on the shelf. Show it to your staff. Print your values in ginormous letters and mount them on the wall. Pin the tone of voice guide to your desktop and, before you start writing every piece of content, check it. Make sure your ‘voice’ comes through in every word you write, always. Consistency is key to brand success.
Translating the ‘brand bible’ into customer-facing content
This is the magic bit. Finally, all this behind-the-scenes stuff is transformed into fluent and persuasive, customer-facing copy on your website, blog; in social media, press, newsletter, everywhere. You’ll know when it’s right. Your customers will tell you, and your prospects will start to hang around more. You’ll feel more comfortable in your skin with a concise brand promise; you’ll act more confidently with solid, pitch-winning messages.
Your visitors will smile as they’re escorted around your website with simple calls-to-action. Search engines will rank you easier with succinct meta titles and page descriptions which sum up each website page. And everyone who engages with you will light up when they see valuable, useful content on your blog. Content which, you know, is helping your prospects do their job (or live their life) better. And, best of all, every sentence will be consistent with your distinctive tone of voice, it will reflect your style, your essence, brand persona.
Your world will be a better place.
Applying the guides to the brand
From a wider marketing point of view, beyond the words, your brand/voice guides will become invaluable if you ever decide to rebrand, build a new website, or freshen up your offering. Take it to a designer, photographer, web developer or content/copywriter and you’ll see their faces light up; it will save them time and, most importantly, it will save you money — if it’s done well.
Helping you “evolve”
As well as this, it’s a priceless tool for internal HR and management planning. Ultimately, this whole process will help bring about change. One of our clients said the process helped them “evolve.” They said it identified a whole new customer group they “never knew existed” and made them realise they needed to “approach their existing customers differently”.
Another way to differentiate
All brands, like yours, are unique, so your written ‘voice’ should be distinctive, to differentiate you from your competitors. Without illustrating your unique selling point, your prospects have little to go on. And there’s no better way to show off your sweet spot than in words.
Showing your distinctive brand personality, even if you are a firm of accountants, is fundamental to engendering trust, igniting interest around your brand and building a valuable relationship with your audience. Ultimately, this all helps grease the sales funnel to make the job of selling that much easier.