Since voice (or tone) is a huge part of getting your message heard, we invest a lot of time evaluating the appropriate voice for all our assignments. We can string all the right words together in a very pleasing way, but if it's too formal or too casual for the audience, then all that prose will still miss the mark.
Developing a content personality
To figure out how a given piece should sound, we talk to our client about the corporate or division personality. We look at other materials the client has produced for this audience -- and the competition, too. We assess other resources the target audience uses to make decisions. We then assign criteria (with examples) that describe the voice/tone so anyone working on the project knows what we're gong for. [Here's how to assess voice/tone in content] From all that, we find a voice that stays true to the client's corporate personality and resonates with the intended readers. We think this is why our work consistently gets good results -- and reviews.
Examples of voice in content
A few years ago, John Hancock, the big insurance and financial products company, wanted a clearer, unified voice across its various products. They asked us to do a workshop for the in-house writers to create it. So we created our Voice Lessons workshop. We pulled everyone in a room together, went through the process above and came out with a voice that everyone agreed "sounded" like John Hancock. We worked together to create the criteria and examples and away they went.
Our most recent discussion of voice has been around the FastTrac New Venture revision project we're working on. The feedback about the existing material was that it was dry and a too formal -- more like a college textbook than a useful guide. So as part of the content revision, we've developed a personality and voice for the program that's more conversational. The "person" behind the copy is a successful entrepreneur who's made plenty of mistakes, even failed a time or two, and is confident, authoritative and helpful. The resulting copy will "sound" like advice you'd get from a trusted, friendly, adviser.
If you want better results, investigate your voice. And if you want help doing that, let me know.