Chapter 6: Training employees to use your brand voice

What you’ll learn: Your brand voice hinges on adoption of the style guide. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to get employees to read and apply your style guide.

At this point, your style guide is done and you’re feeling good. You’re well over halfway done! But, this next part is a little tricky.

The challenge is human nature. We view writing as an expression of our personality and feel that if people try to change our writing then they really want us to change. This can make your employees feel like they're under attack, simply because you’re helping them use your brand voice.

To get out of this sticky situation, you need to help them see the value of the style guide. Show how it will benefit the company, and that by using it they’ll benefit themselves and be better employees. The guide should be a resource to help them, not an overlord to control them.

When employees have this perspective, they’re able to use the style guide as a tool. The restrictions it enforces will enhance their creativity and force them to find better solutions. The rules it provides will save them valuable time and greatly reduce revisions. Using a style guide is good for them. But, humans don’t always do what’s good for them. What can you do to change that?

Multi-level, comprehensive training time

Convincing them to use your new style guide isn’t as simple as sending out a passionless email. You’ll need to get your hands dirty and train content producers. Work with them in groups and one-on-one. Show them that good writers stick to the style guide. At the same time, make it clear that their suggestions or ideas are always welcome. Your style guide isn’t, and shouldn’t be, set in stone. Stay flexible and open to further improvements.

It’s important that you don’t limit this training to marketing staff. Everyone who writes on behalf of the company needs to be trained. This includes customer service, sales, IT, executives, and legal. Why should you spend your time training them too?

Think for a second about the clothing you’re wearing. How many stitches are used in each individual item? Maybe a few hundred or more. If you take out just a few stitches, then your clothes will have a hole in them and become useless. Every piece of content (including emails) that your brand creates is like a stitch. Miss a few stitches and you’ll have a hole, miss more than that and your voice will fall apart entirely. That’s why you need to get everyone on board with your new voice.

Once everyone is trained, then your brand will ooze its unique voice. It will be so consistent, as if one single person were writing all of the content. This is the point where a brand voice becomes noticeable. This is when you gain more consumer trust and can feel the positive effects in your business.

Effective training

You can’t expect someone to read through your style guide and suddenly be able to apply it perfectly. It’s more complicated than that. You’ll need to provide ongoing support and guidance.

When you first release your style guide you can hold workshops to provide personalized training. Explain the guidelines to them, especially the ones that pertain to their roles and have them practice using them. Then check over their work and provide feedback. If possible, have a few influential team members speak at the workshop and explain why they plan to use the style guide.

To make these trainings more interesting, find a few real-world examples that your staff has dealt with in the past. Ask the attendees how the style guide could be used to resolve these issues. If they can’t find the solution in the style guide, then let them suggest one. If it’s good, you can include it in the style guide. By giving them a role in creating the style guide, they’ll be much more likely to follow it.

Incentivize

After employees have been trained, they’ll need more motivation to keep applying the style guide. Think of their motivation like a fire. At the beginning it will burn hot, but without continual stoking it will quickly die out.

One way to get your employees stoked (rimshot), is offering incentives. This will give them continual reasons to live and die by your style guide. Incentives will differ depending on your company, but here are a few ideas of what you could offer:

  • Bonus pay/PTO for employees who require minimal revisions or correction.
  • Team contests with a winning writer chosen by the style guide writer.
  • Writer of the month wall to showcase the employees who are doing the best work.
  • Team rewards that are awarded based on overall team performance.

You might have other ideas for how to incentivize your team and that’s great. Just remember that the key to your incentive is giving them a reason to keep applying your brand voice guidelines. By including incentives, you’ll hold the attention of any employees who aren’t “self-starters.”

Don’t mess with Texas

This phrase was famously used in an anti-littering campaign in Texas during the mid 80s. The idea behind the phrase was to make not littering a matter of pride for young men in Texas. To achieve this, the campaign made commercials with famous, respected Texans. Each commercial was different, but they all had the same idea: real Texans don’t litter.

What was the result of this campaign? Thanks to it, littering was reduced by 72% between 1986 and 1990. The reason it was so powerful, was that it appealed to Texans’ sense of pride. The people who saw the commercial were proud Texans, but then they were told that to really be Texan they had to stop littering.

So, what does this have to do with getting employees to use your style guide? It shows that you need to make it a matter of pride with your employees. Make it clear to them that good, creative, successful employees follow the style guide. Hopefully, their desire to be a good employee will kick in and they’ll start using the style guide whenever they write.

Even though you can’t get Stevie Ray Vaughan to convince them, it can be helpful to have respected employees explain why they use the style guide. This is an excellent use of positive peer pressure and can give apathetic employees the jolt they need.

Internal marketing

Most companies focus their marketing efforts externally. This won’t make your company strong at its core though. By marketing internally to your employees, you can get them on board with your style guide and brand voice.

What is internal marketing though? Basically, it’s just marketing that’s directed at your employees. A break room poster with your company’s safety mantra is internal marketing, so is your employee newsletter. Using this often overlooked tool can give your company real integrity and help it weather any difficulty.

How can you use internal marketing to help with brand voice adoption? Here are just a few options:

  • Employee newsletter: Use your company’s newsletter to share stories about how customers have reacted to the new brand voice. You can also share reminders and success stories to keep people aware of and interested in your style guide.
  • Training calls: Consider holding a monthly webinar to give your employees ongoing training. Bring in experts or clients to keep them lively. Open up the call to get employee feedback and questions. Keep people interested and engaged.
  • Visuals: This could really be anything, such as a mural on the wall of your brand avatar or a key phrase for describing your brand voice. You can also put up posters or hand out other visual aids for content producers to keep on their desks. The idea with these visuals is to always keep your brand voice in the back of employees’ minds.

Making good use of internal marketing will raise awareness among employees and help you to succeed in implementing your brand voice. But, how can you be sure that your employees are using correctly? In the next chapter you’ll find out.

Return of the Enzo

With his phresh new style guide in-hand Enzo plans a meeting with his team. It doesn’t take them by surprise, after all everyone had a part in creating the brand voice. They gave Enzo feedback, provided suggestions, and brought up the potential pitfalls.

During the meeting Enzo:

  • Explains the motivation behind the change (they weren’t standing out in the market or creating loyal clients)
  • Talks through his research into their buyer personas to show that this method is evidence-based
  • Shows their brand avatar and explains how they communicate and why it’s the right choice
  • Shows 4 samples of content written in the previous style alongside the new style
  • Hands out copies of the style guide along with some homework to help people learn their stuff

After the meeting, Enzo does a few more things to get his style adopted:

  • He sets up a monthly training session to review everyone’s progress and answer their questions.
  • He gets a friend to design posters with the provider and lists the avatar’s top qualities on it. He puts the posters up around the office to remind people of what makes their company unique.

How can Enzo know that it’s working though? And how will he make sure that they’re all in the same boat?