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June 24, 2014

Content Matters: It's not just what you say...

June 24, 2014

It's how you say it!

There is a lot of truth in this old cliche, including lots of great research on how tone and body language convey as much or more to listeners than actual words. 

Here's the thing: the same principle applies to your organization's written content! 

Here at SmallBox, we often say that a website is simply a content delivery system. Sure, the design and UX are extremely important, but mostly to the extent that they make accessing your ideas and words easier and more enjoyable. In fact, as our designer Neil Kjeldsen argues in a recent blog post, content should drive the design and UX processes.

Websites and marketing are all about the content, and content is more than just saying what you want to say. It is about your audiences hearing what you want them to hear (and what they want to hear) in the way you intend them to hear it!

Have a messaging strategy

We've been working with many of our clients on creating great, memorable brand experiences, particularly on the web. A big part of that process involves the creation of a messaging strategy. Think of it as a content playbook. Without digging into the details, a messaging strategy allows an organization to:

  • know what to say,
  • know who you're speaking to,
  • and speak (or write) in the most effective way possible. 

That third part - "the most effective way possible" - relies largely on creating, and sustaining, a unique and authentic voice for the organization. This serves two purposes for copywriters, content managers and others responsible for carrying an organization's brand into the world.

First, everyone charged with creating and editing content can ensure that they are doing so with consistency. Most brands have many voices who are (hopefully) singing simultaneously across various media, and this chorus is what audiences experience when interacting with the organization. In the best of circumstances these voices generate a melodic harmony. Worst case – they create a chaotic cacophony with no discernible rhythm. Having a messaging strategy is like having sheet music and a conductor, keeping every individual voice working together.

Second, a messaging strategy creates a unified experience for your audiences. No matter who your audiences are, they will be more likely to have similar brand experiences. If those experiences are good and memorable, your audiences will (ideally) take those warm feelings back into the world, and become ambassadors for your brand. 

Develop a "voice profile"

The first step in developing a messaging strategy is to create a voice profile by determining a persona that speaks how you want your brand to be perceived. This is no small task, trying to boil your brand down to a single personality, and it will likely require some intense collaboration. But that's half the fun!

As an example of how we have put this into practice, we recently developed a voice profile with WFYI. The WFYI team identified several descriptors for their ideal persona, including: engaged, articulate, friendly, convener, leader and iconic. Through the process of articulating WFYI's purpose and brand, we landed on an established and influential community leader who was described as:

"A friendly and engaged listener. A curious and iconic thought-leader. An articulate convener and balanced facilitator."

The next step was to take actual pieces of WFYI content and rewrite them with the new guidelines, and in the proper voice. This resulted in a handful of "write like this, not like this" content examples, with a rationale and explanation for each. Here's an example:

Before: "We must find a middle ground between economic growth and preventing climate change."

After: "The tension between economic progress and fighting climate change is real, but this is not an either-or scenario. Somewhere between widespread exploitation of Mother Nature in the name of job creation and the complete upheaval of the economy in order move toward a greener future, there is a middle ground. The path may seem narrow, but we must walk it in order to become sustainable."

Reason: There are multiple sides to every issue, and myriad perspectives. As a news organization, it is vital to articulate these issues in as balanced a manner as possible while avoiding the appearance of minimizing the importance and impact. The narrative can be compelling without being biased.

Has your organization recently developed a messaging strategy or voice profile? What steps did you take to ensure your content resonates with your audiences?

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