Brand Journalism Tips: How to Find the Right Voice for the Right Audience

November 12, 2013

The quest for finding and maintaining the right tone of voice is a challenge that marketers face every day. Given the array of channels in which brands interact with their consumers, how can we ensure effective and compelling communication – no matter where we’re engaging people?

As part of 360iU, our agency’s dedicated educational center, 360i employees recently concluded a six-week journalism course taught by Betty Ming Liu, Assistant Professor at NYU and Westchester Community College, Blogger and former Nationally-Syndicated Columnist for The New York Daily News and Newsday Digital News Reporter. The purpose of the course was to apply journalism best practices to tell clearer, more compelling stories as marketers.

Liu’s most memorable lesson? “Get to the point.” It may sound basic, but in an age marked by information overload, you often only have a sentence or two to hook your audience. So get to the point.

Below are some more learnings from the course that can easily be applied to improve any kind of writing and/or communicating – including emails, briefs, reports and pitches. Malcolm Gladwell suggests 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery, so what are you waiting for?

Core Structural Elements: How to Determine What’s Relevant

  • Use a “Nut Graf” to create context: What was? What’s new? What’s now? Combine these three elements into a single train of thought to create brevity and clarity.
  • Consider the five “W’s” (who, what, where, when and why), and the overall focus of what it is you’re trying to communicate.
  • Apply the “So what?” test to your communications; if something wouldn’t wow the reader or help provide context, then nix it. Make every sentence count.
  • Use a stream of consciousness (“word vomit” as Liu calls it) to get your ideas down, and then summarize/re-organize the most important and unique information.

Style Tools: How to Establish a Brand Voice

  • Remember the “rule of three.” Stringing together three (or more) ideas makes writing memorable, intriguing and intellectual.
  • Write for the people you love. Find a conversational voice that explains things in terms your not-so-marketing-savvy grandmother would understand.
  • Use paragraph breaks to give the reader’s eyes a break from the action. Most newspapers and publications break every couple of sentences; don’t be afraid to mimic this style.
  • Find something consistent – a small, iconic element – that can carry on throughout your writing and keep the reader hooked (Liu referred to this as the “Journey of the Mouse,” borrowed from the children’s story “Goodnight Gorilla” by Peggy Rathman).

Content Tools: How to Shape Ideas

  • Find contrast. Determine the different perspectives with which people read.
  • Consider chronology and sequencing and find the flow that makes the most sense. You might consider starting with the conclusion and working backward from there.
  • Utilize multiple sourcing. Draw from your references and expert insights.
  • Tighten up your writing by getting rid of excess language.
  • Use repetition, but don’t beat a dead horse. Persuasive writing should continue mapping back to the point you’re trying to make in a way that doesn’t feel redundant.

Effective storytelling is one of the most powerful tools brands can leverage to connect with consumers in genuine and meaningful ways. By incorporating these basic skills into our everyday writing, we can become more effective communicators and, therefore, better marketers.

Thanks again to Betty for sharing her insights with the agency.