Once upon a time I found myself sitting in a college dorm room writing poetry (about cats, mostly) and analytical essays on Shakespeare and Chaucer and Dickens and Austen.
La de da!
Fast forward in time (no, I’m not going to tell you how old I am!) and here I am still writing, but on different subject matter entirely: manufacturing, digital marketing, technology, healthcare, etc.
As any content marketer knows, it can be tricky to nail down a distinct and recognizable writing voice when you’re working across multiple industries (particularly those industries that may be completely foreign to you). In the B2B space, it can be especially difficult to convey subject matter in a way that’s entertaining, informative and, most importantly, useful to the target audience.
Let’s take a look at a handful of ways to develop an authoritative voice in any content niche:
Whether you’re writing about how autonomous robots may soon overtake the manufacturing labor force or developing a checklist of tactics marketers can use to pitch third-party websites for guest blogging opportunities, the goal should always be clean communication.
This is, in fact, the cardinal rule of writing: clarity. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re writing about.
Now, it’s obvious you won’t be an expert in every subject you write about – but the trick is to figure out a way to make it sound like you are.
One of the best ways to determine whether your writing is clean is to simply read it back to yourself. Really. As often as you need to and aloud, if possible.
If it doesn’t make sense to you, the person who wrote it, it’s not going to make sense to anyone else.
Clean communication, important as it is, can only get you so far. To sound like an expert in whatever it is you’re writing about you need to connect with someone(s) who is. (That is, unless you’re already an expert in your subject matter, then rock on!)
There are lots of different ways to do this, but one of my personal favorites is to conduct content interviews with subject matter experts. It can be that you hop on the phone with one or two SMEs within your client’s organization and hash out some potential blog topics, or that you set up interview times with industry leaders during tradeshows or conferences.
Whatever the case, this type of collaboration can give your writing that extra oomph it needs to sound both credible and informative to your target audience.
All right, so let’s suppose you’ve chatted with some thought leaders in the space you’re writing about and you’ve developed a solid piece of writing that accurately reflects the message you want to convey.
But then you read it over and it sounds, well, dull.
No one wants to read a blog or an article that sounds boring or tedious and – let’s face it – no one will.
So what can you do to avoid ending up with a content asset that’s completely devoid of personality?
Develop a distinctive tone. In other words, find a way to put your own spin on the material at hand.
“Decide who you are,” recommends David Drickhamer in a CMI article on impactful writing. “It could be friendly, direct, confident, vibrant, or sassy [but] it should feel natural to your organization.”
Case in point: During a recent strategy meeting, the president of a client’s company point blank asked us to create content that was funny. Why? Because people want to read that stuff!
Developing a distinctive writing voice can’t always be about your unique style, however. Many content marketers (myself included) write on behalf of clients on a regular basis, which means they need to know their clients industries’ well enough to convey depth of understanding in the material they create.
Let’s say you’re writing for a client in a dynamic industry like healthcare. In order to sound credible, thoughtful, and authoritative, it’s up to you to stay on top of the latest industry news, changes in legislation, technological advances, etc.
No, I don’t mean that you need to stalk healthcare leaders on Twitter or obsess over your Fitbit.
Instead, simply set up a few Google alerts, check out well-known industry publications regularly for news and updates, and keep your ear to the ground. You’d be surprised how much you can pick up by spending five minutes a day reading up on the industries you write about.
Another suggestion is to use your clients as a resource. I’ve had countless times where clients have shot articles my way they thought might be useful for background on a particular topic or as an idea for a new angle to take on a project. Our content team also gets daily updates from several of the PR firms we collaborate with on behalf of clients, breaking out industry news, competitor news, social media updates, etc.
Measurement & Analysis
One of the hardest things about being a writer is that, inevitably, you have to let go of the reins and let people actually read your writing.
What I mean by that is you can spend hours and hours crafting a killer piece of content, literally the best thing you have ever written and then…crickets.
Do yourself a favor and dig into Google Analytics to see how your content is performing on a regular basis.
I know, I know – we’re all already doing that.
But, for a tool used by more than 10 million websites, it can sometimes feel like you’re swimming in a sea of data without a life vest.
Whatever it is you determine you’d like to measure in Analytics (traffic and time on page, referral traffic, etc.), be sure to keep in mind what the data is ultimately telling you: which pieces of content do (or do not) resonate with your audience.
Insight into the highest performing content assets can not only measure the success of existing content but can also help inform future content direction, strategy, and execution.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not so much a fan of Ernest Hemingway. But I will say this of the guy: He nailed it when he said that every writer must learn how to develop his or her own bullsh*t detector.
What does this mean?
Basically, it means learning how to self-edit. If something sounds like complete and total BS, chances are it is. Get it out of there!
But, seriously. Get to the point where you can read over your own writing, determine what does or does not make sense, and rephrase as necessary. It’s easier said than done, to be sure, but critical in developing a voice that conveys both authority and confidence.
Like anything else in life, self-editing takes time, attention, and practice. But, over time, you can train your internal BS detector like a muscle so that you’re viewing your own writing from an objective rather than a subjective perspective.
As I looked over the above list of tips for how to develop an authoritative writing voice across any industry, I noticed a key suggestion missing: Love what you do! Regardless of the industry you’re writing about, approach each assignment with the understanding that it’s not the words you’re writing but the way you’re writing them that has the biggest impact on the reader.
What’s your winning strategy for honing your individual writing voice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
©iStockphoto.com/selimaksan; cacaroot; DSGpro