A few months ago, I was researching B2B software vendors in a niche market. One of these companies (which will remain nameless) caught my eye with its highly uneven language.
This company sells a range of solutions that depend on a similar technology backbone. Most of these solutions are described using standard B2B jargon: “high-tech companies rely on” this to manage functions “from collaboration to management” or from “net to gross”. Everything was written in blocky paragraphs in the third person. I could imagine Siri reading these sentences to me while I sat in a conference room at the airport Hilton. It’s a common approach to storytelling.
Then I clicked on the company’s newest solution and encountered a totally different voice. Suddenly, everything was “we believe in simplicity” and “you’ll feel the power of our user-friendly administration!” Gone was the voice of authority, in was a first-person pitch with short sentences, contractions, and exclamation points. The materials provided the same type of detail, yet I was left with a wholly different impression. I felt as if I were listening to a junior sales rep speaking over the hubbub of happy hour at SXSW.
I’m purposefully making both of these tones sound unattractive – but not because either one is necessarily wrong. The problem was their juxtaposition. Seeing these two completely different voices together, I was unsure who the company was. Perhaps their products were equally inconsistent. Perhaps one of their product lines was recently acquired, and neither the marketing nor the software was integrated yet. Two approaches, each perfectly valid on its own, yet when seen together causing confusion and doubt.
My reaction crystallized for me the importance of being consistent across all product marketing materials. Inconsistency can make a prospective customer uncomfortable. You would not set up a website where each page used different styles – and your language must follow the same discipline.
In short, you want your language to be as reliable and steady as “The Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr.
Play Your Role
There are several steps you can take to ensure consistency in your writing, whether you are solely responsible for your corporate voice or are part of a large content-generating organization.
- Come up in advance with a strategy for tone and voice. Will you be formal? Chatty? Upbeat? Will you use an intimate first- and second-person voice, or a more authoritative third-person? Will you write at a college level or at an easier reading level? To answer these questions, start by thinking about your customer, and describe the characteristics of a person your customer would best respond to. Now, write as that person – it doesn’t have to be you!
- Follow a common style guide and use common designs and templates. In addition to aiding consistency, this tip also makes it easier to be informative.
- Use tropes, catchphrases, and other catchy elements as appropriate to your voice. You can go beyond your trademarks and your formal messaging. For example, Salesforce.com uses a Hawaiian theme in some of its language, reflecting its corporate culture. This theme is outside the specific message for each product, and its use in various places ties together different product lines and becomes part of the personality of Salesforce’s communications.
The Same, Always Excellent
Ultimately, having consistent messaging is a mark of quality for your brand. Indeed this pillar of the MEDICAL method could just as easily be called “quality” (but then the acronym wouldn’t work!) Set a high standard for yourself, and then meet it every time.
You can tell you’ve done it if your readers are consistently engaged, and if you are finding it increasingly easy to produce good material as you internalize the persona you’ve created. Consistency will build loyalty. Your customers will know you by your voice, and be ready to hear what you have to tell them.
Have you encountered messaging that was inconsistent and left you confused? Leave a comment and tell us all about it.