Ink-Dipped Advice: Creating Client Voice

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How does one create client voice?

There are dozens of techniques. Because of my background in theatre, I approach it as developing a character that represents the company, product, service.

This is a little different than if the company’s owner/founder/CEO is the primary spokesperson. That involves melding the individual’s personality with the personality they want to project to the public with the product or service. It’s more layered, and one often deals with more ego, especially in small business. Something the owner’s family thinks is a “cute” trait does not always go over well as part of a marketing campaign.

To create client voice, I need to know and understand:

–the company’s vision

–the company’s mission

–the product or service

–the creation process

–the target audience

–the possible extended audience

Plenty of freelancers I’ve encountered along the way will say this is more complicated than it needs to be. All you need is product/service and target market. That’s their approach, and more power to them.

But I’m creating a layered, complex character to engage an audience in a simple, direct way.

Because I am a theatre person, I approach the marketing piece as a play or film or radio drama, and I create characters. Not “representational” characters — they’re flat and boring. Not caricatures. But nuanced individuals who can communicate the company’s message.

Preliminary information is often on the website. If I’ve been hired to do a complete overhaul from the company, then we talk about how to change the tone and cadence of what’s on those sites and carry it through all the marketing materials.

“Vision” and “mission” are often thought of in terms of non-profits or large corporations, but they’re useful for small businesses, too.

“I create clothing (with pockets) that makes women feel beautiful and confident” is the vision statement for one of my clients who is a designer.

“I create pieces that flatter the figure, have pockets, and can be dressed up or down with confidence for any occasion” is the mission statement for the same client.

Yes, I created both of those to help focus her campaigns in my time with her.

But they are specific. My client is not trying to change the fashion industry or create shows for Fashion Week. She wants to make pieces that real women can wear and accessorize in flattering cuts that make them feel good. Some of them even have inspirational quotes sewn into the garment, so the wearer smiles and is inspired whenever she puts it on. She also knows the value of pockets in women’s garments, so most of her pieces have pockets.

There’s a sense of fun, easy elegance, and the use of natural fabrics that breathe and drape.

Her audience is women of all ages. Her extended audience is anyone who buys these women gifts or gift certificates.

Another client is an organic landscaper. His vision is that this area contains organic, sustainable yards around homes and in public areas that are beautiful, permaculture, and more habitat than putting green. His mission is to work with clients, one at a time, helping them create the yard of their dreams that is all of those things, and either continuing the maintenance, or teach them to care for it. His company also does educational programs for people from 7 to 97.

His target audience is residents of our area. His extended audience is anyone and everyone interested in sustainable, edible landscaping.

Both of these small business owners are strong personalities with distinct voices. It was a case of enlarging and dramatizing natural cadence and massaging out unnecessary words, such as qualifiers, too many adverbs, and passive voice.

What if a company or service does more than one thing?

Then, I create an overall “company tone.” I use what already works, and tweak, unless they specifically want a re-branding with a fresh voice. To change it simply to change it is ego on the writer’s part.

By “company tone” I mean the way any marketing material sounds inside the head of a potential audience member as they encounter it. We all “hear” as we read. By the choice and arrangement of words, I create a distinct voice that the reader hears as they read.

Within that company tone, each product/service gets a slight tweak to make it unique, but still fit within that tone. Each product or service becomes a character within the ensemble.

Part of creating the company tone is then rehearsing those who go out into the world and speak the company’s mission in that tone. The executives, the marketing people, the Board of Trustees (where appropriate). Again, this is something that many writers don’t do or see as part of their job. Technically, it’s not. The writer writes. What’s done with it from that point is not their business and out of their control.

But again, because of my theatre training, I can come in (or do via Skype) sessions that are similar to working with actors in a rehearsal studio to teach them how to speak in the company voice when they go to Chamber Events or do outreach in booths at fairs/tradeshows or however they physically deploy people to get the message out. It’s a lot of fun. It uses role-playing and rehearsal techniques to help people feel comfortable and have confidence to speak in the moment with enthusiasm and skill.  It helps the introverts of the company who are too often forced into extroversion have training and knowledge to sound spontaneous. They don’t have to search or fumble; it’s there for them to pull when they need it. They realize it’s not about them as Harry or Mabel or Serge, but about the company, and they are a conduit. Training in the voice takes a huge amount of pressure off the individuals who actually have to speak in that voice. Even for extroverts, it’s helpful for them to have the tone and points at the fingertips of their minds, ready to pull out in an instant.

We also laugh a lot, which makes any training seminar or workshop better!

I’m not telling them to be fake or be someone else or mislead the potential audience — I’m teaching them to layer the company voice over their own cadence and merge the two when they are out in the world as representatives of that company.

It’s sometimes a fine line, but an important one.

That tone is then consistent on the website, in the newsletters, correspondence, media kits, social media posts, and whatever other materials a particular company uses. It’s modified for blog posts, because it’s vitally important to have unique voices when you have more than one blogger. Still within the framework of the company tone, but with each voice being unique. I think of it as the way singers work in a choral ensemble: the unique voices blend in harmony to sing the company song. Or the way different instruments in an orchestra blend to create a symphony.

In my opinion, one of the reasons many magazines tank is because the individual writers’ voices are smoothed out to an even tone throughout the publication. I used to read magazines to get excited by snippets of unique voices; now, every article sounds the same, and the same type of piece shows up every year in the same season.

A way to make one’s blog more engaging is to have more than one person writing content, or at least SOUND like more than one person writes content if it’s in-house. I admit, I have ghostwritten blogs where I’ve written in more than one contributor’s voice. I’ve written it all, but we talked it through, and each post sounds like the individual under whose by-line it appears. Another possibility is to invite guest posters who are knowledgeable about the product or service. Yes, they’ll all need editing, but if the editor keeps the writer’s voice and lets it sing within the company voice, the blog’s readership grows. The blog will both engage and sustain.

Getting back to the “how” on creating voice:

Listen, listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more.

I talk about listening constantly.  I ask questions. I listen to the words. I listen to what is under the words. I listen to what is between the words. Subtext matters in marketing, although it needs to be even more delicate than in fiction or on stage. I look at the actions. I prefer to do this in person, or via Skype. Phone-only is the last choice (and, since I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments, more costly for the client). Meeting time is paid, not free, although a set number of meetings either in person or via Skype are part of the standard contract. Phone time is always separate.

Then I create.

The creative process is difficult to break down and dissect. Much of what I do to create client voice comes from within, once I absorb mission, vision, cadence, target, and once I know, inside-out, about what I’m writing. It’s taking the best of what I know about character development from writing scripts and fiction and melding it with a real product. Background, motivation, frame of reference, stakes, desires — all of that go into building a character. All of that relates to how an individual responds to a product. It relates to how to convince the audience, through the character, that the product or service is worthwhile.

It borders the realm of marketing writing with mission-specific entertainment.

Writing a video or audio script with actual characters to sell a product is a little different. That adds another layer to the client voice, by breaking it down into facets and challenges, and will be the basis for another post (or this one will go on forever). That is closer to mission-specific entertainment, but again, there’s a subtle difference.

I take the process seriously, and it gets results. That’s why content mill work and “you’re expected to write 10-20 articles a week” isn’t the type of situation that works for me.

Creating a client voice that shows the best of the product/service/organization and engages, enchants, and expands an audience takes time, care, LOTS of revision along the way, and focus.

But the results are worth it, for everyone involved.

How do you create client voice?

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