Writing in the Client’s Voice

Christy Dunaway

voice

One of the things I see most often as Content Manager is writers struggling to write in the client’s voice, from the client’s perspective, speaking directly to their target audiences. I’ll admit, it was one of the hardest things I had to learn when I transitioned from journalist to content writer.

In J-School, we’re always supposed to be 100% objective. That’s pretty much the polar opposite of what we do as a marketing agency. YES – we tell the truth. We present real facts and we educate our readers. But NO, we don’t always tell the entirety of the story. Like the defendant on the witness stand, we tell our version of the truth. The version that makes us look really good.

Our goal – our job – is to help our clients reach people who are both interested in and capable of buying their products. That’s true whether we’re writing about solar panels, hot tubs, or financial products. Sure, there are many reasons NOT to take out a loan for a pool. We could all list reasons not to buy a hot tub or solar panels.

There is an overabundance of information available to today’s internet readers about consumer debt, the dangers of bacteria in hot tubs, and the shortcomings of alternative energy sources. But those aren’t our jobs. We’re not getting paid to talk about those.

When you’re writing for a client, you become the client. You are literally the spokesperson for the brand.

Picture this: You walk into your local Hyundai dealership. You’ve got your eye on a cute little Santa Fe XL. It’s got all the bling you want – at a sweet price. As soon as you breeze in, the salesman meets you. He proceeds to tell you that the Honda Pilot actually gets better gas mileage. The safety rating is far superior. It’s available in more color choices, and the cabin is roomier. He then points out that the Honda holds more hyperactive soccer kids than the Santa Fe.

What????

That’s what you’re doing when you mention the negative aspects of a client’s products, store, location, selection, etc.

Marketers are the masters of euphemisms. The hot tub isn’t “expensive,” it’s luxurious. The above-ground pool isn’t “cheap,” it’s affordable. It’s at an attractive price point. It’s well within reach of the average family. You get the drift.

So, how do we nail our client’s brand voice and learn to write as if we were them?

Wow, I’m glad you asked!

Do more research. No. MORE THAN THAT.

I always like to have enough notes going into my writing to write a piece twice as long as what is expected. If you write literally everything you know about the subject, that really shows up in your writing.

Know when you have to go back and pad what you’ve written to meet word count? Know when you struggle for the right words or how to express a concept? Yeah, that’s always because you didn’t do enough research. If you know your stuff, you’ll have to make yourself stop because the info just pours right out. And, it’s good stuff! Not contrived or forced.

Writing gets unbelievably easier when you know your stuff. If you’re trying to improve your writing, stop fretting about what you’re going to write and spend more time researching knowledge to fill your writing. Counter intuitive? Perhaps. But it works.

Let’s revisit our Hyundai salesman. In reality, he knows everything there is to know about all of the models, as well as the specific cars on his lot. He knows which ones come with the optional sound system and can list the standard features in his sleep. Turn around to leave, and he’s still quoting engine specs and JD Power awards as you head back up the boulevard. When you know your subject matter, speaking or writing about it is as easy as breathing.

It’ll take you years to achieve this knowledge base in any given field, but you absolutely can approach each piece armed with enough research to more than fulfill the assignment.

Know your clients.

We have one client who sells only above-ground pools and offers no installation. He’s targeting middle-class families in a region that’s known for being strongly blue collar.

We have another client who specializes in VERY high-end, custom inground concrete pools. Their ideal build is half a million bucks. The vocabulary, tone, and descriptions we use should impeccably reflect who each of these clients are and what their target audience is like. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning “affordable” in the high-end content, nor would I talk about features like tanning ledges and grottoes in the lower-end content. Know who you’re speaking for and whom you’re speaking to.

Create your own customer personas.

Writing in the client’s voice is also about writing to the right target audience. Marketers use a trick called “customer personas” to help them visualize, then speak directly to their ideal customers.

For instance, if I’m marketing Jeffree Star makeup, my customer persona is going to be a young female with heavy interest in cosmetics, as well as vegan and cruelty-free products. Talking about child rearing or luxury travel is pointless to this demographic. Talking about rock music and PETA is spot-on.

If I’m marketing enterprise-grade software, my customer persona is a 40-to-50-something male in a high income bracket. Talking about carpooling or couponing is a complete waste. Talking about first-class airfare and the latest Mercedes model is right on target.

Proof with objectivity.

Many times we’re writing just to get it done. I get that. I supported a family for years with nothing but my freelance writing, so I totally get needing to bang out an article and get on to something else. But my quality really improved when I started working further ahead. I’d get a group of pieces done, and then read each one before submitting. Errors, clarity issues, a negative comment – many issues that you gloss over when the content is too fresh in your mind become more clear after a few hours, or even a few minutes. A few days is ideal, if you can discipline yourself to work that far in advance.

I write a regular radio script for my pastor. He records monthly, so I do groups of 4-6 scripts at a time. I write all of the scripts, then I go back to the very first one and begin proofing. The time elapsed, plus focusing on another subject for a bit, helps me disconnect enough from writing a piece that I can be more objective when rereading. It’s easier to notice gaps in my logic, clunky phrases, or poorly constructed sentences. I catch problems this way that I’d never see if I didn’t step back from the content a little.

Have fun writing!

I’ve never known a great writer who wasn’t an enthusiastic student. If you LOVE to learn, you probably LOVE to share what you’ve learned. Remember when you got into college, or perhaps started your career, and began to be exposed to brand new thoughts, ideas, and information? Remember how much you loved telling your parents, siblings, and BFFs about what you were learning? That’s what your writing should be – you learning #allthethings and then gushing about your newly-found knowledge to your readers. If you have fun writing it, they’ll have fun reading it.

People can tell when you’ve written a piece you really enjoyed and gotten into versus one you just cranked out because it was due. I do understand the lack of enthusiasm for changing hot tub filters or getting a new roof. Both are roughly as exciting as sitting in a traffic jam. But if you learn to fall in love with your topic, or at least with your clients, that will improve your writing more than ten writing courses and seminars. ‘Nuff said.

How I get into writing in the client’s voice

Okay, top secret stuff. I love our clients. We have the blessing of writing for the literal (warning: sappiness to ensue) backbone of our society and culture: the Mom & Pop Business. It would be really hard for me to truly love writing for huge, Fortune 500 companies. My heart is with small business owners.

Our clients aren’t selling hot tubs and patio furniture to put fuel in their private jets or pay the gardeners at their vacation homes in Malibu. They’re putting food on their families’ tables. These are the guys you can root for and stand behind and support. They’re decent people doing difficult jobs to support the way of life that people all over the world envy this country for.

These are shoes we can be proud to slip on. Let’s step into our clients’ voices and say fabulous things that sell lots of pools and hot tubs and solar panels and consumer loans.

Happy writing!

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