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How to Stay On-Brand (After Getting Drop-Kicked by the Flu)

By Momoko Price, January 29, 2014

So I’ve come to realize that 90% of people who say they have the flu … don’t have the flu.

If you’re not whimpering in agony from a chest cough … you don’t have the flu.

If you’re not lying in bed freezing AND sweating at the same time … you don’t have the flu.

If you have the energy to leave bed for any reason other than to go to the bathroom … you don’t have the flu.

Don’t get me wrong, you might have a bad cold. And colds can definitely slow you down. But the flu? The flu kicks the living s--- out of you. I discovered this firsthand earlier this month. (Can you tell?)

Last week, after getting nailed with the flu and not working for about 8 days straight, I tried to get back on the horse with a little client work. One task I had to catch up on was writing a bunch of lifecycle emails for a SaaS client. Before I got sick, I’d finished about two-thirds of them, which the client loved. They were timely and personal, and the tone was warm, helpful, kind, and direct. Exactly what you want from your customer-facing content.

But by the time I’d emerged from my damp, pestilent, kleenex-strewn bedroom to start working again, the last thing I was feeling was “warm, helpful, kind, and direct.” Coughing and hacking at my desk, I tried to draft another email, and it was awful. Everything I wrote came out cold, repetitive, even irritated.

The flu had robbed me of my mojo, and my client was waiting. I needed a way to get it back, and fast.

Thankfully, I had an ace up my sleeve:

The lovely, always smiling, always chipper, Alyson Hannigan.

Perhaps I should explain.

When it comes to writing web content, I always make a habit of setting the copy’s tone by identifying the key traits I want to convey, and then using a picture of a celebrity or fictional character to evoke those traits at a glance. You’d be amazed at how effective this can be for keeping your copy's tone vibrant and consistent. Just one picture of a likeable celebrity and 5 adjectives is sometimes all you need to create an on-the-fly, super-simple brand persona for your web copy.

Prior to getting sick, I'd picked the following adjectives to describe the tone of my client's emails:

  • Supportive
  • Thoughtful
  • Warm
  • Trustworthy
  • Candid
… and to personify these traits, I chose — of course — Alyson Hannigan (or more specifically, the gentle-yet-spunky Lily Aldrin, whom she plays on How I Met Your Mother).

To be clear, this quirky, casual persona wasn’t anything I presented to my client. It was just for me, my own private personality mascot to help keep me from going off-brand after, say, getting the crap kicked out of me by the flu.

The take-home lesson here? Maintaining the right voice & tone in your copy can be tricky, even for experienced copywriters. In fact, combatting “rogue” copywriting is one of the big reasons why content strategists create style guides for larger web projects. If you’re not careful, your copy can drift off-course, contaminated by your all-too-human, real-life state of mind.

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