When you write, you sound precise and witty. The brand that just hired you wants to sound perky and optimistic. You are all about long, complicated sentences. The brand likes it short and sweet, with blocky text and tons of images.
It seems your style is drastically different than the brand’s, but this shouldn’t matter because you are a capable and adaptable writer. They want the writing to have personality, otherwise they could have easily whipped up something boring in a committee meeting instead of hiring a freelance writer in the first place.
Voice is a careful and intentional braid — a tangling of your personality with the way the brand wants to sound. Arriving there is more than just trial and error. While tone and voice go hand in hand, they’re not the same. Grammar Girl says: “If voice is the personality of a story, then tone is the mood.” You can have a peppy voice and still write a dark piece. Tone is also important to consider, but first nail down your voice, match the brands and hone the message.
1. Ask specific questions.
If you’re working with a company that’s brand new (at least to content), they might not have guidelines to hand over. If you’re working from scratch, start by asking a few basic questions.
Who are you?
Even if they don’t yet have a mission statement, ask for their elevator pitch. What’s their purpose? Dig if the answers you’re receiving fall flat.
What do you want to sound like?
Sometimes they won’t know. Give them options. Conversational? Matter-of-fact? Casual? Formal? Quirky? Identify three adjectives that best describe how they want to sound. Build your copy off those.
Who’s your main audience?
Though brands want everyone to be their audience, this isn’t the case (unless, of course, it’s Amazon). Identify two types of customers the brand is seeking to attract.
2. Write to their customers.
Even if they don’t yet have personas developed, pay attention to who their main customers are.
Say a brand is trying to sell pool floaties to a bunch of frat boys. That voice is going to be informal and maybe even a bit irreverent. If the text on the website and blog are written in the same voice a bank website is written, they missed the mark (and completely missed their audience). Pay attention to terminology and vernacular. If the audience speaks more casually, cater to that. Slang is fine as long as it’s directed toward the correct audience.
3. Study what they have already.
If the company already has a website and blog, read up. Identify the following:
- What does it sound like?
- How’s the formality?
- What’s the technical level?
- Who’s the copy directed toward?
Before you keep going that direction, ensure it’s what the brand wants. If it’s not, ask what they don’t like about their current website copy and what they want to change, then tailor your voice accordingly.
4. What’s the purpose?
If the purpose is to entertain, you don’t have to be as informative as Encyclopedia Brown. If the purpose is to sell a product, be persuasive. Don’t get caught up with trying to be cute or clever. Be sure your text is doing what you want it to do!
5. All you have are words.
As a writer, you don’t have the luxury of intonation and hand gestures and other body language. All you have are words and the punctuation that accompanies them. This means your words have to do Rihanna-level work (work work work work work). They have to be clear, articulate and concise. Every single one of them has to hold their own.
Hone a brand’s message by first narrowing in on the marriage of your voice and theirs. Find brands that match your style on ClearVoice.