July 07, 2015
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October 10, 2013

Be a Content Marketing Hero: 7 Tips to Help You to Find Your Brand Voice and Make Content Shareable

By Brian Pittman

Consumers cite “interesting content” as a top-three reason they follow brands on social media, according to Content+. And the Custom Content Council recently reported that 61% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that create and share custom content online.

However, many content marketing efforts fall short because they lack a cohesive brand voice that appeals to audiences—and that points to a lack of content marketing strategy, which HubSpot’s Sarah Bedrick says is the #1 reason content marketing fails. So before you start planning, creating and sharing your content—you need to determine your brand voice. This is the tone—authoritative, familiar, professional, fun, professional, witty and so on—with which you speak to (and with) your audience.

“Successful storytelling is done through consistency of voice,” confirmed Matthew Greenberg, senior vice president of Social@Ogilvy at Ogilvy Public Relations, during a recent PR University webinar. “Content strategy should be driven by the way you want to converse, how you want fans and followers to perceive you,”

Here are seven quick tips for finding your brand voice—and for creating, calendaring and sharing relevant content, courtesy of PR University panelists past and present:

1. Tone matters—put authenticity first. Above all, ensure that your voice matches your corporate culture and how you are perceived. For example, a sassy brand voice wouldn’t fit a financial services brand, but it might fit a brand like Smart Car. Edgy? Witty? Charming? Sure—but only if those words describe your current brand personality or how you’d like it to be perceived. More to the point: Don’t embrace snark simply because it’s so often the coin of the social media realm. It will backfire.

2. Find your “Big IdeaL.” There are many ways to find your brand story and voice, said Greenberg recently. For example, “The Big IdeaL is Ogilvy’s proprietary process to discover the ideal at the core of the brand/company’s identity—from which voice and content springs. “The Big IdeaL is the action and words that support something larger and more meaningful than positioning, tone, identity or a big idea,” he explained. Boiled down, the process is this:

  • Identify the cultural tensions.
  • Identify the brand’s “best self.”
  • Find the intersection of the two…

Of these, identifying the brand’s “best self”—even if it’s aspirational—will help lead you to the appropriate brand voice.

3. Revisit your “Golden Circle.” Still not sure what your brand’s “best self” might be? “Simon Sinek at a TEDx event in Seattle shared what he calls The Golden Circle,” offered Daniel Novick, corporate storyteller at GolinHarris. “The Golden Circle is comprised of: What, how, then why. Every single organization knows 100 percent ‘what’ they do. Some even know ‘how’ they do it. Very few know ‘why’ they do what they do.”

Why is your purpose, cause, belief—the reason why your organization exists, explained Novick. “Why do you get up in the morning and why should someone care? Take Apple, for example,” he said. “The ‘what’ is that we make great computers. The ‘how’ is that they are beautifully designed and user friendly. And the why is that, ‘We believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.’ People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. When you are coming up with your company’s brand story [and voice], always start by asking why. Why does your client or company do what they do?” Start there—and your brand voice will follow.

4. Speak to your true audience(s). Effective content marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Of course, your brand voice will depend largely on your audience or audiences. You may even require a different brand voice—and content vehicles—for different audiences, said Melanie Moran, executive director of integrated communications, Vanderbilt University.

“Audience targeting comes down to pairing the content and medium with the right audience and speaking to them the way they want to be approached,” said Moran. This touches upon everything from tone to buzzwords to type of content you generate. “For example, our alumni prefer an email newsletter in a more formal tone,” said Moran. And since Facebook is more for our student audience, the voice is more friendly, brief and engaging. You won’t see hard news there.”

Eric Hausman, senior group manager of public relations at Target, elaborated when discussing the company’s “A Bullseye View” hub. “Our various audiences include bloggers, journalists assigned to Target beats, partners, collaborators, general consumers looking for interesting online content and super fans—consumers who are passionate about the brand and eager to consume and share its content.” As a result, Hausman and team ensure their content speaks to each of these audiences in the tone and vernacular they expect.

5. Avoid schizophrenic “social personas.” “Successful storytelling across social media platforms is achieved through consistency of voice and generating relevant content for your audiences in that voice,” confirmed Blair Klein, executive director of social, digital and emerging communications at AT&T. “Content strategy should be driven by the way you want to converse, how you want fans and followers to perceive you.” In fact, Klein dubbed the confluence of voice and relevant content your “social persona.”

6. Know what makes content shareable. All the brand voice in the world won’t ensure your content reaches your intended audience(s)—unless you’ve taken measures to make sure that your content is also shareable. Ogilvy’s Greenberg shared this quick checklist of elements or traits that make content sharable. Ask yourself if your content exhibits any of these traits before distributing or publishing it:

  • Value Exchange: Understand what your audience values.
  • Disruptive Ideas: We stop to notice ideas or concepts that challenge our understanding.
  • Great Story: Many decisions are based on emotion, not reason.
  • Fresh Interest: People want news they can share.
  • Social Proof: We are often apt to choose what others choose.
  • Creative Participation: Participants are likely to encourage others
  • Simple Advocacy: Make it simple to share.

7. Try different tools for sharing your story. On a similar note, your brand voice won’t be heard unless you’ve created, calendared and distributed your content across the appropriate channels—using the latest content marketing tools. Rather than run through a list of the expected social media channels, here, we asked PRU panelists to share their favorite social and content marketing tools.

For starters, Greenberg and team use Hootsuite, BuddyMedia, and SpredFast. Nicole Smith, managing editor of Dell’s “Tech Page One,” recommends the following:

  • Eloqua (Oracle’s marketing automation suite)
  • NewsCred (curation tool; allows you to iframe an entire article)
  • Percolate (curation tool; you don’t license the content)
  • Curata (lets you easily find, organize and share relevant content for your organization)
  • DivvyHQ (calendaring tool for smaller organizations)
  • Compost (enterprise level calendaring tool)

Like Greenberg, Target’s Hausman also recommends SpredFast. “Our social content and videos are published through Spredfast, which Target uses to coordinate efforts across our many social media channels and platforms,” he said. Similarly, he recommends OutBrain. “This promoted discovery platform helps readers gain access to our stories through news sites and blogs that they frequent,” he shared. 


"Speak to Your True Audience"

Great post Brian. You've made some good points... especially that of speaking to the true audience. Identifying and speaking to the needs of the audience through content is vital to success of marketing efforts. I see this in my experience, as we have customers adding Q&A tools to their sites for this purpose... by fielding questions from the audience a business gains insight into the needs and interests of their potential customers and can generate content that is a proven interest. There are some easy plugins for Q&A like Answerbase (http://answerbase.com), Shapado (http://Shapado.com), and Qhub (http://qhub.com)... can all be useful for content and driving traffic. Thanks for the tips, we'll be sharing this on our feeds.

Audience Targeting and Q&A Tools

Hi Blake, 

Great point Blake, and good advice re adding Q&A tools to a brand's site to unearth passion points, needs, etc.  to tie content to. Love those plug-ins--and your sharing these kinds of tools and tactics here. That's what we WANT these POSTS to be :-) Are there any other tools our other readers recommend? Drop them in--names and links--so others can benefit. Happy to be of service and for this to continue to be a forum of practical takeaways.


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