The typical organization in ferment is racing against time, catching up with who or what disrupted it, competing for talent, and reorganizing every second Tuesday. What can marketers or brand builders learn from such a state of disequilibrium? A lot, as I found out during my tenure in news media, prior to joining Prophet. The most salient takeaway? Brand voice can be the driving force behind your organization’s efforts. 

During my time as head of voice for a 150-year-old publisher, I encountered things that were unprecedented, even in the organization’s storied history. Never before had the rate of reporting been as fast or plentiful, or the quality of journalism as scrutinized. And not since Watergate had the free press been under such presidential fire. It was a bouillon cube of concentrated activity, pressure and purpose, giving me a new appreciation for a workforce driven by the will to survive.

Here are five things I captured that all brands, across industries, can use when developing a brand voice:

1. Make it native to the culture 

For the first six months on the job, I had numerous meetings and conversations with journalists and editors, playing ethnographer within my own organization to understand the newsroom’s biorhythms, lexicon and values. I wondered, how can a chorus of newsroom voices be encapsulated by four or five simple descriptors? And should we even try to bridge the communications styles of newsroom and marketing? 

Eventually, the day came when I presented to a managing editor the voice framework I’d created. In minutes, we’d refined it further and captured a well-rounded sense of the brand’s voice at large — sans operational divisions. 

Slow to boil and fast to cook, this voice framework reflected the working style and language already in use by the newsroom and its business partners, making adoption that much easier.

2. Align around a shared language

Brand voice is more than a tool for creating clever copy. A good brand voice operates as a shared roadmap for an organization’s application of language across communications, functions and geographies. This is especially important as organizations become more global and fragmented across platforms. News media was an acute case, with the company’s brand voice needing to flex across different audiences, cultures and applications, while maintaining certain signature qualities. 

To deploy the work, we incorporated the voice framework into the company’s brand guidelines, designed for process integration, and conducted a series of roadshows and trainings to align stakeholders. 

3. Know your audience(s) and tailor to their needs

Most companies have ever-evolving target audiences, and often more than one. Looking for commonly held truths about your audiences helps to create a higher-order directive for your marketing and brand efforts. In my previous role, we used research to uncover a trait that all of our readers and subscribers had in common: curiosity. While a simple insight, it told us that: our audiences cared about subject matter over price; usage could be elevated to habit; and one interest could serendipitously lead to another. All important data points for creating “on-voice” experiences and communications that resonate. 

4. Move at the pace of your product — or faster

We hear a lot about Six Sigma, agile, and other ways to drive organizational performance. Even for organizations that don’t work within these methodologies, pace is no less important. In my role, it was necessary to work at the speed of our newsroom — sometimes faster. Increasingly, we were marketing the news in real-time to mirror the rate of our journalism and the value of timely information. This emphasized for me the importance of inspiring marketing teams to work at pace with the organization’s output. Organizing cross-functional marketing teams by speed-to-market, streamlining stage gates and finding the right collaboration apps for fast-tracking processes all help reduce friction and lag. 

5. Design the right governance structure

Perhaps the most important factor for embedding brand voice within an organization is governance. As an ongoing quality-control effort, governance requires clear roles and timelines. Governance can take a few forms, depending on the organization’s size and operating model: 

Centralized — A single editorial role governs all communications standards and output. This model works best within organizations that have a single value proposition and offering, such as a mattress retailer.

Hub-and-spoke — A central body oversees communications standards and output with the help of an empowered team. Connected by workstreams and deliverables, this format works best in organizations with multiple SKUs, like a large CPG company.

Distributed — A series of cohorts with equal editorial power preside over their respective domains based on differing audiences, geographies, offerings and/or standards, like in a global professional services firm.

Final Thoughts

Brand voice is especially important today when humanity and values are critical to maintaining stakeholder relationships. By making a brand’s cult-of-personality consistently apparent, accessible and authentic through brand voice, organizations have a way to differentiate themselves, engage specific communities and build lasting equity. 

If you’d like to learn more about Prophet’s verbal branding practice, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you. 

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