Even when you do it well, judging whether you’ve captured brand voice never feels conclusive.
Brand guidelines can help. Clear brand guidelines can really help. But let’s be real, many clients outsourcing their content writing will provide very little guidance.
Yet, they’ll still expect you to capture (or create) some sort of brand voice, even if they don’t really know what theirs is. The small bit of good news is that most clients will know the voice they like when they see it.
Though that’s small comfort when you’re the one patching together some sort of voice from thin air.
So you can feel less like you’re throwing darts in a dark room, here’s a method for nailing brand voice that comes from a professor and professional comedy writer.
According to Mel Helitzer, aligning Material Audience and Persona (MAP) is vital to successful comedy writing.
It also happens to be a great way to look at building a brand voice. But let’s walk through an example of how this MAP Theory works in the context of comedy before we get to branding.
The most basic joke has a setup and it has a punchline. Generally, the setup sends the audience down one train of thought, like this one from Rodney Dangerfield:
Setup: When I was a kid my parents moved a lot,
Before the punchline, the audience understands that Rodney’s parents moved a lot. More importantly, the audience assumes that Rodney’s parents took him with them wherever they moved… but then the payoff comes:
Punchline: but I always found them.
The audience is surprised and laughs at Rodney’s clever reframing of his setup. It’s made even funnier because the persona that Rodney has built is a guy that gets kicked around and “can’t get no respect.”
Rodney’s persona is one reason, among many, that even if someone copied his material, it just wouldn’t be the same. The joke is funnier when Rodney says it because the material is perfectly aligned with the persona he has built.
But there’s more.
Early on in his career, Rodney was inspired to create his persona when he heard an older gangster complaining about young people not giving him any respect.
In fact, many of the people who frequented Rodney’s early shows were mobsters, and they always talked about respect.
Of course, Rodney’s comedy has universal appeal—it’s not hard to connect with an underdog—but it was initially informed by a very specific audience.
What the MAP Theory Has to Do With Brand Voice
Comedians use a persona closely aligned with their material and meticulously constructed to appeal to a certain audience.
When you write in a certain brand voice, your material is the features, benefits, and value proposition of your product or service. Your audience is your prospects and customers. And your persona is your brand voice.
Assuming you understand both your audience and your product, identifying the brand voice that aligns with those two things is simple.
To solidify your understanding, take a look at this paraphrased version of Mel Helitzer’s MAP theory of comedy writing, which he details in his book, Comedy Writing Tips:
For consistent and targeted material, humor writers need to align Material, Audience and Persona, which are defined below:
Material: must be appropriate to the interests of the audience, and it must relate well to the persona of the performer.
Audience: must complement both the material and the presentation style of the performer.
Performer: the performer must present the right material to the right audience in the right way.
<h2>You can easily adapt this theory to work for branding:</h2>
Product Benefits: must be appropriate to the problems, aspirations, and interests of the audience, and relate well to the brand voice.
Audience: must complement both the benefits of the product or service and the brand’s identity.
Brand Voice: the writer must present the right benefits/features to the right audience in the right way.
Think through each one of these factors. Learn more about your audience and the product. Brainstorm a list of problems, interests, and aspirations your audience has. Think about how your product helps your audience solve their problems or fulfill their aspirations.
Then, start writing.
One Last Thing
Helitzer points out that for a performer, “Certain characteristics are mandated by your physical appearance: size, color, accent, sex, and beauty.”
What he’s saying is, for example, that Trevor Noah (a South African comedian) wouldn’t have had quite the same success if he tried to write and perform comedy like Larry the Cable Guy.
Again, this is a great analog for brand voice development. Because, with a brand voice, you should consider the unchangeable things that make your brand uniquely your brand.
Otherwise, invariably, your brand voice will come off as contrived and inauthentic.
And, as any bombing comedian will tell you, audiences are extremely good at sniffing out contrived, inauthentic content.