Imagine you receive a text. It’s from your Mom.
It might read something like, “Hi, hon! Can you call me when you’re home from work? Xoxo”
Ok, now imagine you receive another text just as you finished reading the one from your Mom. This one’s from your best friend.
“Yooooo my boyyyyy...what’s good for tonight?? Let’s get it poppin’!!!!”
At this point, you haven’t answered either text. But it’s safe to assume your two responses will be very different.
The one to your Mom might be: “Sounds good, Ma! See you soon!”
And the one to your best friend: “What uppppp my boyyyy let’s be going out tonight”
Two different people. Two different voices. Two different tones. One with sound grammar. The other, well, we’ll let pass. But you can hear the difference in your head. And all of it happens in two separate texts, sent five seconds within each other – without any thought or effort required.
Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not – and whether it’s through writing or speech – you use a number of distinctive voices and tones to communicate every single day, depending on your audience. And, depending on the channel you’re using to communicate, most of the time you’re able to seamlessly switch your voice and tone without even thinking about it.
But what about writing? And I’m not talking about text message writing. I’m talking about “writing, writing.” By “writing, writing” I mean the written words on a page, a post, or an ad that will be read by many people in many different places.
How can you effortlessly switch your writing voice and tone like you can with texting and talking?
The truth is: you can’t.
Ok, maybe you can. But I’m hardly embarrassed to admit that I can’t. And I’d be willing to bet most writers can’t. It’s either a natural, god-given gift or a learned skill that allows some writers to deftly jump from project to project, song to song, character to character, story to story, or brand to brand without experiencing some sort of psychological conflict or creative disharmony.
For me, it can be jarring and disorienting. As a copywriter at an experience design company, I’m often tasked with projects that have me bouncing from one brand to another within a short period of time. For awhile, I couldn’t figure out how to efficiently and effectively switch my voice and tone as I went from brand to brand to brand, sometimes within the span of an hour.
After all, going from writing cheeky social ads for a fiber bar that relieves constipation to writing website copy for a buttoned-up healthcare company isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.
But after noticing a pattern in my struggles, I began to develop a process to minimize the amount of time and energy I was wasting between writing assignments. Although these exercises take few minutes to do, they’ve helped me save a ton of time in the long run. Now, I work faster – and smarter – because of them.
Here are five tricks I’ve learned to quickly shift from writing in one brand’s voice & tone to another:
1.) Read something entirely unrelated to your work.
I almost always start my voice and tone transition by reading a quick article, interview, or story. But in reality, it can be written material of any kind. From a full length New York Times piece to a Walt Whitman poem, the content of what you read doesn’t matter as long as it’s independent of the brand you just finished writing for and the one you’re about to start working on.
This might sound like a waste of time to you, but I’ve found it vital to my success in accurately switching up the voice and tone of my prose, especially on the fly. It provides what I like to call a “recess pocket” for your brain and creative energy – a place where you can psychologically “dig into” to briefly escape the work at hand. It’s like an inactive-active meditation, if you will.
2.) Go talk to a coworker or a friend.
Regardless of how "in the zone" and focused you may be, when it’s time to transition from one brand’s project to another, it’s a good time to get up, walk around, and chat with somebody else. And if it’s lunch time, even better – head out to a restaurant and grab a beer or two.
Staying in your own head for too long, particularly when you’re trying to move from project to project, can be detrimental to both your creativity and productivity.
Sure, it might feel like you’re being less productive while you recap the last episode of "The Bachelor" or discuss the Peloponnesian War with a coworker, but it’s important to cleanse your mind and arm your subconscious with new creative fuel to successfully dive into your next task.
3.) Search Google images for ads relevant to the brand and/or its competitors.
I learned this one from James Dowd, and it has come in handy for almost every project I’ve worked on. Although it’s most helpful in finding general inspiration and seeing what other brands look and feel like, it can also serve as a reference for what not to do, which allows me to narrow my focus and execute the type of thinking and writing that will be most effective and unique to the brand.
Because this is a super easy thing to do, it’s a great trick to keep in your back pocket whenever you’re short on time and in a pinch. It’s also immensely valuable when you’re in the middle of a piece and you hit a brick wall – aka writer’s block.
Yes, writer’s block is real. Whoever says it isn’t probably isn’t a writer. So the next time you’re writing and you begin to slow down and feel lethargic, check out some images and ads relevant to the work.
I’m willing to bet that in no time, you’ll be picking up new language and ideas to infuse into your writing.
4.) Read the last thing you wrote for the brand you’re about to work on.
I know, I know, I’m contradicting my first tip (*Kanye shrug*). But if you’re anything like me, you’ll hate this one anyway. For whatever reason, I’ve never enjoyed reading my own work. Once a project or piece of content is shipped and published, I "break up" with it.
But I’ve realized that sometimes when I’m jumping from project to project, I need to rekindle the flames with my old work. It helps remind me of the intricacies and peculiarities of the brand’s voice and tone before I physically put pen to pad – or fingertips to keys.
Note that this exercise goes beyond simply familiarizing yourself with the language and verbiage of a brand. It also allows you to rediscover the brand’s emotional feel – reintroducing you to its character, its attributes, and its charm – and allowing you to get into the appropriate mental space to accurately portray the brand’s personality in your writing.
5.) Start writing.
These days, it’s easy for creative potential to be hamstrung by process. Yes, I’ve just outlined somewhat of a process, but at some point you just need to do the damn thing. After I’ve done at least one of the above exercises, I immediately jump into writing.
Usually, it takes me a few minutes of throwing anything and everything on the page before I produce anything worthwhile. In fact, sometimes I’ll just start writing for the hell of it, even if it’s entirely unrelated to the intended direction of the content. But as long as I’m writing in the brand’s voice and tone – and reacquainting myself with its emotional feel and personality – then I know I’m getting closer and closer to penning good, fresh, and on-brand work.
So, the next time you’re writing and having trouble moving from one brand voice and tone to another, try one of these things. Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t.
But you know what they say: You won’t know until you try.
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