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How to Create a Voice and Tone Strategy That Wins with Customers

Social mediaPrecision Content recently sponsored a webinar featuring John Caldwell, a well-known brand voice strategy evangelist and the author of “Voice and Tone Strategy: Connecting with People Through Content” (2020 XML Press). During the 60-minute presentation, Caldwell explores the importance of developing a voice and tone strategy, lays out a set of basic building blocks we can use to build a strategy, and provides suggestions for rolling it out. He basis his advice on years of experience helping global brands like Airbnb, Intuit, and Capital One develop successful voice and tone strategies.

If you were unable to attend the live event, this article summarizes what you missed. Use this link to watch a recording of the presentation when it fits your schedule.

Why do we need a strategy for voice and tone?

Harnessing customer emotion and desire is central to a successful content strategy. Getting voice and tone right allows us to connect with customers, gain their loyalty, and fend off competitors.

While getting transactional relationships right — like helping consumers find answers to their questions — is a worthwhile and valuable pursuit, it’s not game-changing. To build content experiences that result in meaningful relationships, we must communicate strategically.

Voice and tone strategy guides how writers connect with consumers through the written word and other forms of communication, establishing a consistent voice that aims to create meaningful connections. A solid voice and tone strategy can ensure those we engage keep coming back — and that they’ll speak positively about our products and services to others.

What is voice and tone?

Voice conveys our personality — our distinctive character. Tone brings out our attitude and articulates emotion. Crafting a voice and tone strategy involves expressing our brand character, flexing our voice and tone to meet the needs of those we aim to serve.

“Character is how you define your brand,” Caldwell says. “It’s built on core values and beliefs. Your voice is how we bring that character to life and how we talk to our customers.”

Voice and tone help us create relationships with customers and guide how we present ourselves to others. In the end, it’s how we want others to perceive us.

The role of storytelling

The best and most successful speakers, leaders, teachers, coaches, and writers are masterful storytellers. And so are the best information developers and content designers. Whether we realize it or not, when we communicate with prospects and customers, we are storytelling.

Chemistry, empathy, character and voice, meaningful relationships; they all come from stories. Recognizing why voice and tone works—how it resonates with people—comes from an artful appreciation of storytelling rules and techniques. Caldwell introduces several examples to get us thinking in the right direction.

“Storytelling is important for the work we do because it has the power to make sense of complex things. Stories can be about anything — romance, adventure, conquest — but they all boil down to relationships between two people that are often the same as the ratio between our customers and us,” Caldwell says.

People in relationships desire more than transactional things. Caldwell explores the power of using storytelling to bring brand characters to life. He spends time connecting stories to a set of foundational building blocks we can use to craft a voice and tone strategy.

Related: What Storytelling Means To Voice and Tone Strategy

A voice and tone development framework

Caldwell shares his voice and tone framework that he says is “simple enough for everyone to understand.” The framework includes four building blocks:

  1. understanding deeply our customer needs and desires —intangible things that don’t necessarily have to be met for success, but if we deliver on them, we’ll create deeper levels of engagement, trust, and loyalty
  2. defining the attributes of our character’s voice — how we sound when we are talking to prospects and customers
  3. establishing guiding principles — how we speak to prospects and customers (will we be forward-sounding, aspirational, and conversational?)
  4. developing powerful examples — a set of exemplars that make clear how we want content creators to apply our attributes and guiding principles to their work

While Caldwell only talks briefly about each building block, he says we can find additional context in his book.

Flexing your voice and tone

Life is built of moments. Some moments bring us happiness, celebration, and overwhelming joy. Still, others create sadness or cause confusion, frustration, fear, and anger. While establishing a consistent voice is beneficial, it’s important to deviate from brand voice and flex our tone — adjusting it upon occasion, especially when things get emotional.

Flexing our tone allows us to sound differently when we communicate to consumers at various stages during the customer journey. “We need to flex our tone to meet the customers when they are. We need to sound differently when sharing moments of congratulations and jubilance versus sharing disappointing news, or presenting customers with error messages.

Caldwell says that being capable of flexing your voice evolves having a deep understanding of your customer and their experience with your brand. “That involves figuring out what our customers are attempting to do, what result they desire during that specific step in their individual journey with us.

A few words about style and structure

During the presentation, Caldwell points out the importance of style and structure but advises us to “figure out how we’re going to sound before we attempt to figure out how we’re going to present our information.”

“Style is about the delivery of content. It’s concerned with the rules we’re going to follow in order to deliver our content experience consistently. Voice and tone principles should drive decisions around style and structure choices,” Caldwell says.

Style police may cringe at Caldwell’s advice about style rules: It’s okay to change or adjust or even move away from ingrained style rules “as long as we’re always keeping the customer’s needs and desires in mind. Style, like everything else, should evolve. Just as our customers change, we should too.”

Watch the presentation recording

Use this link to watch a recording of the presentation when it fits your schedule.

Need help creating a voice and tone strategy?

Precision Content provides a full suite of content transformation services and training. We can help you rethink, restructure, and rewrite your high-value content to make it more usable, discoverable, and valuable for both the people — and the computer systems and software products — that require it. Reading to upgrade your content governance strategy? Ask us for a demo of Acrolinx and see how AI and automation are helping global brands ensure a consistent voice and tone strategy around the world.

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