Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s twice-monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Email us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help! Every Client Wants a Unique ‘Voice,’ and I Feel Lost!
Dear Content Therapist: I’ve been working as a content marketer for about a year after changing careers, and while I have a strong writing background, I’ve found it difficult to sync up with different client voices. Sometimes, I’m ghost-writing for an executive. Other times, I have to write for multiple clients in a week that are in different industries and have very different ideas about what “good” writing looks like. I want to make sure I can write in their “voice,” but I don’t want to get so obsessed that I turn in bad copy because I’m distracted. Do you have any tips or resources that can help me learn how to write for different client voices and preferences? — ADAPTING TO CLIENT VOICES
Paul Chaney: What you’re referring to is a combination of science and art, a learned skill. These tips and resources should help.
Research, Research, Research
Before you start writing, do your research! Learn as much as you can about your client and their target audience. This will help you understand their culture, needs and expectations. You can learn a lot by researching their website, but speaking to the stakeholders is best. For example, if you’re writing for the CEO, talk to them and ask how they perceive their voice. Ask them to show you examples of their writing so you can get a sense of their style.
Examine Their Current Content
Take a look at the website to see what kind of content they have. If you’re writing for the blog, check out existing posts, especially the most recent ones. If you’re writing landing pages, follow the style and template of the current examples. Pay attention to the transition words and phrases the client uses and the level of formality.
Follow the Style Guide
Many larger companies have brand style guides that outline voice and tone. Ask for a copy if you don’t already have one. If they don’t have a style guide, ask if they prefer you use a stylebook such as Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style or AMA.
Use Generative AI Tools
Many generative AI writing tools have features that let you create content with a certain voice or according to a certain buyer persona. ChatGPT has “custom instructions” where you can tell it about your brand and how you want it to respond to prompts.
Alternatives to ChatGPT for content marketing also can help. Copy.ai has a brand voice feature that analyzes content to give tips on matching your client’s voice. Jasper and Writer also have features that let you train them to match the voice.
Ask For Feedback
Once you submit a draft, ask for feedback. You’ll likely get it anyway, but being proactive works to your advantage, in my experience. Express a sincere desire to speak in their voice. Oh, and proofread your copy carefully before submission. You don’t want a typo of grammatical gaff to cause problems.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You know the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Put another way, the more you ghostwrite, the better you’ll get. Like I said, it’s a learned skill that comes with time. Keep working at perfecting your craft, and you will.
Here are some ghostwriting books that you may find helpful:
- “Ghostwriting: The Murphey Method,,” by Cecil Murphey
- “The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting,” by Teena Lyons
- “The Professional Ghostwriter’s Handbook,” by J. S. Menefee
How Can I Help My Team Move Forward After Layoffs?
Dear Content Therapist: I recently had to make the difficult decision to shrink my marketing team due to budget cuts and revenue declines. While I understand why leadership made this decision, it’s left the remaining team members feeling anxious and uncertain about their job security — and I’m worried about my own job, to be honest. I want to be the best leader possible for my team during this difficult time, but I also don’t want to mislead them about what’s going on. How can I best lead my marketing team after making layoffs? — MANAGING IN A TIME OF LAYOFFS
Paul Chaney: I get it. The current economic environment is tough on organizations, often requiring the kind of decisions you were forced to make. That said, you used leadership-related terms a few times, and that’s exactly what you have to do now — LEAD!
Let’s look at what effective leadership requires.
Put Your Team’s Security Needs First
I know you’re concerned about your job security, but you must put that back burner and focus on your team. That’s what good leaders do.
Be Honest But Reassuring
Be honest with your team, assuring them you will do everything possible to protect their jobs. They survived the first round of layoffs, demonstrating some permanence. You may experience mistrust or disdain — you did lay off some team members, after all — in which case, express acceptance and patience. That, too, is part of being a leader.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
While you want to offer reassurance, don’t make promises you can’t keep. You don’t know what the higher-ups may dictate regarding subsequent layoffs involving your team.
Listen With Empathy
One way to earn their trust is to listen to their concerns empathetically, even if they’re accompanied by anger. (That could just be their fear talking.) Empathy shouldn’t be too hard to come by; as you said, your job may be on the line, too.
Stress could devolve into negative attitudes among team members — don’t let that happen. You have to encourage optimism. Depending on your personality, it may not come naturally, but as leaders, we sometimes have to step outside our comfort zones.
Prevent a Downward Cycle
Do what’s required to prevent a vicious downward cycle. Don’t complain to your team, which only adds to the problem. To quote Tom Hanks’ from “Saving Private Ryan,” “Gripes go up, not down.”
Fake It Till You Make It
That may sound completely disingenuous, and I understand if it does. But as a leader, there are times when you have to hold it together in front of your team despite how you may feel internally. That doesn’t mean you become a stonewalled emotional fortress. Leadership requires big shoulders, but it doesn’t mean going it alone. Find a trusted friend or counselor with whom to share your concerns, fears or stress.
The Rev. Robert Schuller said, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” Sooner or later, the economic climate will change — and greater job security will come along with it. In the meantime, be strong, patient, caring and kind. Your positive demeanor can rub off on your team, leading to greater productivity, higher morale and stronger ties in the long run.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.