What do Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones and Lauren Bacall have in common? They’re all people with distinctive voices. Now think about the marketing copy and emails you send. If you could write in a voice so distinctive that as soon as people read them, they’d know it was yours.
It’s not easy to write with personality. Rather, it’s entirely natural to write with personality, but most academic writing taught us to leave our voice out of our writing. It’s time to unlearn that.
Writing with a distinctive voice for you and your business can help you connect with customers and create more engaging copy. So here it is: how to find your brand voice.
Think about who your business is
You may remember the seemingly random recent posts about finding your celebrity mascot or your business metaphor. Guess what? Not random! Now that stuff that seemed a little silly is really going to come in handy.
To find your brand voice, you need to know not just who your business is, you need to know how you want people to perceive your business. Creating a metaphor for your business can help you strengthen your marketing and your strategy (like saying, “My business is like Evernote meets Angry Birds: avian mercenaries collect your documents in one place.”)
Your mascots and metaphor further help you visualize how you and your target perceive your brand and help you conceptualize your marketing. If you don’t have your mascots and metaphor, I’ll wait here while you figure them out.
Back? Great, let’s keep going!
Once you have a better idea of how you want to portray yourself and business, think about who your customers are and how they want to be spoken with. Are they formal or informal? Do they like jokes or storytelling? Or do they want concise information? There are voices and personalities for your copy on either end of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
Listen to your customers
Though you may have determined your metaphor and mascots, you might not feel as enlightened as you’d hoped. That’s OK.
But know that there are people out there who can illuminate your voice for you, and those people are your customers. Dedicate some time to reading their feedback, either on review sites or in documented customer service interactions. What words do they use to describe what your product or service does for them, and how it makes them feel?
This is where a survey can come in handy; you can ask customers why they like your business and what value they derive from your service. Sometimes you’ll come across things you didn’t expect, but since your marketing copy should speak to their perceived emotional gain, it will be a great way to help you think outside your own head and reach more people with a targeted message.
Also consider how your customers pose their feedback. Are their comments largely formal or informal? What are the common themes and tones they use? Do you see a lot of words or ideas repeated? Take what they give you and become a mimic. This doesn’t mean you should copy and paste their comments into an email and hit send. Instead, take the themes, pain points and victories they’ve given you and speak to them. Whittle them down into their most basic—even primal—form, but incorporate their style of language and topics.
Here’s an example from Keap: We make software that helps entrepreneurs run their business. OK, great. But then we started hearing from customers that what they were really gaining from our product was flexibility, more time and more sales. So do we send emails saying, “We’ll help you manage your business”?
No. Our emails and content focus on how we help you save you time while growing your sales.
Just like mirroring someone’s body language is a great way to build a bond or even generate attraction, mirroring someone’s words and feelings (in a sincere way) can help attract more clients.
Think of what sets you apart
If you have a hard time deciding how to talk about yourself as a business, take a look at your competitors. How are they talking about their product? Think about your competitor and your own product from every angle and work what makes you unique into the copy you’re creating. Creating a voice and a perception is all about showcasing what makes you different.
Don’t overcomplicate it
A lot of people are afraid of writing because they’re convinced they can’t or just can’t do it well enough. But you need content and copy, so you have to face your two options: hire someone to do it or do it yourself.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to presume that you’re taking the do-it-yourself road. So again, don’t make this more complicated than it is. Yes, writing can be hard, not just because it’s hard to think of what to say but because most of us are scared of making a mistake or putting ourselves out there. Writing creates very public vulnerability.
Share your message in as few words as possible. If you know you have a tendency to write too much, write out everything you want to say and then cut it in half. And maybe cut it in half again.
Be a human
There’s still an old school, perhaps slightly stodgy, perception that marketing copy is meant to be dry and/or overly sales-y. But it’s the 21st century. People are a lot more responsive to personality in marketing, so don’t be afraid to be bold, have an attitude and use your good judgment to steer clear of offensive territory.
Chances are that when you’re out and about networking, attending events and taking client meetings, you’re charming and likable in person. You need to translate that charm into your copy. There’s a really easy way to do that: write like you talk. This is something else many academic English classes try to stomp out, but a highlight of being an adult and entrepreneur is that you can abandon what you learned in school. Just take a moment and revel in that glee.
Read aloud the copy you create and ask yourself, “Does this sound like something I would say?” If the answer is no, chuck it and start again.
Spell it write
Please, please, please check your spelling. Nothing blows credibility like having a website, brochure or email riddled with typos. As the resident queen of stupid typos, I implore you to have someone look at your work before you make it public. (And always triple-check whenever you write the word “public.”)
Giving your brand a cohesive, clear voice will help distinguish you from your competitors and keep you top-of-mind. In the long run, it will also make it easier to write the copy you need because you’ll have internalized your brand’s voice. So break out that attitude, hit the keyboard and tell Morgan Freeman to watch out—there’s a new voice in town.