In outstanding novels, storytellers know how to build characters that are more than just authentic and relatable. They know how to make them unique, even if the settings are similar to previous stories. They understand that humans are dynamic, and can’t easily be described in words – it takes actions, both subtle and loud. They know that like humans, characters are rarely remarkable if they always follow the rules.
I’ll get to the point: If you know how to use content to build your brand as an author builds a character, it too will be unique and remarkable. Using content in the same, old expected ways is a great way to bore your audience.
But why is this important for my blog?
My clients – mostly insurance companies, real estate brokers and financial advisors – reference The Wall Street Journal as their desired style. I heartily agree this is a fine goal to set. However, WSJ’s most popular articles are rarely the cut and dry academic writing many associate with the news outlet.
WSJ author Christian Berthelsen is a wonderful example. Anyone who can write about commodities and currency and make it digestible for a broad, lesser-informed audience – but still relevant to a smaller but more knowledgeable audience – is laudable. All the while, Berthelsen maintains a signature wit that builds his own brand persona, and in turn, the Journal’s.
When oil prices plunged in early 2015, Berthelsen kept it surprisingly light in his article “Oil’s Doomsayer Says Doom … Again.” In this article, after introducing and giving credence to Citigroup Inc. analyst Ed Morse, he prefaces the news with this little bit:
As such, oil-market watchers tend to listen to what [Morse] has to say. And what is his outlook for the foreseeable future? Look out below.
In a few sentences, Berthelsen engages readers of all knowledge levels, asserts his personality and entices you to keep reading. This is the good writing. This is writing with personality.
In fact, on January 6, 2015, this article was the most popular on the WSJ’s MoneyBeat blog. What this tells me is that, regardless of how dry and serious an industry is perceived to be, charismatic writing should still be top priority. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, this is why so many of my clients wish to emulate the prodigious writers of the Journal.
Here are a few ways to bring personality to your own writing.
Look at what other people are doing, then don’t do it
There’s a temptation to write content in a way that mirrors what has proven to be successful. This makes sense. If you use the same language as successful competitors, you can guarantee an audience – but the trouble is you won’t be breaking any ground.
Let’s look at something we all love to hate: Buzzwords. It absolutely makes sense to market your product as “leading” or your service as “robust” or your technology as “disruptive.” These are words with definitions, and they mean good things. Everyone else’s products and services are marketed that way, so if you don’t, (the skewed thinking goes) yours aren’t.
However, if you can show that you are a leader (What awards have you received? What events have you taken part in?), or that your service is robust (What are all of your offerings? What do customers say about them?), your readers will be much more captivated by what they could potentially gain from you.
Be aware of writing in cliches
One of the easiest ways to set your brand apart is to pay close attention to cliches. Look closely at each sentence you publish. Did you use that analogy because you know everyone will get it? Because you’ve seen other people use it? This is lazy. Every metaphor, analogy and simile is an opportunity to inject your personal brand into your web copy – don’t pass this up.
There’s an easy trick to embellish cliches if you find yourself leaning on them too often: Add a personal twist to an existing saying.
Scene: Aequitas, an insurance company that prides itself on immediate customer support. It uses big data to craft custom coverage options.
Lame tagline: “Aequitas. We’ll be at your side at the drop of a hat.”
Slightly better tagline: “Some insurance companies may be by your side at the drop of the hat. Aequitas is there to catch it before it hits the ground.”
Even better tagline: Aequitas. We were expecting you.
It’s best to avoid using cliches altogether, but using them in a way that shows you’re aware it’s a cliche can at least set you apart.
Take a deeper look at your brand persona
You’ve probably designated a persona for your brand already. It may even be based on an existing person or character. But have you really taken the time to perform an in-depth character analysis?
As an English major, I took part in countless character development exercises in which I was expected to know dozens of facts about a character regardless of whether these facts would make it into the story. By doing so, you can much more convincingly portray relevant qualities that drive the plot forward.
The same goes for content. The more you can bring your brand to life, the better chance you’ll have at conveying that through writing. Try sitting down with your marketing team and imagining these scenarios:
- Where would your brand persona take you out for dinner?
- What would it order?
- How does it react if the server is extremely rude?
It may sound silly, but simple exercises can often yield exciting, unexpected results, like better online readability. Once you’ve imagined your brand persona down to its DNA, any strong writer will be able to flesh it out to make your brand message stronger.
Don’t be nervous to break the rules
Remember that this is your blog, not your thesis. While it’s unquestionably true that you should have a strong command of English grammar and syntax before you ever decide to bend or break the rules, slight manipulation can be a powerful tool – if you do so with tact.
Fragment sentences. These are often used for delivery of unexpected humor or punchy – even provocative – commentary.
Sentences that appear to be run-ons but are in fact consciously used to evoke a sense of urgency or tension in the reader.
Breaking the fourth wall. This could be as simple as writing in second person – this isn’t only for how-to guides anymore.
Obvious or even overwhelming alliteration often not included in corporate speech. This can be integral for rhythmic reading that ushers your audience along smoothly.
These are all devices that, when paired with a strong brand identity, can make the written content on your site as colorful and recognizable as any brand imaging.
So don’t be afraid to be bold with your writing. In doing so, you’ll find that wrapping pertinent information with colorful, unique language will help you build a memorable brand that anyone can relate to.