If your law firm's name was not mentioned somewhere in your articles, on your website or on your advertisements, could people identify the material as coming from you? If a potential client came across one of your Facebook posts and one of your SlideShare presentations, would he or she recognize that each was produced by the same entity? If you met in person, would that encounter reflect the experiences that individual has already had with your firm online?
Hopefully, the answer to these questions is yes. Or, at least the answer is, "Yes, that is what our firm is trying to accomplish."
Producing content that is immediately recognizable is a tall order for law firms. Many attorneys will inevitably cover similar law-related subjects, and you will have to discuss many of the same topics as your competition. However, the way by which you present the material can vary greatly. Just because you have to talk about the same thing does not mean you must do it with the same voice. Marketers spend a lot of time talking about how your content should sound human. And it should. But equally important is giving that human personality and a voice.
What is a brand voice?
A brand voice is a consistent style that is created through the deliberate use of words, sentences and visual cues. Your firm's voice should reflect its unique personality. Your voice should help establish your firm as an identifiable and authoritative resource for your readers and ultimately for your clients.
Defining your voice
Think of your firm's personality as you would if you were considering a real person. Pick three to five words that describe this personality. For example: warm, outgoing and energetic. Or, aggressive, passionate and independent. Maybe, idealistic, creative and daring. Each of these combinations describes a very different person.
Next, think about how those characteristics can be represented through writing and symbolism. For example, if you have chosen "passionate," a guideline could be to always write in active voice. If you have described yourself as intellectual, set a standard of avoiding colloquialisms. If you are optimistic, pick images that use warm colors. Outline the do's and don'ts for each of your personality characteristics so that everyone at the firm understands how you are presenting your voice — and why.
In written content, brand voice is determined by a number of factors, including (but not limited to) sentence length, word length, word complexity, the use of first, second or third person, the use of contractions, tempo and level of formality. If one attorney at your firm always uses third person and another first or second, they will inevitably sound like two different authors. Your goal should be to eliminate that distinction.
Defining brand voice through visual cues
Your brand voice is not only defined by the words you write. It is also exemplified in the pictures and other visual elements you use.
Photography is an underutilized marketing resource for many firms. Choosing a picture to go with a blog post easily becomes an afterthought. Scheduling photo sessions, especially at larger firms, is challenging. Instagram and Pinterest were not created for law firms.
But humans are visual creatures. Pictures, colors and forms evoke emotions and solidify memories. Because of this, no brand voice guidelines are complete if they do not consider visuals.
Creating photo brand guidelines
Pictures that are associated with your firm should also adhere to guidelines. Write these guidelines down to make sure everyone responsible for picking and publishing images understands what they are looking for — including anyone who may be writing about your firm. Many large brands will publish a collection of acceptable images that may be used in stories about the company. This makes reporters' jobs easier and ensures the brand is accurately represented.
Here are some items to consider when creating photo guidelines:
1. Subject: You must first decide whether you would like to use pictures that predominantly show people, or whether you would rather use environments, or even objects. Within this specification, outline how these subjects should be shown. For example, if you are using people, will you show the whole person in context or use closely cropped images? Presenting a subject close-up gives a very different feeling than presenting a subject with a lot of breathing room. If you are using environments, should the pictures contain a lot of sky? Water? Neither? Will your pictures be posed, or will they show the subject in a natural environment?
2. Colors: Good pictures will have a distinct color palette. They may have one dominant color that is supported by similar secondary colors, or they may contain several complementary but contrasting colors. Either way, you should be able to pick two to four colors from the image that hold it together.
Photo guidelines can specify what types of palettes are acceptable. Should the colors in your pictures be complementary or contrasting. Should pictures contain a consistent, dominant color, and if so, what is that color?
3. Saturation and use of light: Light is everything in photography. Light will determine whether pictures are warm or cold, saturated or washed out, natural or artificial. Consider the type of light you want in your pictures. Do you want pictures to be intentionally oversaturated and full of light? Or, should the light be more balanced? Will you use photo manipulation tools to over or under-emphasize light? Should the light source be natural or artificial? Is it ever acceptable to use flash?
4. Feeling: Define the emotions you would like to produce with your pictures. (Hint: these emotions should match your personality.) For example, the University of California's guidelines say that photography should “reveal the excitement and energy of discovery and transformation.” UCLA specifically states that pictures should convey “a sense of optimism and confidence.” Pictures can reveal a broad range of emotions from energy to calmness, anticipation to security, friendliness to formality. Choosing pictures that evoke emotions that clash with your brand's personality and writing style is unsettling — even if readers or visitors cannot directly describe why. This is not the feeling you want them to leave with.
5. Depth of field: Depth of field is the range of distance between objects that are in focus and those that are blurry. If the subject is sharply in focus in the foreground and most of the background is blurry, the image has a shallow depth of field. If most of what is contained in the image is sharp, that image has a deeper depth of field.
6. Themes: UCLA's photography guidelines provide an excellent example of how to define a theme. They specify not only that pictures should contain a lot of natural light, but that pictures should have washouts and sun flares. They define how to show buildings (never close up) and tell people to use pictures that contain as much sky as possible, which reflects their brand's promise of “limitless opportunity.” The sky and sunshine are clear themes that the university wants used in its pictures.
Make consistency easy
Consistency is the key to any brand-building activities, from writing to advertising to choosing and producing photography. To help everyone involved with the firm stay consistent, put guidelines in writing. As a resource, keep a database of high-quality images that can be used online and in print. If you use different service providers to produce written content and print or video advertising, make sure they communicate with each other. Give them the same tools. Ensure that everyone who speaks for your firm is using the same resources. Only then can you know you are speaking with a unified voice and building the authority your firm deserves.