The Great Pretender –A Voice To Cut Through the Noise
If you’re reading this article as an independent merchant, then chances are you’re already quite good at what you do – you’re a success.
But becoming a success not only meant providing a great service level, competitive pricing, timely deliveries and a knowledge of your clients and their projects – it also meant that customers liked working with you and your team.
People do, in the main, still buy from people – especially when it comes to the building trade.
But there’s a worrying trend of merchants losing their personality in their digital marketing content. Robotic, safe posts that could be written by any business in the industry. Informative and authoritative, but also bland. And unfortunately, bland is forgettable.
With so much noise online, a lifeless company voice can mean no website visits, no social media follows, and no interest in your company story or purpose.
If you have perfected the art of trusted, fun and knowledgeable dialogue over the counter or on the phone, why would you try to be something that you’re not in your social media posts and website?
Why you need to find your voice
Not every business can invest in multi-million-pound campaigns to help them stand out from the crowd – but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Identifying your “voice” is as important to your digital marketing as the professionalism of your artwork, the accuracy of your grammar or the quality of your content. It allows you to build a consistent relationship with an audience that enjoys interacting with you online almost as much as they would standing in one of your branches.
Company “voice” can be split into four components – Character (friendly, formal, professional), Language (serious, jargon, plain English), Tone (honest, personal, scientific) and Intention (to engage, educate, sell, entertain).
These are not exhaustive, but the idea behind it is to identify how you’ll adapt your communication style to your target audience – how would you talk to a corporate professional, compared with how you’d talk to a friend at the pub? A student, compared to a pensioner?
This decision will act as a guideline to whomever is performing your digital marketing, so that they don’t go off course and portray your business as something it isn’t.
What are you trying to achieve?
From the components above, Intention is arguably one of the most important.
What are you trying to do with your digital marketing? It sounds like a daft question, but do you merely want an electronic store window with contact details and opening times?
Are you trying to drive business?
Attract a certain type of client (the national builder or local family business)?
Or are you looking to tackle a local, national, or online competitor?
The Intention, or purpose, behind your tone isn’t set in stone and can change (as circumstances change and business decisions are made), but as the Owner or Director you need regular and clear communication with the digital marketing manager about how best to achieve this.
How to identify your voice
The problem is that so much digital marketing is done by professional marketers who do not have the first idea of the merchant environment, with you having to spend time trying to explain to them what a merchant is, the different customer types, and how you’re not simply a small DIY store with a garden centre attached.
It’s important that you are involved with the handling of your social media (and any other content output) until you’re confident that your inhouse marketer or sub-contractor understands not only what your business does, but also how you as a team conduct yourselves and speak to clients daily, so you can endeavour to mimic this digitally.
Identifying your voice is all down to knowing your audience. This is not rocket-science, for you, as you know your business and who “you are” but it’s important to get it right.
While you probably have a solid idea of who your audience is, there’s no harm in digging a little deeper and creating a customer persona (or multiple for each customer type) which includes their age, gender, interests, online buying habits and common objections.
For most independent merchants, your base voice could be;
Character – Friendly, warm – maybe authoritative and professional
Tone – Likely to be personal, honest, and direct.
Language – Simple, straightforward
Intention – Engage, Inform, Sell
But there will also be something unique to you, that only you can pinpoint, that makes you stand strong against your competitors. Something that brings your customers back to you, time and time again. Something that your customers associate with you, and creates a feeling of familiarity.
Is it how long you’ve been established, with close links to the local village?
Is it your underdog story? Do you have a keen interest in the environment and sustainability?
Don’t forget – there’s nothing wrong with injecting a little humour into your company posts. In fact, it can be a smart decision to differentiate you from the competition (especially nationals, who are tied up in red tape) and build a rapport with your audience.
How do you want to differ to your competitors? What are they doing well, and what will you be avoiding?
Spend an hour looking at your peer’s social media posts and you can quite quickly identify those that reflect the business well, and those that are a little too egotistical. Some posts are quite vacuous and pointless, and others are overtly political or personally opinionated – this is a very dangerous game and can damage a business’ reputation very quickly.
Play to your strengths
Reflecting on who you are (assuming you are a successful business with a great team) and what you have to offer is key when deciding your voice.
Is your branding correct? Does your content have a purpose? Is it engaging and factually correct? And does it sound like your business – not a corporate or a corner shop?
Consider whether you have key staff members who could share interesting, engaging and uncontroversial behind-the-scenes posts. Staff who excel at customer service, who can often be found chatting and laughing with customers at the counter, can be a real asset when it comes to painting a picture of your business online.
Some of the best, and successful, posts contain videos of employees talking about special offers, open day events, product usage, etc – shot simply with a smartphone, with no professional editing and minimal script but full of character, engagement, and warmth. You may not personally be very camera confident – but you probably employ a few naturally gifted budding actors willing to appear on a 30 second video every now and then.
As an added bonus, posts from personal accounts generally perform better than from the company account – just make sure you have guidelines in place (and a solid approval process) that reflect the decisions you’ve made.
When it comes to shaping your tone of voice, keep in mind that it plays a vital role in defining your brand's identity and shaping external perceptions. It will serve as the foundation for your entire content strategy, so it's crucial to strike the right balance between wit and wisdom.
Nail it, and you'll establish a distinctive voice that resonates with your audience, leaving a lasting impression that sets you apart from your competition.