Content DNA – Chapter 11 – Be the same shape everywhere

The relentlessly helpful blog

23 April 2020

Content DNA

A brand is simply a promise. If that promise is broken, the brand is either not true to itself or not strong enough to keep to the promise.

Peter Sumpton

Get to the point

Don’t assume that a couple of glossy marketing brochures mean you’ve created a brand. There are lots of ways for your potential customers to experience your brand. Be the same shape every time and in every place.

We’ve already seen that congruence is the idea of being the same shape everywhere. It’s an important part of your business being known, remembered and preferred.

Once you’ve defined your Content DNA building blocks, your anchor value and your brand tagline, you need to make sure all of it is represented everywhere that people might come into contact with your business. Every touch point should feel familiar and consistent, because your “shape” should always be the same.

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Here are some of those touch points and what you need to think about to make the experience congruent for your audience.

Social media

I recommend focusing almost all your social media effort on one channel, but in practice I know that most people will maintain a presence in more than one place. If that’s you and if your social channels have any sort of business angle, it’s a good idea to standardise your bio and visuals as much as possible across the board, and to share similar content on each platform. The format of the content might differ, for example you might share text content more on LinkedIn and video content more on Instagram, but the overall feel and messaging ought to be well aligned.

I’d hesitate to say that all bets are off if you’re using a social channel for purely personal reasons. If that channel makes you come across as totally different from the business version of you, I’d wonder whether the business version of you is really just a front. Content DNA isn’t about that: it’s about putting the true you in the shop window. Beware of jarring disconnects between the messages you put out across your social channels.

Email

When people subscribe to your email list, what do you do? The default is usually to send an automated message to confirm that the address has been registered. Wow. What about replacing that with a proper welcome email from you, with links to your good stuff to really get them onboard? What about greeting and thanking subscribers individually via a video-messaging platform such as Bonjoro?

I’ve added a thank you page on my Espresso email sign-up process so that new subscribers are sent a video welcome by David Brent, star of The Office and one of the most famous creations of my comedy hero, Ricky Gervais. The real Ricky wasn’t available so I’ve used an impersonator. Sign up for the list and tell me if he’s any good. If you do sign up, one of the lines you’ll see in my confirmation email is a polite notice that “Skynet is watching you”. It’s totally in line with my Content DNA, specifically the “cheeky geek” building block.

Email signatures are a great way to reinforce your brand identity. I use WiseStamp to generate a nice-looking email signature that’s consistent when sent from either my desktop or mobile devices. I used to include my logo in my signature. As I’m now building my personal brand, I include the photo that I also use on my website and social media profiles.

Don’t forget your out of office messages (if you use them) on your business email. This is a free chance to deliver a memorable message rather than a vanilla response to say that you’re unavailable and when you’ll be back. It’s a touch point so make use of it. Give people something interesting to read or watch until you get back.

Videos

Do you have a standard first frame or thumbnail template, so that all your videos have the same look and feel? If you were viewing them all together on YouTube, would they look like a mish-mash of content? The smart approach is to use a very small number of similar templates so that you can make the videos look quite uniform but still differentiate them subtly. For example, you might have one template for videos that explain a process, another template for answering audience questions and yet another for interviews.

For the video content itself, it’s good to use one or a very small number of standard backgrounds. No one’s expecting you to run a TV studio, but unless your videos are naturally of the “out and about” style, it’s best to keep your environment consistent.

If you use intro or outro segments, standardise them to give your videos a familiar feel. For the videos I share on social media, my standard outro includes audio of my daughter, Sophie, saying, “Relentlessly helpful technical copywriting by my dad.” Why? Because it’s a bit of fun and it gives people an extra way to remember my tagline. I’ve had a few nice comments about this approach – it’s just another way that I can start a conversation with my audience.

If you add captions to your videos (you really ought to), make sure they’re done the same way each time.

Podcasts

If you run your own podcast, keep your production process the same for each episode. That means using consistent cover graphics, show notes, promotional content on social media and intros and outros. It’s good to refer to the podcast by the exact name by which it’s found in podcast players. It’s annoying to hear an imprecise name for a podcast and then not to be able to locate it in a podcast app, then later learning that adding a “The” or “Show” to the search would have returned the right result.

As the host of a show, you have a chance to reinforce your personal branding in each episode, so describe yourself and what you do in the same terms each time.

If you’re a guest on someone else’s show, as I often am, send the host a short bio beforehand that contains your photo, tagline and short description. Whatever you want to be known for, make that clear so that the host introduces you correctly to their audience.

Blog posts and articles

We’ll talk more about creating good written content later, but the basics of congruence in blog posts are to have a recognisable structure.

I recommend starting the content with a template header image that you customise on each post. This sets a stronger brand tone than opening with a stock image, as so many blog posts do.

If you use in-page menus, buttons and other navigational devices, make sure these are styled the same way in each post.

When you end the post, always use one clear call to action (CTA) that stands out.

All of these things should be defined via the template that governs your website. Keeping the look and structure familiar means that readers can focus on what matters: the substance of your content.

Error messages and microcopy

When things go wrong with your website, don’t stick with the generic messages that are displayed by default. Take the opportunity to control what your audience sees.

For example, if someone tries to visit a page on your website that doesn’t exist, they will see an error 404 (“page not found”) screen. Most websites will let you customise what’s shown when this happens. Instead of giving your frustrated audience a standard message, you could write something that relates to your Content DNA, then point people towards the most popular pages and resources on your site. A fun photo and a deliberately overboard grovelling apology can work well, along with a link to your best free content download. Visit any made-up page on espirian.co.uk to see how I handle my error 404 screens.

You may also be able to control the display of other error website messages. For example, the software your website uses to let visitors fill in forms might allow its error messages to be customised. Instead of default error text that tells people that they need to enter their surname or choose an option from a dropdown menu, you might be able to add more human messages.

