Lost your brand voice? Here’s how to find it, even if you never knew you had one
A business brand voice seems like a concept that’s out of reach when you’re a business owner focused on doing your thing. Serving customers, creating products, delivering service. Your job, if we could narrow it down, is to keep customers rolling through that physical or virtual business door.
Now there’s no doubt doing that takes work. Lots of it. And it can leave precious little time to sit around dreaming up ways to truly express yourself.
So is a business brand voice just another cooked up marketing idea? Or could it really be a legitimate communication tool for connecting in more meaningful ways with customers?
Let’s answer these, and other pressing questions in the blog. Looking for guidelines to identify, define and express your brand voice? Read on.
What is a brand voice?
I didn’t learn about the brand voice concept in a formal ‘mar-comms’ setting. This is because my *journey* to content writing was more a side-step than a direct flight.
Without the entry point via a high profile journalism role or savvy public relations gig, I was like many of my clients. I never knew things like a brand voice existed, at least not as a ‘thing’ that could be defined.
I recall the days pre-content creation.
My only exposure to a brand voice had been during time spent in the corporate world. During that period, I worked for a global professional services firm or two. Think corporate behemoth. Lots of people. Not much heart and soul. New to ‘corporate’, I didn’t get the whole marketing communications ‘thing’. Neither did most of the nearly 100k employees I worked with. We were blank looks at the mention of things like brand voice. Experience from within these organisations also provided front row seats to communication that didn’t add up. I didn’t want to look too closely, but when I did, closer scrutiny revealed a disconnect. What was said didn’t always reflect what was done. The result? A brand voice wasn’t something you could trust necessarily.
Can your brand voice be trusted?
It’s no different for the majority of regular business owners. For most, a brand voice is intangible, difficult to express, and hard to define. But it doesn’t need to be. Actually, there is an easy way to define your brand voice. Think about how you communicate with your people – that is, your customers, team, partners, suppliers. Consider the stories you tell. In fact, think of how you connect with anyone through your business. Get a picture of that in your mind – and hear it. Are you there? Then you’re right on track.
Every business has a brand voice, though they may not know it. Even if it’s never been defined – which is the case for nine out of ten businesses – it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It might help to think of your brand voice as an invisible, but highly potent radio frequency. It’s heard only when the messages are strong enough and people tune in. Which is why it makes sense to identify and articulate your main messages in your brand voice. Then say them loudly and proudly.
A valuable exercise to undertake, defining your brand voice an investment worth making. If you haven’t yet, maybe you just don’t realise how important and valuable a clear, resonant brand voice is.
Let’s explore further.
Why is a brand voice important?
A voice – yours or mine – is something distinct, personal, and individual. Instantly recognisable when it’s familiar, a certain voice can move, inspire, or even scare us. Just think of the voice of someone you love. Maybe it’s a child, partner, or friend. Now think of a time you weren’t feeling so good and you heard the voice of that someone. While you may not have made the connection at the time, the way you felt was a sign. Just hearing their voice, and experiencing a feeling of reassurance, shows a specific voice can touch a heart.
I can totally relate.
Recalling my days working as an au pair for a German family in Switzerland, thousands of kilometres from home, and without the immediacy of modern technology, I could only call my family once a week – at a great cost. It was Switzerland! Talk definitely wasn’t cheap at roughly a dollar per minute. For about first three months of my year of living Teutonically, I would find myself in tears on the weekly call to Mum and Dad. Yes, I was little homesick, but I was doing something I really wanted to – travel the world and speak other languages – so it was more than that. Although I was alright before I called, on hearing their voices, well, let’s just say it moved me. In this case to tears.
Business communication is personal too
The sceptics will argue, but that’s personal; it’s not business. The people we’re close to, we care about them, and they care about us. It’s different in business, isn’t it?
Here’s my answer to that question. No, it’s not different. Business is personal. Every day of the week.
Why? Because it involves people.
Of course there’s an appropriate level at which business communication should be maintained, but if we assume you care about your customers (you do, right?), then we’re assuming you care about how you communicate with them too. And that means getting clear about your business’ brand voice. And if your business is Brand You, it’s even more important.
With a voice that reflects who and what your business is, you increase the potential for connecting in more meaningful ways with your ideal audience. That’s no different to how we communicate anywhere else in life. Remember my reference to a radio frequency? The clearer our communication (or the stronger the frequency) – delivered using our voice – the stronger, more connected are our relationships.
For business this is what is means: if we don’t take time, and give deeper thought to the way we communicate, including our brand voice brand voice (as intangible as it may seem to the more concrete among us), we run the risk of sounding like everyone and connecting with no one.
Here’s the take-away: get clear about your brand voice if you want real and lasting connection with your customers.
Lost your brand voice – or don’t know what it is? It could cost you
Every business owner I’ve worked with believes there’s something special about their business. You know, something that makes them stand out and people want to do business with them.
It might seem like I’m drawing a long bow, but what I take away from this is they think they’re, well, different.
And it’s true, they are different. Special even.
The specialness of any business doesn’t just say itself. It needs to be coaxed out, crafted, and delivered carefully in ways that ensure it makes sense to the market.
