business storytellingContent Marketing

Cool story, bro, but don’t take that tone

By March 3, 2015 No Comments

Get the tone of your brand story right and you could double or even triple your conversions. Boom.

This was a revelation from the recent Technology for Marketing and Advertising (TFM&A) 2015 conference, courtesy of keynote speaker Doug Kessler, CEO of Velocity Partners and quite possibly one of the most quotable content marketers out there.

I do love conferences, always have. It’s a weird love, I’ll grant you, but as a fledgling journalist working in the pharma sector I was fortunate enough to work for a company that regularly sent me to the US to report back from pharmaceutical conferences there.

It was fascinating. Here were all these super-scientists chatting passionately about their groundbreaking research results. For someone that lives to tell a good story – to convey that passion – that was cool.

It’s why I find the word ‘conference’ does this sort of event a bit of a disservice. I want something more eye opening, more science-breakthrough-y, like, I don’t know, ‘symposium’. OK maybe not ‘symposium’, but ‘conference’ has the wrong tone for what a good conference actually achieves.

So, as someone with a keen interest in expressing the right tone of a good symposium/conference/meeting of minds, Doug’s keynote address fit the bill perfectly.

Mastering tone of voice

Now, I can appreciate that we’re not trying to cure cancer in our line of work, but a good story’s nonetheless a good story and a revelation’s a revelation. Doug’s subject – the importance of mastering tone of voice for your brand story – came loaded with that big one I mentioned: get the tone right and you could double or even triple your conversions.

Your tone of voice puts you on a pedestal with a flashing light and a megaphone

As you might have gathered I’m also a bit of a scientist, so I kind of delighted when Doug broke it all down to this nice little, logical, and – true to form – very quotable equation.

Southerly meme - Doug Kessler -Brand Story x Brand Voice = Impact

Basically his point is that your great brand story is much like a good joke – it’s how you tell it. This is especially true in the B2B space.

Outstanding B2B content

Here at Southerly we especially like telling our B2B clients’ stories, mainly because it’s a challenge we inherently relish and know a lot about. Competition to stand out in the B2B content space is fierce because, as Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot pointed out during his earlier TFM&A keynote, B2B marketers are generally very good at producing content. Much more so on the whole than B2C marketers. He says with some trepidation.

Kieran has a point, though. The thing about B2B content is the audience is generally very defined and often quite niche. For instance, it’ll be a cache of companies vying for similar services. Therefore, the content that B2B companies produce can be quite similar in a pretty crowded little market. It stands to reason then that where one should look to be outstanding is in its delivery.

Jump out of a market

Doug said: “Jump out of a market, not into one.”

In a bustling marketplace where the message is much the same from company to company, your tone of voice puts you on a pedestal with a flashing light and a megaphone.

A case Doug pointed to is the telecoms industry, often guilty of quite officious speak especially in the small print or ‘microcopy’, where everybody tends to sound the same. But with typical commonalities in its jargon like ‘networking solutions’, ‘mobility applications’, ‘cloud services’ and ‘conferencing’ (awful word) etc. it’s quite hard to pry oneself away from being pretty boring.

Great writers know when it just sounds right

How do you break the mould? Doug used a simple but effective method to shine the spotlight on his small telecoms client who had to compete with the big comms companies. He advised moving away from dull jargon to refocus the technical aspect of the business on how it helps the people do their job better. It’s a pretty simple method: explaining how the application of the technology helped the company’s people be better suppliers was always going to be more interesting than the list of stuff they supply.

Tips for getting it right

So how do you get that tone right? Doug’s important points to remember were:

  1. Understand who you are as a brand. Your story’s tone must be inherently connected to your marketing goals – how you want your contemporaries to see you, and what engages your clients most.
  2. Identify your three ‘base notes’ – the core of your personality. Are you fun, helpful and chatty? Or exclusive, distinguished and elitist? None of these are bad traits, by the way, and you can adapt your core personality to suit certain situations. To put that into context, while it’s still a version of you, you wouldn’t talk to your dad like you do your estate agent. Or maybe you do, I actually don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your estate agent.
  3. Assign a manager to your tone of voice. It’s important that one person has final say and is in complete control. As such, they should be inherently aware of your marketing goals.

Doug ended with one last and very important message – fire your good writers. Luckily that point had a part two.

“Hire great writers,” he continued.

Great writers give you great tone of voice because great writers don’t have to think about tone; they inherently know it. They know when it just sounds right: when things are fit for purpose.

Great writers don’t write; they sculpt. They etch and carve the voice from the words on a page. They never undersell a good story; they share a revelation with the very same passion and fervour that drove its discovery. They give a breakthrough its true due and they prefer to attend symposia instead of conferences.

God knows where you find people like that, though.

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