A Data-Informed Voice: Why It's Important for Brands and Publishers

At the core of every great company or publication is a strong brand voice. And behind every strong brand voice is, of course, data and strategy. A well-crafted brand voice should answer: Who are we marketing to, and in what voice should we speak to best reach and influence them?

Once a strategic brand voice is established, consistency is the name of the game -- as with any branding initiative. A global study conducted by SDL found that 60 percent of millennials expect a consistent experience across channels from brands. Laura Murcek, of Airstark, a branding consultancy, says: "Through consistent use of language and tone across channels, customers come to recognize the brand, much as they would a familiar acquaintance, no matter where they encounter it." She adds, "When a brand chooses its words wisely, it gives customers the words to talk about it as they might talk about a trusted friend."

But as companies grow and more departments are empowered to create their own customer-facing assets (an unideal yet all-too-common problem), the opportunity becomes greater for their "voice" to derail from its strategic core. Here are a few examples of when and why a brand or editorial voice may go astray:

1. Lack of differentiation between different types of content. A publication fails to extend its editorial voice to its sponsored content, resulting in an inconsistent experience between its editorial content and native advertising.

2. Over-catering to a particular demographic. Marketers over-cater voice to a demographic they are looking to reach instead of finding a middle ground between strategic brand voice and that of the newly targeted customer.To some degree, it's okay to differentiate per channel but the decision should be data-informed, not based a whim.

3. Information harboring. Brand voice guidelines should be accessible to every department, regardless of if those departments employ the voice on a daily basis or not so that there is transparency around branding best practices.

4. Lack of documentation. A brand DNA document, set of voice guidelines, or any other preferred internal documentation of voice is essential for governing consistency. Whatever you call it, make sure this document is shared widely and updated as necessary.

And although consistency of voice enables brands and publications to build trust and be memorable, this is not to say that a brand voice should remain unchanged. In fact, voice must change to some degree over time in order to evolve alongside its customers, audience, and the digital landscape. Analyzing audience and engagement data is the only strategic way to approach this.

Ariel Knutson, engagement editor for foodie lifestyle publication The Kitchn, works with writers and contributors to ensure that The Kitchn's content is in line with its brand voice, which she describes as fun, accessible, and smart. Knuston explains: "By listening to what our audience wants to hear, we're able to strengthen our messages. That being said, we always want to experiment with the breadth and types of content we create. Social platforms emerge or expand and you need to be able try new things. Data is just one of the tools that helps inform how we express our editorial voice when something new pops up."

Executive editor for U.S. News & World Report, Kimberly Castro, also uses data in order to inform editorial voice. She says, "Our team's mission is simple: To produce advice content that helps people make informed decisions about their health and finances. We use that as the driving force behind defining our voice, making sure our content is accessible, conversational, free of jargon, and above all, non-intimidating." She adds, "We use data to understand where our audience is coming from. It helps us create better content that speaks directly to them."

Every so often, it's worth doing a deep-dive examination of your brand or editorial voice in order to ensure that it's firing on all cylinders for you. A voice analysis can help you make the content you're creating work harder for you or shed light on potential growth opportunities.

Mark McKnight, co-founder and CMO of RootsRated, a media platform that connects brands and people with content about outdoor experiences, says: "As a result of our editorial voice analysis from 2015, we've cut back on the number of articles produced and have focused budget on higher-quality pieces that are more likely to resonate with our audience and drive significant traffic." He adds, "We completely overhauled our editorial production based on insights driven by analytics."

Are your readers more receptive to a conversational or academic voice? Which types of headlines entice the most clicks for your brand or publication? Describe your brand voice in three words.

If you can't answer those questions quickly, you may benefit from a voice analysis. You wouldn't address the president with a "what's up," would you? Probably not... unless, of course, data shows it's what they're likely to respond to.