So how is it done?
I’ve found by taking business owners through a process of getting clear about what they say and how they say it, we’re able to define exactly what their brand voice is. Doing this allows a business owner to express truly who they are and how they want to say it. In the words of the Eighties doyenne, Madonna, they get their heads around the idea it pays to Express yourself.
If we don’t work through this process together – that is, get clear about their brand voice and build a shared understanding – things can go wrong in the world of content creation. By wrong I mean there are misunderstandings, disappointment, and rework. In the worst cases, they might even think I’ve totally missed the mark.
Here’s what I’ve learned from writing content and helping people develop their business: the less clear the brand voice is, the greater the chance the written content will not reflect what the owner knows and feels to be true for their business. The opposite is also true. It matters little if content is well written, perfect in every technical way. If it doesn’t reflect the brand, the business owner will know, and so will her customers.
Nobody really wants vanilla
Don’t get me wrong. I love ice-cream and I like vanilla ice-cream. But I don’t love it. I also prefer to only eat the very best ice-cream. Made by hand with real ingredients. So whenever I find myself in an ice-cream shop, I never choose vanilla. It’s not that I don’t like vanilla; I do. But I want something I love. Like Tiramsu, salted caramel, chocolate hazelnut. You get the picture.
How does this relate to brand voice and business? Let me explain.
A lack of congruence in communication from a business is a slippery slope to vanilla without the vanilla beans.
You know what I mean. The kind of ice-cream made with powdered milk, not cream, butter and eggs. How does that translate in content terms? It means a business runs the risk of sounding like every other business. Moreover, the communication to its customers (the ones they supposedly care about) will be empty, lack heart and feeling, and be devoid of integrity. This is not conscious communication. It’s just, well, vanilla. And it says, we don’t really care.
Getting beyond vanilla takes a bit of work. It also requires thinking. But it’s so worth it.
My experience of working through this ‘digging for gold’ process with people – even business owners who are highly technical and buried deep in the far left side of the brain – is they wake up and become aware. Instead of being almost totally unconscious in their communication, they see the value of getting it right. They start to ‘own’ what they say and get laser focused about how they say it. They start to care enough. And while it takes courage and a dash of vulnerability to step into communication like this, by doing so, a business becomes hard to resist. People just want to work with you.
Conscious communication is not just for yogis
Is conscious communication like this fluffy and woo-woo?
The short answer is: No.
Communicating this way in business changes people.
Let me share a recent example involving a client. After digging for communication gold and integrating that approach into the way he communicated through his business, he said this process had not only changed his perception of his customers; it changed him too. Instead of simply thinking of his business as a vehicle for selling products, he saw his customers as real people. Ones with hearts and minds. Crazy, I know.
Was he more open and caring in his communication in business? One hundred percent. Did it change the way he communicated in other areas of life? Yes, it did. Just ask his wife. Was it worth getting clear about his business brand voice. Definitely.
At a time when substance, depth, and coherence are needed more than ever in all aspects of life, but especially in business, there is no better way to distinguish yourself or your business than by defining and communicating your true brand voice. If someone else is writing your content, this is not only wise, but necessary. How else can a content writer (or any other content creator you’re working with) reflect who you really are and connect with your market on your behalf.
The message here: if someone else is writing your content, you’d better be clear about your brand voice (and they should be too), or it could cost you.
How do you define a business brand voice?
Every business owner knows what their business ‘sounds’ like, but how do you capture that if you’re a content writer? How do I channel the client, so I express who they are as well as they would, and in some cases, even better than they could?
For me, there is no shortcut. It’s a process that takes time, but is worth it. I know this because clients say they love how I’ve ‘captured’ their brand in the content I’ve written. While the encouraging feedback is welcomed, I know it’s only possible by taking time to really get beneath the surface. Only then can I draw out who they are and communicate the essence of their business.
So to answer the question, how do you define a business brand voice? you start by looking at things like:
- Your ideal customer – who are they, what are their challenges?
- How you solve your customers’ problems – what solutions do you provide?
- Your values – how do you do things; what’s your business ‘north’?
- Your business and/or personal philosophy – what beliefs or wisdom do you share with customers (for example, things you say all the time)?
- The tone used in your communication – is it light and breezy or serious and solemn?
- What your brand voice sounds like?
Struggling with all the questions? Start by asking What sounds like you? Think about conversations you have everyday and you’ll gain an insight to your brand voice.
The wrap up
Every business owner I’ve worked with can answer the question Does this sound like you?
Without exception, they always know if the content ‘sounds’ like them. I find this ironic, given we’re dealing with written words with no sound. This tells me that while a brand voice is unseen, it is felt and understood at a deeper level. If you feel it, your customer will too. The clearer the brand voice, the more likely you’ll connect with people who want to do business with you. Vanilla might do the job, but it won’t transform people into loyal customers who refer and sing your praises.
Although doing this work upfront before any content is written takes time and effort, it’s an investment that pays dividends. In an Age of Information, where content abounds – much of it lacking substance – it’s an investment you can’t afford not to make.
A clear brand voice is one of the best and most accessible ways for distinguishing your business. Don’t waste it.