What can I do for you? Anything with words—I’ve written print ads, social media campaigns, magazine articles, speeches, web ads, packaging copy, UX workflows, and letters from the CEO. I was once hired to write hip-hop lyrics for a political theater production premiering in Rwanda. That said, over the last several years I’ve been specializing in a few disciplines.
As the old cowman said, “the brand is what doesn’t come off in the wash.” Your brand defines your identity. It’s how the world sees you, understands you, feels about you. Marketing departments pour endless resources into visual branding, by codifying colors, typography, design rules. Your written words merit at least as much attention.
Brand voice—also called verbal style, verbal identity, and occasionally verbal design—is about how you say what you say. It’s concerned with everything your voice says about your company, and about its relationship to the reader. There’s much to think about here. Please see my article, The Shibolethic Function of Language. Brand writing takes place in three stages:
- Discovery and strategy—finding your voice, and aligning it with your customers and your mission. It involves an introspective dive into your company’s core identity and values, as well as research into your market.
- Documentation—writing your verbal identity guide. This will typically accompany the visual identity guide, and serves a parallel purpose: to help everyone who writes or speaks on your behalf adopt you brand’s voice. It needs to be clear and approachable to everyone, from senior writers to social media interns; whether they’re under your roof or at an outside ad agency. And in many cases, whether they’re writing in English or Spanish or Flemish or Mandarin.
- Stewardship—everything that follows. Dropping a style guide into a thousand in-boxes is only the first step. Your senior creatives need to be educated. They need fluency in your brand voice, not mere familiarity. They must be empowered to educate everyone else, to uphold your standards in perpetuity.
Verbal identity is more challenging to teach and execute than visual identity. The rules are more ambiguous. While it’s straightforward to learn your Pantone color palette, or to leave X amount of white space around a logo, tone of voice is less easily quantified. Copy editors can work from generic style manuals (AP, Chicago, etc.) to enforce punctuation and abbreviation conventions, but brand voice will be in the hands of writers. They’ll need education and guidance.
In praise of brevity: branding agencies have a habit of writing back-breaking style guides—documents literally hundreds of pages long, describing rules for every imaginable use case. These documents seem designed less to inform than to impress. Few creatives have time to search them for relevant information, much less read them cover to cover. I believe in creating concise, inviting style guides. They should be useful tools, not intimidating monuments to the millions you’ve paid a branding agency.
Please take a look at some of my brand writing work.
Back in Madmen days, ads did the heavy lifting. They established your presence, reinforced your brand, informed, sold. Today ads are typically blurbs that strive for little more than an impression or a click. It’s the content—on your site, your app, your blog—doing everything else.
Most of your content will take the form of blog articles or static web pages. Each demands a different approach. But both need to be on-brand (see above). And both need to serve your strategy (see below). And both need to be good.
Woe to the company that thinks content means sticking to your refresh schedule and packing every page with SEO terms. You must consider the Google bot—but you must serve your customers, and potential customers. They are human. They are not stupid. They know the difference between valuable information and SEO fluff. If you’re not offering the good stuff, they’ll get it from someone else.
Great content engages readers. I don’t mean engagement as a buzzword, a euphemism for clicks and likes. I mean true involvement—readers reading because they care. Because you’ve given them what they wanted, needed, were curious about, were surprised by, were moved by. In this business we all stress the power of storytelling—and who could deny it. But sometimes content that merely offers valuable and approachable information is what a reader wants most. It’s more rare than you might think.
Please take a look at some of my content writing work.
What content do you need? How do the different pieces relate to one another? What’s the hierarchy? When someone lands on your site, do they immediately know where they are? Who and what you are? How to find what they need?
These questions relate broadly to content strategy. It’s part analysis of your mission, part information architecture and UX guidance for your developers, part roadmap for your writers.
Increasingly I’ve been consulting on content strategy in addition to writing the content. Content strategy is higher level work. It demands analytical skills, the ability to understand a range of businesses and markets, and comfort with interviewing (sometimes interrogating, sometimes grappling with) executives at all levels of a company. It requires getting deep into the heads of every kind of customer. It’s being part detective, part therapist, part mapmaker. It’s never being a sycophant.
UX Writing. User experience has been a buzzword for years, with experts in UX and service design hatched daily from digital media schools. You’d think this would make actual user experiences better! The few companies that do a good job have succeeded, in part, by realizing UX writing is part of the design process. UX writing is NOT content—it’s function. It’s also brand (because everything is brand) but it’s primarily there to help your customers use your site / tool / app. UX writing is a complex, collaborative design discipline that often spells the difference between winning a customer with delight and losing them through total frustration.
Social Media writing. We’ve all done it—populating Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, digging deep for engagement, keeping to a post schedule, keeping up with the ever-changing specifications, avoiding gaffes of presidential proportions. In a perfect world, this is a job for a junior team member. They should have guidance from someone senior, to keep them on-brand, on-style, on-strategy, and on-point—which is where I can make the most valuable contributions.
Content Marketing. This is a subset of content writing, specifically content that offers readers value, without any direct sales or promotional content. An early example is the Michelin guidebooks, which made travel easier and more rewarding by helping people find reason to travel to distant towns. Michelin’s idea was to get people to drive more, so they’d buy more tires. Today the goal is generally to make your own website a destination, and to establish yourself as a trusted authority.
I believe content marketing is tremendously important—possibly more than all the advertising you’d ever dream of doing. This is not a self-serving opinion; your ideal content marketing writers are experts who are are probably already within your ranks. Hire me to help develop a strategy. I’ll help find these potential writers, and to empower them to take your customer relationships to the next level. See my article, Ambassadors in the Trenches.
Copywriting. This used to just mean writing ads. Now it’s a catch-all that might include everything on this page, and anything else made out of words. I’m happy to handle any of it. The International Copywriting Collective even named me copywriter of the week. I like to think I’ve had some other good weeks, too. Please take a look at some of my copywriting, in print and digital media.