Exclamation points. Trending lingo. Emoji. When it comes to B2B brand voice, these may not be the first things that come to mind, but with the explosion of digital content and the increasing importance of social media in the B2B buying cycle, that’s rapidly changing. Many B2B companies are beginning to sound more and more like their B2C counterparts in order to better connect with digital audiences, and as they loosen up, questions arise. For example: can they really use smiley face emoji in their tweets?
For some brands, the question would elicit an immediate “no way!”, but the response may not be so clear for others. A brand voice needs to be flexible enough to communicate as well on social media as in an annual earnings report, but the question is: how flexible? The answer really depends on the overarching brand platform and how that brand expresses itself in words…or, uh, emoji. The brand is youthful and approachable? Pulling out the smiley face emoji every once in a while is probably okay. The brand is formal and traditional? Proceed with utmost caution.
But this assumes that organizations are even asking themselves this kind of question. Even an organization with the most well-defined brand voice may miss the mark if it doesn’t have a process in place to ensure consistency. In fact, recent research shows that seven out of ten B2B marketers do not follow a formal messaging development process. While some do have existing processes in place that just don’t work due to a lack of accountability and awareness, many others don’t.
If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, think again. With content marketers employing an average of six social media platforms (and employee social ambassador programs to go along with them) and more than half (51%) of B2B buyers now relying on content to make buying decisions, there are more opportunities than ever to go off brand — and for potential buyers to notice.
Without an established process in place, even the strongest brands can stumble. Here are some quick tips to help you maintain consistency in brand voice (and avoid awkward emoji mishaps):
1. Get it in writing: Create a set of guidelines for internal use that clearly explain how the brand should sound and when. Show how the brand voice should be applied to different channels and audiences, and don’t forget to include examples of what works and what doesn’t. Don’t assume that everyone is as comfortable as the marketing department when it comes to issues of grammar and style. And talk the talk — make sure all communications reflect the brand voice.
2. Bend, not break: Although a brand voice should be consistent, it also needs to be flexible enough to adjust to different channels and audiences. Internal teams should know that allowing exclamation points on social media does not automatically mean that they can also appear on the company website. Proactively address these areas of nuance and provide clear guidance for how to deal with them. In this case, concrete examples with clear explanations will really help.
3. Find the missing links: Work with internal teams to understand areas where brand consistency may be an issue. Are you coming off as too laid-back on your social channels? Are you more formal than you should be in your departmental emails? Are there signs of outdated messaging in some of your regional offices? To maximize visibility and facilitate internal awareness and buy-in, try to solicit feedback from as many internal groups as possible. Online surveys are an easy way to do this.
4. Get your priorities in order: Depending on the size of your company, ensuring consistency in voice across all channels and formats may seem like an overwhelming task. If so, we suggest taking it one step at a time and designate priority areas — like customer-facing content — to address first. A comprehensive audit of all internal and external materials and signage will make your job easier over the long-term.
5. Decide who does what: Establish a governance structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. When doing this, be inclusive rather than exclusive. While smaller teams may be in charge of defining how brand voice should be applied across channels or approving final copy before production, every employee should be accountable for helping maintain brand consistency, even if that means simply staying on the lookout for issues.
6. Make it matter: Work across departments to cascade brand voice guidelines — and make it an ongoing dialogue! Sharing results like positive feedback from customers or spikes in web traffic, regularly soliciting input from internal teams, and rewarding individuals and departments for on-brand behavior will go a long way towards generating awareness, buy-in, and accountability.
7. Check in: In the digital era, things can change in an instant, so don’t assume that what worked for you last year will work for you again this year. Establish regular touch points to review what’s working and what’s not as the digital landscape — and your brand — continue to evolve. In 2016, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories profoundly changed how companies could interact with customers, and although we may not yet know what’s in store for 2017, brands need to be ready to adapt to any new channels that emerge.
As Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, said: “A brand is a living quantity — and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” And in the age of the emoji, this is truer than ever.
Julia is a member of the strategy team and works across all stages of the branding process, including research, strategy, and go-to-market recommendations.
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