April 26, 2021
Everything is upside down. We’ve gone from complete lockdown to maybe, hopefully, some normalcy this summer. In-person events? (Maybe.) Small gatherings? (Let’s hope!) Whatever happens in the months to come, one thing is clear: Everything is changing (once again.)
We’re going to see a shift in how consumers interact with the world. Slowly, consumers will expect to interact with groups, businesses and associations as if it were 2019 all over again. The more things return to normal, the more we’ll crave normalcy.
What does that mean for you as an association? It means you have to take extra pains to be super clear in how you communicate with your members. Differing messages can cause confusion. Differing messages can lead to different takeaways, depending on the reader. This is not the time for that.
But with so many channels for communication, and often different people monitoring and writing for each one, it’s so easy for things to get lost in translation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It starts with your voice.
Put simply, brand voice is the way in which you communicate. It’s the tone of your writing. It’s the unique thing that makes your writing, yours. Everyone has a natural voice when they write and they’re all different. Hemingway’s voice was legendarily succinct. James Joyce was legendarily long-winded.
Whatever your voice is, it’s important you stick to it across all your platforms. Though they are all different, your blog, email, and social media should all sound as though they’re coming from the same brain. Think of it this way: If somebody were to read all these pieces out loud, you want it to sound as if it was being read by the same voice actor.
When you have the same voice, you can deliver messages with consistency and precision, keeping consumers informed and engaged—regardless of what the post-pandemic era looks like.
Crafting and sticking to a brand voice across platforms takes work. But with some practice, and a few helpful exercises, you and your team will be talking in unison across all platforms—and seeing the benefits of a consistent and powerful brand voice.
This is the key. It could be funny and silly. It could be straightlaced and serious. Whatever it is, it’s important you identify it. If you’re struggling to identify it, ask yourself a few questions: What does your audience respond to? What has worked well in the past? And, perhaps most importantly, what sounds most authentic to your association brand? That will help narrow it down. Voice doesn’t have to always be something artfully crafted, or a witty remark. It just has to be yours. It’s your voice that attracts members because it’ll help all of your publications stand out. Think about it as an extension of your vision for your association. If someone asks you what your plans are for the next five years, you likely have a pretty good idea in mind. Think about the words you’d use to describe that vision, and that’s a good place to start for your voice.
Sure, email and Twitter are different. You might do more curation on LinkedIn, and post more videos on Facebook. But all should be in service of the same story. What’s your story? If you’re an alumni association, for example, it may be about the greatness of your school and the network it provides after graduation. Email communication may highlight a particular alumnus. A LinkedIn post may link to a positive story in the news about the school. These are two different ways to tell the same thing: Your school rocks.
This can be painstaking, but it’s worth it, especially if you have multiple people contributing to written platforms. Examples abound, but the gist is this: It’s a bible of how to communicate. Approved phrases and words, things to avoid—it should all be in there. It’s also a good chance to sit down and figure out how exactly you want to present your brand to the world. This makes things super clear. If you’re onboarding a new social media manager, they’ll know exactly what to say (and what not to say).
What are you hoping your members get across when you communicate to them? This is, of course, different for every association. But by understanding what you want your members to take away from every message, crafting something that sounds the same becomes easier.
Create a dummy social account, or dedicate an internal Slack channel to workshopping social posts and content. Have someone start posting in the way they would if it were the real deal. Have them post about something innocuous. Have them post about an in-person gathering. Have them post detailed social distancing requirements. Run the gamut. Gather some employees and ask for takeaways. If everyone’s on the same page, awesome. If not, ask why and see what tweaks might help. Remember, crafting and honing a brand voice doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work.
What do they expect when they get communications from you? What are they hoping for, and what do they get? If they’re happy, that’s great. If they have suggestions, hear them. The more your voice can relate to the people you’re talking to, the better.
We’re living in a pandemic, after all. Consumer expectations are going to be difficult to gauge, regardless of industry. Things will change on a dime. Mistakes will likely get made. When things change, you may need to change what you say. But the why of what you’re saying should never change because it’s all in service of a greater story — the story of your association.
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Jeremy Fuchs is a writer, editor, reporter and content strategist, who writes about sports and tech and everything in between. He likes sushi and Diet Coke a little too much and thinks and dreams in stories.