The ability to both identify and match a client’s voice is one of the most exciting and difficult challenges of being a writer at a marketing agency. Flexing between voices at will, depending on the work, adds another layer of complexity and intrigue to the mix of day-to-day typing.
The problem, of course, is that while someone can try to explain their voice as best they can, it’s impossible to capture the nuances of what makes a voice work or feel genuine, much less what makes content compelling enough for someone to want to buy a product or service.
Ultimately, at its core, finding the client’s voice is a mixture of listening, reading and experimenting. When a voice clicks with what a client is trying to say to their audience, that should reflect in the results (leads, customers, engagements). When a voice doesn’t click, that will negatively affect potential conversions theoretically, but isolating something as ambiguous as “voice” as a reason for a lack of engagement is a frustrating conundrum in itself.
So, what is a writer looking for the right voice to do?
Keep pushing to find what “works” one way or another.
What is Voice, Exactly?
Voice is a brand’s personality and how they convey that personality through words and speech. Voice transcends products and services, which can make it a differentiator in a marketplace where everyone speaks the same way.
Voice is important because it reinforces a brand’s image, making it more recognizable and powerful. Secondly, voice can add interest to something that might otherwise be seen as mundane or unremarkable. On the flip side, poor use of voice can detract from something that would otherwise be useful, important or exciting.
Even in something as concise as an email subject line, a voice choice can make or break a marketing asset’s performance. For instance, voice can impact how people perceive a promotional email for this hypothetical mortician service. Compare these subject lines:
“Unsure Where to Turn After a Loss? We’re Here to Help”
“On the Market for a Mortician? We’re Dying to Assist You”
The first subject line is conscientious of the reader’s likely emotional state. This addresses a potential pain (an uncertainty of what to do after an unexpected loss) as well as a reassurance that their service is prepared to solve that pain (we’re here to help) in a matter-of-fact way.
As for the second subject line, while the fun-with-pun style could play well with other brands, this voice decision definitely wouldn’t be the best considering the industry and the target audience. This voice would be unique for the marketplace, sure, but the risk of alienating readers is too strong to dismiss.
You get the idea.
Too Stiff or Too Casual?
There is a perpetual push-and-pull struggle between the desire to come off as professional while at the same time not being so generically professional as to appear robotic and unauthentic. I’ve come to find most brands in the B2B space (we are a B2B agency) tend to err on the side of caution as far as what they will accept as their voice.
Basically, businesses are trying to find a place on the spectrum between two extremes:
The extreme professional: “We recently published a new blog post and would be most flattered if you set aside time in your day to relish in our content.”
The extreme casual: “Yo, read this blog. It’s poppin’ fresh.”
The number one factor in the “too professional or casual debate” is fear of genuine exploration of voice, but the fear is rational. Clients only have short windows of time where they are exposed to prospective customers or leads and those windows are precious. A poor use of voice could destroy the potential for future conversations, so most people wouldn’t want to take what they see as unnecessary risks.
On the other hand, never taking a chance with voice could mean throwing away the opportunity for connecting with prospects that would have never considered a brand in the first place. That’s where testing and safe experimentation can come in handy.
Going Out On a Limb
In the business of marketing, a brand has to buy into the voice that’s pitched to them. As a writer that believes they understand a brand and the target audience, a client always has the final say. They know themselves better than an outside writer would ever know them.
Nevertheless, an outside perspective of a brand and how they communicate can be a vital asset to companies with blassé messaging or those seeking better results for their marketing. If clients want to see their results change, they have to be at least somewhat open to the prospect of experimentation.
In inbound marketing, especially for email marketing, A/B testing is one of the most effective ways to examine whether or not a change of voice affects engagement in a positive or negative way. For example, assuming the sample size of contacts is large enough, smart A/B email testing can quickly determine which subject line (between two options) is resonating most with an audience. HubSpot (marketing software) will automatically switch to the highest performing subject line over time. In this way, clients that are averse to experimenting with their voice can find comfort in A/B testing knowing that one poor subject line choice won’t kill them.
Outside of testing, going out on a limb to see what a client will accept or agree is “their” voice is a fun challenge out of the gate. Clients become introspective, sometimes enjoying a refreshing change of style. Other times, clients aren’t so crazy about certain creative choices and would rather revert to a more conservative approach.
Remembering the Goals of Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is about attracting leads and converting customers, not becoming a sandbox of creative writing. The goal is to find what resonates, which can sometimes mean reigning in some off-the-wall creative impulses or — at times — embracing those ideas that you didn’t think were kosher but actually work.
Part of the reason behind the name Mojo Media Labs involves what writers have to do every day to be even remotely successful — experiment in a “lab” environment. The moment experimentation stops, the opportunities from exploring voices to their full potential (their lead generation potential to be exact) come to a standstill.
Finding the right brand voice is an art and a science. Both approaches are needed to achieve success.