Monday, July 4, 2011

Who Are You?

We’re building a new website at work and we’re having trouble finding our unique corporate VOICE.

According to Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) that Engage Customers and Ignite You Business, “voice is about how you write…but in a larger sense, it’s also about how you express your brand.  It’s about the tone you take in all of your communications and publishing.  It’s about figuring out what’s unique about you and your perspective [my emphasis].”

Our problem is not unusual.  Choosing the right personality or voice for an organization and, by extension, for all of your content is hard work and unfortunately it’s often an afterthought.
In Content Rules, co-authors Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman suggest that the key to finding your voice is figuring out Who You Are.  I couldn’t agree more!

Charity: Water is an example of a nonprofit with a distinctive voice.  (Even their name is unique.)  Check out this image on their homepage, which touts the pleasure of new bathrooms in Bangladesh.  It's clever and clear and immediately gives you an understanding of how much water means to people living in poverty.  From here it's a small step to realizing that a donation to Charity: Water can make a BIG difference in someone’s life.

Big Duck – a communications agency for nonprofits – is another organization that knows who they are, nails their content every time and thus, stands out in a crowded marketplace.  Check out this image from their homepage.  What do cleaning products and dried fruit have to do with nonprofit communications?  Who knows?  But aren't you dying to find out?

According to Content Rules, there are 7 steps for determining your voice and defining your nonprofit's unique personality.  Get ready, set, go!

Be human. Hmmm.  This sounds sort of obvious because how can you NOT be human?  But have you looked at your website lately?  Does it sound like any humans actually work at your organization?  Most websites don't sound human at all!  This equals bad because people don’t connect with organizations, they connect with PEOPLE!  Stop talking and writing in the corporate WE.  Instead, write as if you're writing to a friend.  Seriously, try it.  You might like it! 

Lighten up. This is hard for nonprofits.  We're humor-challenged.  Maybe it’s because the issues we work on, like ending violence against women, halting climate change, and feeding the poor are very serious.  Maybe this makes us averse to using any humor in our content.  We fear that people won't take us seriously.  Worse, they'll think we're making light of a bad situation.  What's so funny about human trafficking anyway?  Here’s the problem: Donors want to feel happy.  That's why they give!   You’ve simply got to find some way to get away from all the gloom and doom or people will see you as a downer and won’t want to be affiliated with you or your work.

Be appropriate for your audience. That said, no one is suggesting that you act like a clown or try to imitate Jon Stewart.  You still have to "speak" so that others can hear you and this means making sure that your content resonates with your core audience(s).  Here's a tip: The best way to know if you're hitting the mark and making sense to others is to ASK.  Do a quick survey of your donors.  Ask them what they think of your materials, your marketing and your brand.

Build on your brand. Speaking of brands, you already have one.  It's your identity in the marketplace.  And, whether you like it or not, people already have an opinion about you.  This "identity" is based on your written word but it's also based on more tangible things like how you treat people, what kind of work you do and your results.  Your VOICE, the tone of all of your communications, should reflect this brand or something will feel off and people won't get you.

Differentiate from the pack of bland.  How many nonprofits are in existence today?  I think Guidestar reports that the number is about 1.5 million.  Yikes!  How in the world are you going to compete for the time and attention of would-be donors, board members and volunteers in such a crowded field?  Answer: BY BEING DIFFERENT - not as a gimmick - but by clearly expressing what makes you, you!

Know who you are taking to and how to talk to them.  In addition to knowing the strengths and challenges of your organization, know who you are trying to reach and what's in it for them.  Your goal is to find the intersection between who you are and who I am and speak to that. See also graph below. :)
Take a stand. Not having a point of view, not taking a stand for SOMETHING will kill your brand faster than anything else.  Don't be wishy-washy.  Stand up for what you believe in.  Say what's on your mind.  Be willing to go out on a limb.  Some people will get pissed off but many won't and at least you'll be in the conversation.