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Build a Brand Voice Your Company Will Use

How one UX content team focused on alignment, outreach, and education to help their company unify around a shared voice and tone framework.

By Taylor DuganNovember 2022
BrandContent

The year was 2020. Indeed was in full production mode on its rebrand. Designers were tinkering away at color palettes, a new illustration style, and a whole lot more. On the sidelines, a small but mighty content team sat ready to develop content guidelines for UX teams to use across all our products.

I joined Indeed as a UX content design manager late in 2020, inherited that tiny but mighty team, and received one major directive: Create a unified voice and tone framework for all of Indeed. Such an undertaking, I’d soon find out, was easier said than done. But it was also exciting! Here I was at an awesome company with a great mission to help all people get jobs, and there was still so much great work left to accomplish.

We’ve come a long way since then—not just as a team, but as a company. I hope you’ll find some inspiring tidbits in the retelling of this initiative that help you build something cool at your company. But before we dive in, I should clarify that this story isn’t about the details of our framework or how we put it together. Instead, I’m going to write about why we built it, and importantly, how we got the company to adopt and use it. Buckle up.

Help teams understand the importance of your work

Hear me out, content folks. Yes, you too are a designer.

But the reality is not everyone understands that, and our discipline is still gaining traction in the UX space. We spend lots of time trying to convince people we’re important and grumbling about it along the way. We know our work is important. Take any product or app, remove the content, and what’s left? Empty boxes, circles, and shapes scattered across a screen. Content is the connective tissue that brings our experiences to life.

So why do we have to work so hard to convince people to care about it? Maybe we shouldn’t have to. Though, that’s a topic for another article. Here’s what I know now: you can’t ignore a hard truth. Fair or not, there’s work ahead to elevate content design within the industry. It’s oh-so-tempting to assume people will intuitively get the value of content design without you having to relate it back to something they do understand or are already familiar with. But doing so may lead to the downfall of a really great content project or initiative. Please don’t let that happen.

Hear me out, content folks. Yes, you too are a designer.

My team knew content would be a vital part of Indeed’s brand identity. Just as color palettes, illustrations, and typography shape how people think about a brand, so, too, do the words on the screen. We needed the rest of the company to understand that too, and we didn’t assume they’d see the value of content design on their own.

When I joined Indeed, our team’s creative director was open with me about the hurdles our team faced in redefining the brand. He also knew the entire organization needed to value and adopt the gospel of content, just like we did. An exceptionally savvy tactic he employed was getting content to ride on the coattails of design.

So when it came time for our small team to create a voice and tone framework, we leveraged wins from our visual design efforts—like no-harm metrics and revenue lift from specific design changes and consistency measures. Relating those wins back to content work allowed us to make a stronger case for prioritizing a unified content experience.

Content is the connective tissue that brings our experiences to life.

In essence, we used tangible evidence from a space that people at Indeed already understood to help push them toward understanding how content is equally important.

Get buy-in to set your plan in motion

I’m a firm believer in playing the long game. Good work takes time and requires consistency. Rushing to the finish line can feel great, but hurried work may not lead to lasting cultural change.

Before we even started talking about an updated voice and tone framework, I needed to show teams, and leadership, what good content looked like and why they should care about it.

So while the team chipped away—auditing the many voice and tone frameworks floating around the company and having a lot of conversations—we were also prioritizing the development of case studies and hosting roadshows. Little by little, we made our way across the company, showing other teams how adopting a unified voice and tone could benefit their work.

Rushing to the finish line can feel great, but hurried work may not lead to lasting cultural change.

There’s no telling how many presentations we did, but the goal was always the same: Get people thinking about content. Our designers outlined the new visual brand expression strategies, and I hyped the value of a content-driven experience. I also made sure to highlight voiced content from companies who do it well (check out Slack as one great example). And my team consistently talked about the resources we already had available in an effort to get more people to use them. These were critical steps to our success.

Want consensus? Get feedback, make updates, and repeat

In general, I find product and marketing teams don’t work together nearly as much as they should. But to build a cohesive narrative, it’s paramount that we speak the same language on both sides of the business. Plus, when you’re defining a unified voice for your brand, getting on the same page is pretty important for your users, too.

At the start, our main challenge was making the voice and tone universal. We needed to ensure it was flexible enough to meet the needs of our entire business, and we had to align with both product and marketing leadership to make it happen.

So early on, we identified stakeholders and approvers across the company. As we audited existing materials, compiled research to support an updated framework, and began the process of crafting something that felt like it would work for Indeed, we met with our stakeholders often. We presented updates, gathered feedback, made changes, and did it all over again—and over, and over again.

It’s tiring work to continually update a thing. It’s even more tiring to invite endless feedback. As I mentioned, this was a no-fail task. We had to do it. The company needed a shared framework. Our users deserved consistency. Our brand relied on it. The time spent iterating, getting through the nitpicks, and making sure everyone felt aligned to the direction was time well spent.

