Content Strategy + Social Media & Audience Development

Finding Your Voice


Shawn Coots

on 3/24/2014

What does the following sentence say to you?

“We are a full-service digital strategy agency that specializes in creative, problem-solving solutions that help your business expand online, boosting sales and ROI.”

Blah, blah, blah, am I right? Don’t worry, it doesn’t say much to me either, because business speak loses my attention almost immediately. If you do a google search for “web site design” or any other variation of VIA’s business model, nine times out of ten, that’s the language used to describe our industry. Well, not on THIS website!

About a year ago, the team started rebuilding VIA’s website. We felt the existing site should be updated to represent our current culture and values, both in branding and content.

VIA’s goal for the revised content was to incorporate a conversational tone in our text. We wanted the audience to hear the voices and personalities of our unique company while reading the site.

Internally, we all agreed this was a great idea, but what was it that we wanted to say? In an effort to find our own voice, we first had to update our company values. Outlining what was important to us as a team, as a family even, helped to unify what our company stands for. We wanted to make a statement – that VIA takes a different approach in shaping the future. Every team member contributed their own passions and perspectives, which was eventually synthesized into the following values:

We prefer straight talk to buzz-word jargon. We fight a never-ending battle to capture declining attention spans. We choose to be proactive rather than reactive. We believe in the right idea over the big one. We keep a steady focus on the future and build toward it. We set our silos on fire to work as a team. You’re a part of that team, because above all else, we value the relationship.

With our ethos fully formed, we began drafting a Voice & Tone guide to match. Internally, we were inspired by the work of the Mailchimp team on this subject. Having a distinct voice is powerful, especially when it’s easy for your audience to identify with. Our values informed our language, which led to this set of principles:

The VIA Studio Voice & Tone Guide

After the guideline for copy was established, we outlined several opportunities where we could reveal our personalities – my personal favorite being taglines. We spoke with each team member about capturing their personality into a single sentence. For example, Emilee Dover is “The up-in-the-air enthusiast.” If you were to tour our office, you’d probably look up to find Emilee floating through the air, spouting off hundreds of great ideas. You just can’t keep her feet on the ground, that one.

Of course it’s not a literal statement, but if you know her personality, it absolutely fits. “The pragmatic futurist” is how I described myself. I’m the old office curmudgeon who searches out the practical solutions while keeping an eye toward tomorrow and all the magic it may bring.

Working with Dan Dry to bring these descriptions to life was the icing on the cake. See the results on our About page.

The Voice & Tone guide really proved itself during our first Site Campaign, “The Year of the Unicorn.” Once the direction and concept was crafted by Emilee, Pat and Jason, Leslie was tasked with writing humorous horoscopes for each “Violent Imaginary Animal.” Using the guide as her starting place, she injected her own humor and personality into each horoscope, yet the voice is consistent with the rest of the site. With a Voice & Tone guide, our many voices echo as one.

Why on earth would we share our internal guide? Aren’t we worried that competitors might borrow our style? Well, who posted it first, eh? We take the risk, because during this process, we learned a valuable lesson we’d love to pass on to potential customers.

To accurately market yourself to others, you must first know yourself. What do you want to say? What do you, as a company, stand for? These exercises taught us who we were, and where we wanted to go as an organization. If you’re looking for the right words to explain your business, we can lend a hand. Content is king, and long live the king!

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