A recent blog from my colleague Eli gave some useful advice on creating (and evolving) a B2B brand style guide. Given his focus on visual brand, I wanted to highlight the critical role of brand tone or ‘voice’.
Your brand style guide needs a section on your brand voice, providing a fundamental brief for anyone working on internal and external communications. These start with your website and other marketing channels, but should also extend across all business communications including sales proposals, training materials and even new staff and customer on-boarding content.
How to write the ‘voice’ part of your B2B brand style guide
The best way to support multiple internal and external content producers is to provide clear guidelines on the tone you want them to take. ‘Business casual’ is pretty standard nowadays, so give them more clues to the best way of expressing your brand spirit.Support internal and external content producers with clear guidelines on the tone you want used. Click To Tweet
When developing your brand identity, you will have identified some human or abstract traits and key phrases. Perhaps the essence of your brand is a hero of innovation, a legend of reliability or an agile transformer and enabler. Your communications should support this identity across multiple channels. Just as the visual imagery used evokes feelings, the words you put together and the mental images they conjure up for readers must harmonise across all your various touch points.
Some brands go further and produce lists of words and terms to be woven into their communications. Others adopt a recurring theme or ‘angle’ for writers to use – for example, trust and security (‘you’re safe with us’), or sports (to denote speed and success), or even the use of outer space terminology (‘out of this world’) – to amplify their brand tone.
“Some brands go further and produce lists of words and terms to be woven into their communications.”
Ideally, provide practical examples of dos and don’ts – with a selection of sample webcopy, marketing emails, brochures and the like. Clearly compare the old way you used to communicate with the new voice you’re adopting to portray your current brand identity. Perhaps you used to talk about your company as an ‘it’ but now want to use ‘we’ and ‘us’. If you’re an innovative brand focused on customer experience (CX), talking about your clients as remote ‘organisations’ or ‘decision-makers’ in your content is so last millennium; stipulate addressing them throughout as ‘you’ for more direct and personal communications.
Let your people have their say
Having said that your communications must reflect your brand identity, there’s an exception that makes the rule and is especially relevant to B2B companies who deliver services and/or product innovation.
If the qualities of your people – their experience, qualifications, skills, ideas, warmth, trustworthiness, helpfulness, etc – are a critical and differentiating component of your unique value proposition (UVP), then they should be allowed to express their own professional voice.
“If the qualities of your people are a critical UVP, allow them to express their own professional voice.”
Thought leadership pieces, executive interviews, expert blogs and even some news releases should read like they’ve been written by a real-life person, not your marketing department. This doesn’t mean that your time-pressed experts actually need to write these pieces themselves – discover the trick of ‘bottling’ their thoughts in my previous article, How to tap subject matter experts for content. Content published in someone’s name should reflect their unique voice.
For those ‘authors’ you ghost-write content for, develop some key words that exemplify their personal style – especially when outsourcing the writing to someone who’s never met them. Examples could be innovative/enthusiastic/excited or frank/honest/trustworthy or perhaps measured/conservative/precise.
“For those ‘authors’ you ghost-write content for, develop some key words that exemplify their personal style.”
For the same reason, don’t try to impose a ‘brand noose’ around the necks of your high-value proactive bloggers. Of course, include your brand voice guidelines in your company’s social media policy guide, but don’t over-edit the writing they produce so that you choke all the ‘life’ out of it. Your people will be more value to you speaking frankly and naturally to their peers in the style they’re accustomed to than merely spouting a polished company line.
Putting it all together
Finally, once you’ve drafted the voice section of your B2B brand style guide, go back over the whole document and ensure that all its other sections reflect the same tone and language, especially the intro and any visual design examples. Then you’ll have a clear and comprehensive guide to your brand identity in all its various incarnations.