Usually when we kick off a new project, we fill out a Content-Purpose-Audience® worksheet to nail down important aspects of the project and have them approved by the client. But last week we skipped that step because the client provided us with an example text when it gave us the assignment. Bad idea.
One Important Question You're Probably Not Asking (That You Should)
The client gave us tons of background information, buyer persona information and a white paper they liked from a competitor. "Make it like this." With so much supporting material, we didn't bother to do the C-P-A, which meant we didn't ask this important question: What's the tone of voice?
We crafted the text to hit the pain points of their buyers, integrated their messaging and matched the format and tone of the model provided.
The client loved the information, but hated the way the piece sounded. "Too formal." It was, because that's how the model sounded. But rather than blaming the client for not mentioning that, I have to own it. A key component of the C-P-A is the writer's persona--a brief description of the kind of person who's "speaking" to the audience (like, "respected colleague", "cool uncle or aunt"), and a few words describing the voice, like "friendly", "authoritative", "hip". When I decided to skip the worksheet, I skipped that key section and ended up going down the garden path.
How to fix content marketing tone of voice
It may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you're a writer, you know that correcting for voice isn't always as easy as changing a few words here and there. Voice is a combination of word choice and sentence fluency, so when the voice is totally off--as it was for this project--the "fix" requires an almost complete rewriting of the piece.
To address the changes from formal presentation to casual conversation, we used less complex sentence structures. We added a few appropriate pop culture references to illustrate points. And we dropped in a few funny asides to loosen it up further.
In the end, the client was quite happy with our reworking. But the situation was a healthy reminder for me to never assume and always confirm core aspects before proceeding. Lesson learned!