It’s 2021. Do you know what your organization’s voice should sound like? Does sound like? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. If you’re pretty sure, chances are the acceleration of digital disruption is making it worth taking a second look at voice.

Why? I’ll explain four reasons. But, first, let’s get on the same page about what voice is.

Related: 5 Signs Your Digital Transformation Problem Is Really a Content Problem

What is content voice, again?

As first noted in Clout and again in The Content Advantage, I find a handy way to define voice is this: the personality of your content. Is it smart? Kind? Authoritative? Personable? Inclusive? Quirky? Something else? Imagine the ideal personality you want to represent your brand, and make that personality come alive in your content.

Voice informs specific style guidance, such as choosing one word over others and adapting tone in different situations.  And when you think about the extent to which digital business requires content, the right voice becomes a must-do, not a nice-to-have.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to End-to-End Content

So let’s turn to a few more specific reasons why your voice is worth revisiting.

1. Communicate Who You Are Today

If your company defined voice long ago, or never really did define it, chances are it doesn’t match who you are today. You might be bigger, more mature, focused on different customers or audiences…you get the idea. Just as our personalities evolve over time, so should our organizational voices.

For example, the leading digital health company Sharecare recently released a new website complete with a fresh voice. Dermot Waters, senior vice president of brand strategy and product marketing at Sharecare, explains the need to modernize voice as part of evolving their brand.

The pandemic triggered a spotlight on the healthcare ecosystem and brought much more attention to Sharecare. At the same time, we recently completed an intense period of growth. We realized it was time to update our brand story and to tell that story with the right voice.

Similarly, Content Science has grown to offer new solutions, work with new partners, and become an end-to-end content company. So, we’re maturing our visual identity and our verbal identity. What does maturing a voice mean? In cases where a voice is defined, maturing it means making it more sophisticated. Perhaps your approach to humor or your use of statistics changes, for example.

Now let’s turn to a second reason to revisit voice.

2. Become a Clarion Signal in the Noise

As our 50 Crucial Content Facts show, there is no shortage of content to consume across all kinds of channels. And your content competition is not necessarily the same as your business or organizational competition. Your thought leadership, for example, might vie with online magazines for attention.

Adding to the noise is the tsunami of dangerous misinformation like deep fakes, scams, and conspiracies about the pandemic, politics, and much more. Chances are misinformation will get worse before it gets better, leaving your customers with a constant need to verify whether content is trustworthy.

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One way to both stand out from the crowd and give your customers or audiences confidence is to imbue your content with a unique and clear voice. When your voice identity is as distinct as your visual identity, your customers can quickly recognize that you’re different.

TurboTax, for example, realized a few years ago that their language wasn’t that far removed from the IRS. So when they shifted TurboTax from desktop software to web-based software, they also shifted the voice. Kurt Walecki, an Intuit executive at the time, explained it this way to Fast Company.

We looked ourselves hard in the face between 2013 and 2014 and said, ‘Man, we’re like one step away from the IRS.’ Our language was very credible, but it was very tax-y and we thought this is not easy for anyone to understand deductions and credits and schedule fees.

Taking time to reconsider their voice paid off for TurboTax. Not only did they help customers make the shift to web-based software, but they also increased their market share. 

Let’s turn to a related reason to take a close look at voice now.

3. Build Trust Through Consistency and Inclusion

The mayhem of misinformation makes trust of content more important than ever. As the TurboTax example suggests, a common misconception is that credible language means formal language. In reality, when you use a distinct voice consistently over time, you build trust with your customers or audiences. The credibility comes from consistency, not through formality. 

Events leading to the surge of movements like Black Lives Matter in 2020 and beyond have brought another element of trust to the forefront: Inclusive language. Many consumers are entering the year with high expectations for brands to fulfill promises they made about diversity and inclusion. If your organization hasn’t issued clear guidance on using language appropriately to foster inclusion, your organization is at risk of marginalizing important customers, audiences, or users. And your organization might even be at risk of legal action.

Related: What is the Difference between Plain and Inclusive Language?

Now let’s look at one more reason to revisit voice.

4. Define Voice Clearly Enough to Scale

I’ve mentioned a number of content challenges in this article. That might not be what you want to hear, but there is good news. Technology including artificial intelligence is more capable now to help us overcome many content challenges, including applying voice consistently. It’s incredible how the content technology landscape has evolved to 

Related: How to Get the Most Out of a Text-Generative AI

The key to taking advantage of such technology is to define your voice clearly. You might do it as part of a design system, a content playbook, a collection of playbooks in a center of content excellence, or some other form. The exact form doesn’t matter as much as defining your voice in detail so that technology can help execute it.

And when I say detail, I mean DETAIL. Ironically, the more structure you apply to defining voice, the easier it will be to scale voice. As Alli Mooney of Mastercard explains:

To date, many content teams rely on “style guides”…but this guidance is limited. For one, it lives apart from the design systems that other designers rely on. Words are an integral part of an experience; they need to complement visuals and interactions. Then, there’s the shift towards “atomic content” which relies on small, reusable elements. This means that guidelines need to…evolve into patterns, strings, and components.

Related: Planning a Center of Content Excellence Webinar Recording

So, if your company hasn’t thought much about voice lately, think again. Consider whether voice is helping or hindering your brand identity and credibility in today’s business landscape. And explore how technology can apply the right voice at a new scale.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of the top-rated book The Content Advantage and president of Content Science, a growing professional services firm that turns content insight into impact. She has advised or trained hundreds of leading companies and organizations as they close the content gap in their digital transformations. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications and training through Content Science Academy.

A member of Mensa and crusader against misinformation, Colleen has earned recognition as a top instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing, and a Content Change Agent by Intercom Magazine. She speaks about content issues in artificial intelligence, digital transformation, and customer experience at corporate and industry events around the world.

Follow Colleen on LinkedIn.

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