It’s human nature to seek out meaningful emotional connections — and not just from other humans. We want the brands we buy products and services from to have character and personality; we want their voice to resonate so we can relate to them and feel like they’re solving our problems because they care.
As an editor, one of the greatest talents you can foster is editing for brand voice. Or, rather, not editing voice out of a brand’s content and copy. Voice is what brings a faceless company to life — and when that playful or authoritative or academic or honest voice is edited out, the brands all blend together.
Now, if you’re wondering why I haven’t referred to “tone of voice,” it’s because there’s no such thing as “tone of voice.” Yes, I said it. In fact, tone and voice are two halves of a whole:
A brand’s voice can be edgy, modern and full of slang, while its tone can change from casual to serious depending on the type of content being delivered. A blog article may have a more inviting tone so someone new to the company’s image feels welcome, while an abandoned shopping cart email may be written with a more persuasive tone to someone who’s nearly all-in. But both of those pieces of content will still seamlessly integrate the right slang and edgy voice so the customer knows they’re coming from a singular brand.
These copywriting methods — and the editing that preserves them — are precisely how a business leverages its brand’s voice and personality to create connections that turn leads and prospects into devoted, long-term customers.
Here are a few tips for how to make sure that you preserve personality from brand to brand and avoid leaving your editing assignments looking like cookie-cutter carbon copies.
Most companies have done the work to suss out what their brand voice sounds like, and having this information in hand as you move from brand to brand or client to client is crucial. If you’re editing blog content for a business-to-business (B2B) fintech company in the morning and a business-to-consumer (B2C) senior living community in the afternoon, you need to be able to get into the right headspace so you don’t unnecessarily edit out any on-brand lingo and terminology.
You can never reference client voice documentation enough, and if you’re like many editors, you’re probably juggling dozens of different clients across industries at any given time. So, always have brand voice guidelines and any other client-specific documents open when you’re editing. It’ll keep you sane, on brand and accurate to voice.
Many companies have launched headfirst into the world of inbound marketing, which means personas and buyer’s journey stages. Brands often spend a lot of time fleshing out buyer personas, which are the semifictional representations of ideal customers.
All content that a company produces is written to specific personas, so, for example, a credit union might write different types of content to Veteran Vicki or Millennial Maggie or Retiree Raymond. These personas expect a consistent voice, but they also expect ideas and concepts to be written about differently because they have their own pain points and challenges.
Just consider how you talk to your grandma versus how you speak with your angsty teenager or the cashier at the grocery store. Your personality doesn’t change, but how you speak to different people at different times does. So, even while editing two blog articles for the same client, always have your persona documents open and ready for review so you can make sure the right customer is being served the right language in the right way every single time.
More and more brands are starting to develop their own in-house style guides, and by this I mean lists of words or phrases or lingo that are absolutely avoided and those that are encouraged. These words are the backbone of a brand’s voice, and it’s important to know what they are so you don’t edit them out or choose what you may consider to be a more suitable synonym.
For example, it may be important for one of your clients to use the term “older adults” instead of “seniors” (and to never say “elderly”) because of how they understand their buyers and what their needs are. If “older adults” has become part of the brand’s lexicon, you’ve got to embrace that language in all content all the time.
At the end of the day, it’s entirely possible that you won’t be able to get your hands on brand persona research or even a style guide. If you’ve got clients who’ve left you in the dark on all fronts, focus on trends in language and style and document them. Over time — or even just over a handful of editing assignments — you should start to notice specific word choices or ways that content is written. Then, you can start to keep tabs on the specifics and ask questions of the client when something seems amiss.
For example, if your client has always written “white paper” and it starts showing up as “whitepaper,” that’s your chance to ping your client and ask which is preferred. If blog articles have been written in the third person or passive voice and you’re starting to notice more active, first-person content, it’s time to have a conversation about preferences. Heck, this might also be a great opportunity for you to suggest that your client explore buyer persona research or workshopping its messaging and voice, benefiting you and your client in the process.
In short, the key to mastering the art of editing from brand to brand or blog article to blog article rests in knowing who is on the other side of the screen or brochure or broadsheet — and what voice they’re expecting to hear. While brands use content to create meaningful connections to turn readers into customers, it’s the editor’s job to make sure those connections are crystal clear and meet expectations.
Photo by Patrik Michalicka on Unsplash