Even the tiniest bits of text on your website should be in scope for the Content DNA treatment. Think of the short labels that appear on buttons, in menus and in confirmation messages. This is what copywriters refer to as “microcopy” – literally just a letter away from “microscopy”, and this is the text equivalent of that.

Such content is often ignored and left with the default text that’s part of the website template. This is an opportunity for you to stamp your personality on that text. So long as you don’t sacrifice clarity, you can create microcopy that makes the right impression on your audience. Keep talking to them in the voice they recognise as yours.

Voicemail

No one enjoys leaving voicemail when they can’t get hold of you on the phone, but you can make the experience better by recording your own greeting and saying something other than “I’m not able to take your call so please leave your name and number and I’ll call you back.”

A better message might be to remind callers what you do:

  • “I’m busy sorting out my clients’ accounts before April.”
  • “I’m working on the world’s best marketing plan.”
  • “I’m building a logo design course.”
  • “I’m tied up refurbishing vacuum cleaners.”

A specific message always beats a general one. I tell callers who miss me that I’m off writing some website copy.

Stationery

If you have branded stationery such as headed paper, compliment slips, envelopes and postcards, think about ways you can reinforce your brand. I use a lot of ticks, stars and thumbs up symbols in my writing. If you’ve ever received one of my “good job” postcards, you’ll get the drift.

I don’t bother with business cards anymore, as I always have my phone with me and much prefer to connect with people I meet in person via LinkedIn. If someone doesn’t want to connect with me in the moment on LinkedIn, we probably won’t be in contact again. In that case, I don’t need to exchange a little bit of card with them that’s only going to be fit for the shredder anyway. If you are a business card type of person, think of ways you can trade up from handing over a boring rectangular slice of dead tree. I’ve seen pop-up cards, transparent cards and even cards cut to look like logos. How’s that for a literal interpretation of being the same shape everywhere?

In-person networking & conferences

Is your brand represented in some way through the clothing you wear, a mascot you carry or some other visual device that you could use at an in-person event?

I use my BitmoJohn cartoon character in a lot of my LinkedIn content, so when I go to events and conferences, I wear a T-shirt with him on. He’s part of my brand and this gets me noticed. I often joke that wearing the shirt is better than any name badge, because it makes me visible from across the room. If you’re a regular at in-person events then something like a bold shirt, branded hoodie or other distinctive dress could help you build a recognisable presence.

Some people use plush toys as mascots, giving them selfie opportunities where they might not have had one before. That’s not going to work for a lot of brands, but I’m guessing that if you were on the receiving end of it, you’d probably remember having a selfie with the woman holding the squeezy pig (or whatever).

Packaging

If you make a physical product, can the way it’s wrapped or presented do more to reinforce your brand identity? It’s common to talk about how you’re doing your bit to protect the environment (and quite right, too), but are there other opportunities for your tone of voice or values to come across?

Some brands use their packaging to tell little stories that are only loosely connected to the product inside. The drinks company Innocent got attention for printing the words “Stop looking at my bottom” on the underside of their containers. You don’t need to be a copycat, but could you create something that makes people want to share a photo of your packaging?

Invoices and receipts

These must be the most boring, personality-free types of content you send to anyone. What better place, then, to liven things up by referring to something relevant to your brand. Are you doing something good to fund social projects? Mention it. Are you big on transparency? Talk about some of the real costs of running your business. I always look to add something light-hearted to my documents. I hope clients will be heartened to know that their delicious cash money is helping my daughter to eat.

Changelogs

If you create software, it’s common to publish a running list of new features and fixed bugs. It hardly sounds like stimulating reading but it’s becoming more common to see personality seeping into even such normally dry and factual content as this. Put more of this sort of thing into the places where people wouldn’t expect to see it. It’s the cheapest form of surprise and delight going, but it could mean going from being lumped with everyone else to being noticed, remembered and preferred.

Were those enough examples to whet your appetite for being the same shape everywhere? Apply this idea anywhere that your words or visuals could go, including new media that comes along after you read this book.

Cut through the grey and boring by showing some true personality and being more relatable. These are today’s superpowers. None of this has to cost a lot. The admission price is a bit of inventiveness, and the willingness to commit to what your brand really stands for.

Use a consistent photo

It’s a good idea to use the same photo in your social media profiles and elsewhere, to help reinforce your online presence. I’m not a fan of seeing totally different shots of someone on LinkedIn and Twitter. If I’m searching for someone on social media, I don’t want to have to think, “Is that the same person?” before I go to follow them across multiple platforms. Friction like this does you no favours.

To save yourself a headache, make a list of places to update so that you don’t miss anything when you next change your headshot (perhaps once every couple of years). Here are some places to get you thinking:

  • Social media
  • Google
  • Apple ID
  • Skype/Zoom
  • Dropbox
  • Slack
  • WordPress
  • Gravatar

Your photo is probably in many more places than this. I keep a text file with all my photo locations listed, which is dozens of places, and I store this in the same folder as my headshot so I can update it whenever I need to.

Your photo being in lots of places might increase the chances of someone misusing it. A good way to check whether your photo has cropped up anywhere unauthorised is to use the free TinEye service. I once found that someone from Africa was using my photo in a fake profile, apparently to lure some Japanese women into a scam. Classy stuff.

Speaking of crappy practice, let’s move on to take a quick look at some of the bad practice that grinds my gears on social media. If you’re doing any of this stuff, don’t.

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John Espirian

I’m the relentlessly helpful®️ LinkedIn nerd and author of Content DNA

I teach business owners how to be noticed, remembered and preferred.

Espresso+ is a safe space to learn how to ethically promote your business online and get better results on LinkedIn.

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