It was simpler back in the day.
If you were a kid growing up near New York City, your favorite music came with a voice. In the afternoon, after school got out, the voice belonged to the wisecracking Dan Ingram. After dinner, it was the voluble, high-energy Bruce Morrow.
(There were other voices, in the morning and on weekends. But for most of us, Big Dan and Cousin Brucie stood out.)
A simple, effective brand voice
Amplified by a microphone that lent a slight echo to every word, those two human voices combined to give WABC a distinctive and recognizable brand voice. The voice told us that WABC was fun, in the know, up to date.
What was the hottest music? Every Tuesday night, we listened as Cousin Brucie counted down the new Top 20. Where to hang out? Palisades Amusement Park swings all day and after dark.
WABC’s distinctive, instantly recognizable voice, known to millions of people, came from a couple of voices. Simple.
Later: More content, still simple
When I started my technical writing career at IBM, things were still pretty simple. We didn’t produce voice content, but we did print shrink-wrapped technical manuals that all looked the same. Marketing created print ads, white papers, and spec sheets that shared a common design. IBM customers got lots of content, but only a few kinds of content. And with one glance, they could tell it came from IBM.
Today: Many sources, many outlets, jumbled voices
Today, your organization’s voice is delivered through advertisements and social media — and also through product screens, technical manuals, help systems, blogs, chat sessions, datasheets, videos, conference presentations, and probably dozens of other ways.
What do your customers, partners, and employees hear when they interact with all of this content? What messages do they receive? What’s the image of your organization that forms in their minds?
Chances are the image is blurry.
WABC’s voice was crystal clear and recognizable. IBM’s voice, though very different, was also recognizable. Most companies today have jumbled voices — reflecting the priorities, values, and attitudes of content creators who work in silos all over the organization. Or who come from other organizations, through mergers and acquisitions, lending their voices to the din.
It doesn’t have to be like that.
For a select few companies, it isn’t like that. When you hear from one of those companies, you recognize its voice.
We can lead the way
I’d like to see more companies find their voices. And I think that technical communicators can lead the way.
Technical communicators? Why not marketers? Isn’t this part of the marketers’ job? Isn’t this their area of expertise?
Yes, it’s part of their job. But if it truly were their area of expertise, frankly, they’d be doing a better job of it.
Think about it this way: where does most of your organization’s content come from? In terms of sheer volume — words, pictures, minutes of video — the technical communicators outstrip the marketers. Since we contribute so much, doesn’t it stand to reason that we can lead the way in defining the organization’s voice?
For that matter, some Tech Comm departments are already leading the way — for example, at Red Hat and in the Cisco Stealthwatch product area.
What do you think? How important is it for an organization to find its voice? Are technical communicators up to the challenge?
Let me know what you think. Ask a question or leave a comment.