Publishing branded content in traditional spaces — better known as native advertising — has been a popular topic buzzing around lately.
From the Native Advertising Summit that stopped by Atlanta this summer to this absolutely awesome (though slightly inconclusive) eMarketer study that popped up on my Twitter feed last week, native advertising is without a doubt shaping the content that brands are creating right now. And according to that eMarketer study, 73% of U.S. publishers are offering some form native advertising on their websites.
The growth of native advertising means more opportunities for brand produced content to be integrated in the design of a publisher’s site. As brands are taking advantage of this opportunity, they’ve become responsible for vastly more content the public sees and interacts with.
But keeping that content on track is easier said than done. From social posts to blog entries and targeted ads, it’s a challenge for businesses to manage all the content they create all the time. The solution is a holistic content strategy including SEO keyword analysis, which prioritizes content and details guidelines for consistent voice and tone.
From a small ‘mom and pop’ shop to a Fortune 500 companies, a defined “voice and tone” keeps the people (and agencies) working on a brand’s behalf on the same page when it comes to how a brand should sound and act in different situations.
A fantastic example is MailChimp’s voice and tone microsite guide that sorts the company’s V+T best practices based on situation, then color codes the tone needed for each situation from green to red.
Green is for situations that call for humor and positivity, red for content that is serious and informative. All entries feature examples and as an added bonus, the site is responsive and remarkably pleasant to use on a smartphone.
But not all voice and tone guidelines need to be as expansive as a color-coded microsite.
Creating or updating your voice and tone is as simple as following a few key steps:
1. Understand the difference between voice and tone
Voice doesn’t change, but tone does. Your brand voice should always be consistent, but tone will vary depending on the situation and emotion you’re trying to communicate to a consumer.
2. Set your boundaries
Decide if your voice and tone is a guide for all of your business communications or just a certain part. Narrow your focus by deciding if you need a voice and tone specifically for something like your company’s digital spaces or for a smaller initiative like social networks. You can easily make a separate voice and tone guide, if needed, for different parts of your business.
3. Interview stakeholders
This is key because your employees are already speaking your brand’s voice and tone. Interview key stakeholders and employees and ask them to share why they’re passionate about the company. Also ask what kind of content they think would be compelling coming from the brand. Their language will give you insight into what your brand voice and tone should sound like.
4. Determine voice with keywords
Start by creating a massive list of words that define the brand — we’re not talking about product names, but instead how a product or service makes the customer feel. Use these important adjectives to shape a mission statement paragraph that defines overall how your brand should sound. Follow up with a list of keywords.
5. Define tone based on situation
Think of the different situations where you will use voice and tone guidelines to structure copy or content for your brand. Define these situations one by one — from social copy to company blog entries — then decide what tone is needed to communicate with a reader during these situations. With its list of uses, MailChimp’s V+T is a fantastic examples of this.
6. List your “watch outs”
Define words, phrases or messages that absolutely cannot be used in content produced by your company. Additionally, define customer service protocol for dealing with negative feedback — like finding a way to direct a customer complaining on your blog post to customer service quickly.
7. Share and get feedback from key stakeholders
Once you’ve created a preliminary document, come back to the stakeholders you interviewed to get feedback. Constructive feedback will help you continue to improve your voice and tone — rinse and repeat until you have the guidelines you need.
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