Throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks is no way to form a content strategy. Chambers – like any brand or business – need to know who they are, who they’re talking to, and what makes them so special.
Building your personas is part of this process. They’re the “who” you’re talking to. Much of your message is the substance of what you’re saying. But your chamber also needs to pay attention to the “how” you’re talking to them. The “how” is a mixture of voice and tone.
Let’s define out terms.
It’s easy to confuse voice and tone, so let me stick with that a bit longer. When you think of someone’s personality, you think of it as fixed. Personality can be complicated and it has different facets, but people are who they are.
Having a distinctive, identifiable voice sharing your content is critical to communicating your chamber’s message. Your chamber’s content won’t stand out in the sea of content that washes over your prospects every day without it. And if that’s true, your prospects certainly won’t remember or recognize your chamber’s voice from among all of the other organizations vying for their attention. Maybe they like a post on your blog, but so what if they can’t remember it came from your chamber!
Finding Your Voice
To find your chamber’s voice, you have to start with clear messages. What are your chamber’s fundamental values? How do you want others to describe your chamber? What makes your chamber different from other organizations that may have similar values?
Hold some focus groups with different stakeholders in your chamber to hear how they answer these questions. Why have they chosen to be part of this community? Get a variety of perspectives. If your chamber has already defined its key messages, the focus groups are the place to get feedback on whether those messages resonate with the right people, or whether they need to be refined.
Then get a sense of what sort of voice make sense for your chamber. Ask them to imagine the chamber as a real person with a distinct personality; how do they describe her personality? Have people share their backstory for using certain adjectives to describe your chamber. These can help reveal deeper associations the chamber holds for them.
Review a good cross section of your content. Which have a voice and tone that engage and present an identifiable perspective? What views, words, phrases, attitudes reinforce the substance of the message your chamber wants to communicate? Which are too generic to show any personality? What are they lacking?
Be sure to take a close look at your chamber’s mission statement and pull out the values embedded there.
Look at how your prospects talk about your chamber. This is different from looking at what they’re asking about, or what their concerns are. Look at how they talk about these things on social media, in their emails to your office, and in focus groups, the questions they ask, etc. What words and phrases do they use?
The deliverable you want from each of these steps is a list of words and phrases that describe your chamber’s values and personality. These are the building blocks of creating a consistent voice/tone brand for your chamber.
Select three to five of these words that really distill your chamber to its best self. After this process, you may have list like: opportunity, access, community, and supportive.
Now that you can describe your chamber’s values and personality, you can start building a vocabulary around them. How formal or informal are you? How does that vary based on context? If your chamber’s voice leans towards the more formal, your blog posts will still likely have a less formal tone than your program brochures.
Where do slang or technical jargon fit into your chamber’s voice? Should they always be avoided? Or how will they be used in some places to vary tone so content with the same voice doesn’t get repetitive?
Is your chamber a “we” or an “it” when mentioned in your content? If your chamber personality is a warm, supportive community, you probably will decide to refer to your chamber as “we.” If it’s serious but fair, then perhaps your chamber gets the third-person instead of first-person pronoun.
Document your chamber’s voice by creating a table with your defining words in one column. The next column should contain a short explanation of what that value is intended to communicate about your chamber. Use the final two columns to provide samples of words and phrases and that are good to use to express that value, and those which should be avoided.
Share this voice/tone matrix with the people who will be writing content for your chamber. Make sure to keep space within the chamber’s defined voice for different departments to put their own stamp on that voice.
Aiming for Consistent Uniqueness
All of this creates a unique voice and set of messages that can help you define a keyword strategy and influence content decisions, and it helps your content be consistent across teams.
A consistent voice is an integral part of synchronizing your marketing efforts to achieve maximum impact of your message. When your chamber’s voice is recognizable across all the chamber’s content, it increases the authenticity and credibility of your content and by extension, your chamber.