Getting approval isn’t the last step

After months of iteration and feedback, it looked like the stars were aligning. Product and marketing leadership gave the green light to move forward with the new framework. While that offered a sigh of relief, it wasn’t an entire exhale.
We’d built the thing. Yes! It was approved. Double yes! Now, how would we get people to use it?

Talk about voice everywhere, with everyone

I went back to the one tactic I knew would work: get annoying. We evangelized the importance of voice and tone anywhere people would let us.

This might be good advice for you, too. Wherever you can find an opportunity, take it: all-hands, larger team meetings, and any high-visibility venue. Be relentless about how your work can benefit everyone. When the roadshows started, presenting on the value of content and highlighting voiced content from other companies wasn’t my only goal anymore. I had to showcase Indeed’s new framework, spotlight examples we’d created across product and marketing surfaces, and convince everyone that high-quality content reflects and honors our brand.

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Awareness is key to adoption. Too often people run research studies, get learnings from experiments, or build new things that many others could benefit from. But when the work stays isolated to a team or group of people, the potential impact of that work never materializes because no one spent time getting the word out.

Roadshows, presentations, and even individual conversations take time and energy. But don’t ignore this part of a project. The less people know about something, the less likely they are to use it and the more likely they are to duplicate it because they need it, too.

Awareness is key to adoption.

Here’s another effective method we used: we concluded every presentation with a call-to-action letting folks know that we’d continue offering training sessions. The promise of ongoing support goes a long way in promoting trust and getting people to adopt new things.

Use research or insights to validate the work

We also prioritized research. Testing content can sometimes be tough. Sure, it’s easy to test the content in a call-to-action button, but it’s more difficult to measure the impact of refreshing content across an experience, especially at the speed that product teams sometimes move.

With research, you have access to surveys and other methodologies to gather insights. For one study, we showed survey participants two lines of text with the same meaning and intention but written slightly differently. One used a specific, intentional tone from our framework, and one didn’t. We found that leaning into our tone framework had overwhelmingly positive implications for metrics like brand sentiment—a learning that would have been nearly impossible to test in the product alone.

Hold content trainings for every discipline

I spent a number of years working on help and education, so I prioritize this as part of the initiatives I support. Education is a tool to convince people of the value of your work and help them understand and use it.

We prioritized training for a few reasons. The first is because we knew not all teams were staffed with content folks. Often, researchers, product managers, engineers, and a myriad of people in other roles find themselves writing content. Expecting people in these roles to navigate to our guidelines and use them regularly is a stretch. It’s essential to motivate people by articulating the importance and power of content.

The second reason is that voice and tone, conceptually, are kind of tough to understand. What does it even mean to apply voice and tone? How does a person choose the right tone for the right moment? What’s voice? And what questions can a person ask and what strategies can they employ to answer those questions?

Remember this: People who are experts in something tend to forget how tough or confusing aspects of that thing can be. Challenge your assumptions about what’s easy or hard about the thing you’re sharing. When in doubt, get feedback from people who don’t do what you do. Practicing inclusive feedback is a superpower that can take your work further.

We still incorporate new learnings into ongoing training sessions. Beyond voice and tone, our team reviews, updates, and teaches best practices for content design at Indeed. We define things like jargon and talk about why it’s problematic. We build empathy for other teams, like localization, who rely on us to create simple and straightforward content that’s ready for translation. Our training program has evolved, and we customize it sometimes to meet the needs of specific teams. But the one thing we do consistently is offer the training. Even now, after our content guidelines and voice and tone framework have been around for well over a year, we continue to offer it to everyone on a monthly basis.

Implement the work in high-visibility places

In early 2022, we prioritized an initiative called One Voice, which comprises three key pillars: our content guidelines, voice and tone, and brand messaging framework. Remember my earlier note about riding on the coattails of design? Well, this initiative was defined by that. Prior to our content push, we performed a company-wide visual rebrand, touching every product experience and team. The positive outcomes from that initiative kept stacking up—providing more fuel to push for the same consistency with our content experience.

Our goal with One Voice was to find and prioritize key products across the company that could benefit from a content audit, review, and ultimately, major updates to align with our best practices and resources.

Practicing inclusive feedback is a superpower that can take your work further.

These initiatives were shaped with both users and a wide span of Indeedians in mind. From the tools job seekers use to find positions and apply, to the guidance we’re building into our design system, content touches everything.

All this work helps us chisel away at inconsistencies in our product experience that hinder our goal of a unified brand identity.

Keep up the good work

I can’t emphasize this enough. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re well on our way to making Indeed more recognizable than it was yesterday.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s this: It’s not enough to build frameworks and tools. It’s not enough to get those frameworks and tools in front of teams once or even twice for that matter. Continued effort, commitment, and time are the tools you need to build a firm foundation. When cracks appear in that foundation, being proactive is key.

Don’t get complacent. That’s why we continue educating teams, doing research to gain understanding and validate our efforts, and working to gain advocates across the organization. That’s the effort it takes to build a recognizable voice and a lasting brand identity that scales.

Taylor Dugan headshot
Written byTaylor DuganUX Content Design Manager at Indeed

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