Making The Best Use of Voice Guidelines

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Christopher G. Fox

Many companies, by default, come to believe that their communications should use an official corporate voice. This voice may not be well suited to effective and authentic thought leadership.

Most often, teams of marketers and communicators will define the parameters of a corporate voice. It’s a collective effort. The result can be a highly effective guide for certain communications, such as press releases, website copy, certain types of email communication to clients and prospects, corporate social media feeds, and similar contexts that legitimately speak as the corporation.

As a collective effort, however, that voice tends to lose the quirks and patterns that make individual human voices unique and authentic. Corporate voices don’t sound like people. Instead, they often take on a neutral, bland, stilted feeling — only exacerbated by the way voice guidelines become codified and get rolled out in an organization as voice guidelines in writing. Prescribed rote phrases policed by brand standards teams further ensure alignment. In short, “say this, not that, this way, not that way.”

Most humans are pretty competent at picking up on the artificial feeling of such official communications. They may trust it, to a point, but they also don’t have any illusions about how managed and filtered it is.

In the world of financial services and fintech, where compliance is an embedded part of the culture, this phenomenon is especially prevalent. Such organizations tend to manage communications and marketing content closely. Their audiences, in turn, recognize the sound of communication that has passed through the corporate filter.

Now, this voice does have its place. Staying on the right side of risk and compliance lines always matters. Appropriate caution does not require using an official, codified voice in every situation, however. For example, it would sound bizarre and robotic in the context of individual emails, chats, or conversations. People don’t want to think they are just hearing a script.

Similarly, excessive enforcement of corporate voice can cause thought leadership to ring false. It makes sense in an official company report or whitepaper with collective authors. But thought leadership needs visible individual thought leaders for maximum depth and authenticity.

For example, that hypothetical whitepaper can have so much more impact when supported by a chorus of authentic, individual voices. Executives, subject matter experts, technical leads…they all have individual and human roles to play as thought leaders on a particular topic.

These individuals can expand on a particular point of view from within their own frame of reference. Such perspectives should not be passed through the filters of a corporate voice.

Moreover, these individual points of view are more than a “nice-to-have.” They should be part of any concerted thought leadership campaign. They add depth and nuance and help make better connections with the multiple audiences of a campaign: clients, prospects, employees, influencers, analysts, or others.

Here’s why. Although thought leadership is normally a strategy within B2B marketing, it’s also a truism that marketing must ultimately work on an H2H (human-to-human) level. H2H means giving individuals to share their points of view in and around core topics. It means making them a coordinated part of thought leadership strategies. That’s how you build trust and affinity.

Yet, at the same time, it does not mean passing their communications through the typical corporate filters in the same way. It means giving thought leaders the right combination of guidance and latitude, coupled with the right combination of support and review.

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