Chapter 7: How to make sure your content is written with your brand voice
What you’ll learn: In this chapter, you’ll learn methods for creating quality content all the time and systems that every brand should have in place.
Let’s take it back to school one more time. On a crisp Autumn day, your teacher assigns you a paper. They’ve written on the board, “1,500 word argumentative essay due next Monday.”
You might remember having to write these papers. You had to do research, generate conclusions, and properly formulate your entire argument while referencing your sources in the right style. My best one was on the importance of music education in schools.
Anyway, the teacher goes on to explain everything you need to do to pass the assignment. They train you in the style through examples and they answer your questions. But, their training doesn’t stop there. Once you turn in your paper they make sure you’ve followed through on the assignment and they instruct you in the areas you’re struggling in.
A brand voice is no different. You can’t train your employees and expect them to get it. You need to make sure they’re following through and provide them with extra help if they need it. This is where quality control comes into play.
The Brand Voice Learning Curve
Whenever you throw something new at employees or collaborators, there will be a learning curve. According to an issue of Training Industry Quarterly, it takes a new employee 1-2 years to achieve full productivity. When you create a brand voice, you’re essentially changing the way that your employees’ write, you’re give them a new job. So, give them some time to adjust.
After your initial training session, your employees or collaborators will start to write using the new brand voice. As you look through their work, you might find that they’ve been misinterpreting your brand voice guidelines. Maybe the direction they’ve gone is actually detracting from and breaking your voice. You can’t have that.
Without correction, their misinterpretation will become habit. At that point, it will be a real struggle to get them to change it. This will make them ineffective as content producers, since they won’t be able to represent your brand.
How can you correct this before it’s too late? The key is having a quality control system in place.
Much like ka-ra-te, the first step to successful quality control comes from within. This isn’t a soul search, instead it’s a series of increasingly difficult challenges that every piece of content must go through. Will your content survive?
Challenge 1: Your Peers
In English class, there was an internal check system. It was called your classmates. Some days, ol’ teach would give you a taste of their life. They’d say, “everyone partner up and correct each other’s work.”
This served two purposes. One it gave the teacher a break, and two it helped the students understand the material better. By putting them into a teaching role, they had a new perspective on writing and might make connections that they would otherwise miss out on. Plus, a little bit of power can really motivate you to try harder.
The first quality check for any piece of content should be the content producer’s peers. They’re striving to use your new brand voice effectively. They also will have strengths that the content producer might not. By having everyone check each other’s work, their combined skills and abilities will polish it up nicely. With the added bonus of being able to learn from one another.
Challenge 2: The Gatekeeper
So, your content survived challenge 1 and you think you’re pretty hot stuff. But, look out! Here comes the gatekeeper with their unmatched expertise.
Who is this ominous figure? It’s someone who works professionally as a writer or editor for your company. Most likely, this person will be the one who wrote your brand voice guidelines. This experience gives them a strong understanding of your brand voice and its related goals. Their role is almost like a teacher grading a paper.
Have them edit the content using track changes (Microsoft Word) or suggesting mode (Google Docs). As they make changes, they should comment on why they’re making them and refer back to the brand voice guidelines. Remember that a quality check is an opportunity to give content producers personalized training. Don’t waste it.
By the end of this review, the content will basically be ready to go. But, there’s one more challenge to face.
Challenge 3: The Beast Within
This actually just means returning the commented document back to the original writer. They must now learn from the changes and approve them. After all, they still need to get their intended message across and the edits may have compromised this.
The challenge at this point is overcoming their own pride and going along with any reasonable updates. If they find an update unreasonable or incorrect, then let them give their opinion to the gatekeeper. Make them feel heard and accept their suggestion if it’s valuable. This is much like receiving a graded paper back from your teacher.
Having open communication between your writers and gatekeepers is absolutely essential to a successful brand voice and a successful content production process.
Internal checks are a great starting point and they may be all you need for simple content. But, if your company is especially large or if the content is important, then external checks will be needed.
An external check involves sending your content to a third party that will go through it with a fine-tooth comb. Their job is to make sure it follows your brand voice guidelines and to eradicate any grammatical or spelling errors, as well as inaccuracies.
So, who is this third party? You have two choices.
Language Service Providers (LSPs)
A language service provider is basically an agency that manages a group of freelance writers, editors, and translators. They provide their services as part of a retainer or on a per project basis to companies of all sizes. They can perform a final check of your content after you’ve run it through your internal checks.
If your company is on the larger side of the spectrum, then an LSP might be the right choice for you. They also offer the added benefit of being able to translate your content into different languages and give your content a broader reach.
They do have their drawbacks though. For example, they use a group of freelancers. So, the person who works on your content the first time, might not be available for the second or third project. This means constantly having to deal with new people who lack the needed familiarity with your projects.
LSPs also tend to come at a higher price tag. They have a lot of overhead that needs to be paid for and that can come out of your pocket.
Finally, they can have an agency mentality. The more projects they do, the more they earn. In some agencies, there’s a tendency to do things quickly and cut corners. This benefits them, but hurts you. Be wary of this attitude and avoid agencies that show it.
This option can be better for companies that produce content on a smaller-scale. If you don’t have the resources of a large company, then you probably worked with a consultant to create your brand voice. They can act as your final external check.
This will generally save you money over working with an agency. You’re also assured that you’ll be working with someone who’s an expert in your brand voice, since they helped to create it. Finally, a single consultant or firm will work hard to maintain a good relationship with you, whereas an agency just won’t care as much.
The biggest drawback to this approach is that you’ll be limited in what you can do. Your consultant can’t translate your content into every language and they don’t have an unlimited number of hours in their schedule. As your content needs grow, your consultant’s team must grow too or you’ll have to go to an agency.
Isn’t this way too much work?
Think of your content as a piece of art. An artist may put hundreds of hours into a single piece. They do this because they care about making something amazing. If you want your content to be amazing, it will take some work.
Good art is about making intentional decisions. It needs to be balanced or purposely unbalanced to achieve the proper aesthetic. If any of its elements are missing, then it won’t achieve the effect that the artist intended.
Similarly, your brand voice is all about a balance or disbalance of elements. If one of them goes missing, then the effect will be lost. Your brand avatar will look like a fraud and their voice will cease to exist.
A recognizable brand voice doesn’t come about from lazy writing. It happens when you put in the time and effort to make sure your content is remarkable. It happens when you make sure your brand voice guidelines are followed.
By doing extensive checks, you can achieve these goals and create content that’s unmistakably your own. So, don’t be lazy. Be amazing.
The Enzo Awakens
Our hero is very proactive. He knows that even if everyone makes their best effort to apply these brand voice guidelines, there will still be misunderstandings and misapplications. So, he creates a review process for important pieces of content like blog posts, marketing emails, social media posts, and newsletter content. This process is made up of 3 steps:
1. He divides his employees up into three even groups. Each time an employee creates a new piece of content, they share it with their group as a Google doc and get their feedback and suggestions.
2. Enzo has one employee in charge of sales and marketing. He makes this employee the gatekeeper that reviews every piece of content produced. They offer feedback, suggestions, and correct spelling and grammar using suggestion mode or track changes.
3. The content is returned to the original writer. Seeing the gatekeeper’s suggestions and implementing them helps them to understand where they need to do further work. Allowing the original employee to make these changes also lets them retain their sense of ownership.
Does this process take time? Of course it does. But, going through these checks will increase the ROI of every post and marketing email.
Finally, for really important pieces of content like web copy, print ads, and sales documents, Enzo hires a copywriter to help his team produce a high-quality piece while applying copywriting best practices.