Let’s face it. Content is vital to our marketing efforts. It helps drive social media engagement and serves as a vital part of successful SEO strategies. We write blogs, create video, host podcasts, build infographics, and invest in any other method of content creation we think will produce results. But how do we stand out in this sea of content? The most common answer is to harness the power of our “authentic voice.” What is that? How do you find it? And how in the world do you harness it for your content creation?
I came to marketing from the world of creative writing. The authentic voice is something all writers constantly search for, but I wondered if the lessons of creative writing could help content creators working on marketing strategies. Simply put, yes, there is a lot we can learn by applying some simple practices to our marketing straight from the world of creative writing.
What Is “Authentic Voice?”
The term “authentic voice” has its roots in the arts and public speaking. Writers of all types use the term to talk about their distinctive style. Honestly it’s a very vague concept, an abstraction that plagues writing students across the world.
This concept of voice is something writers struggle with for years, trying new things in an attempt to find out how they can write with that distinctive style all their own. For a creative writer, finding comfort in your voice can take years. The ultimate truth discovered by writers on that journey is that your voice is not a solid, fixed thing. It is always changing and growing throughout your lifetime.
The same is true of your voice in a marketing context. It isn’t a fixed entity. Your voice will shift and alter depending on circumstances, as well as over time with the growth of your business. Treating this concept of authentic voice as though it is a treasure found and then harnessed like a superpower can create more anxiety around content creation than there needs to be. The simple fact is that your voice is inherent and, so long as you’re honest, it’s also authentic by its very nature.
Think about the stories Apple has told over the years. From their legendary 1984 video heralding the dawn of a new age, to the fun-loving jibes between a Mac and PC, and now on to an age of connection with those we love. Apple has changed what they are saying, and has grown in their identity over the years. The voice is no less authentic. It’s still the Apple brand, but the brand has grown, matured, and its story has changed over the course of decades.
Focus on Your Audience
One of the biggest pitfalls of content creation is our own egos insisting that these pieces are for us and us alone. We stress over vanity metrics and how our content reflects on us. In the midst of this we forget someone important. We forget our audience. The entire point of creating content is to reach a target audience, usually potential customers. That’s who we’re trying to communicate with so why are you leaving them out?
When you’re planning your content take the time to think about what your audience wants. There are so many ways to accomplish this. Take a look at the data and see what has been effective for you in the past. Take a look at other people in your industry and see what’s working. Perhaps the most radical approach is to ask them what they want. Asking your audience may seem a little awkward, but it’s not only a great way to find out what they want, it’s a great way to connect with them.
In his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Tony Hsieh talks about the growth of Zappos and their strategy of focusing on the customer. From seemingly insane 365-day return periods to paying for shipping both ways, Zappos focused so much on their customers’ needs and wants that they embraced policies competitors thought would destroy them. These same features became their competitive advantage and have reshaped the nature of online retail. How? By focusing on their audience, their customer, not on their own designs.
Keeping your focus on your audience will help you divorce your ego from creating content. It will keep you focused on what creates value for them as well as on how to present that.
Give Your Ideas Time
Another common mistake we make when creating content is trying to execute too quickly. We have a great idea and we know it can’t wait. So we take to the keyboard, we pull out our phone to record a video, and we get to work so we can have this posted ASAP. The problem is that we don’t take the time we need. We stumble over words and wander around a point that’s never made. We fall into the pattern of “fake it ‘til you make it.”
Ideas need time. We need time to plan how we want to convey them. Too often we rush the process and feel like we’ve both produced lesser quality content and presented ourselves other than we are. There are two parts to giving your ideas time. The first is simple, plan out your content on a calendar. The second is more involved: take time to connect with your audience, to understand who they are and what they want, and to build a community.
Look at any major brand and you will see this in their overall execution. Going back to Apple for a moment, this brand has told many stories over the years. Do you ever remember one completely missing the mark? No, we remember the stories they tell for how dynamic and well thought out they are. Examples of great communication like this come from the simple reality that they take time. Not a single work of great art was accomplished in a day. You shouldn’t rush yours either.
Work on Your Communication Skills
Any skill will get better or worse based upon the amount of time it is worked on and worked with. Everything tends to get better with disciplined practice. Your communication is no different. For writers this often comes in the form of journaling, and the same simple technique will work for you as well. Writing more is an excellent means of not only improving your communication skills, but also helping explore your ideas and give them clarity. Take the time to do this while you are processing your ideas. The work will not only improve your communication, but also help your idea grow and evolve.
This same approach can be taken with other forms of content like video or audio. The more you explore your voice by communicating in that desired style, the better you will get. Bottom line; take the time to practice and grow in whatever medium you want to produce. Becoming better at something takes time, and with competence comes greater ability to communicate your story effectively.
Your authentic voice is actually very easy to find. It’s how you already communicate with the world when you aren’t trying to be someone else. The real secret to harnessing it is keeping yourself focused, giving yourself time, and working on it through reflection and practice. In the end it comes down to taking the time and doing the work. So take a deep breath, grab your pen or your camera, remember your audience, and start practicing.