When doing any kind of marketing writing, voice is one of the hardest things to get right. Without voice, your writing will be less memorable and less likely to hold someone’s attention. In creating a voice, however, you have to be certain that it makes a connection with your audience, and sends the right message about your brand.
When learning writing in high school, you’re told to write in your own voice. When it comes writing online, that becomes even more true . Emails, status updates, tweets, blog posts - most online writing is written in the voice of the writer.
But your voice as a writer is not the voice of your company’s brand.
The voice of the brand needs to reflect what you’re offering, your brand’s positioning and your target audience. It’s possible that the voice could be similar to your own, but keep in mind, you may eventually need to hand off the writing duties to another writer. So it can’t be so similar to your own writing voice that it cannot be duplicated.
In the advertising industry, most copywriters have a different voice for every account they work on, and have to switch between them multiple times throughout the day. In fact, most copywriters will probably go their whole career without ever writing in a voice that’s in anyway similar to their own.
That’s probably why so many of them have a screenplay or manuscript gathering dust in their desk drawer at home. They need some outlet for their own style of writing.
At the agency, I may write for a medical diagnostics company in the morning (serious, expert, knowledgeable) and an interactive kids museum in the afternoon (fun, playful, curious).
That’s the challenge of writing for a brand. It’s why I say that writing is so much like acting, because you're basically playing a character through your words. And since you’ve researched your target so well, you understand your "role" and you’re getting ready to create a voice for your brand.
Before we get too far, however, let me provide a clear definition of what it means when I say your brand’s voice. To me, voice has little to do with what the company is offering and everything to do with personality.
The personality of your brand is something that your audience will identify with and associate solely with you.
That’s why when healthcare brands all congregate around a brand voice of expertise, it’s such a missed opportunity. Think about being on a conference call when everyone sounds the same - you will have no idea who has said what. You see the same thing with many car companies.
I think the lack of a clear, unique voice among brands represents a fear of risk taking on the part of marketers. They see what works for other brands and seek to emulate it. What you should be afraid of is not standing out.
Speaking your target’s language
The other purpose of voice is to help your target audience to know and ultimately like you. And liking you is the first step to wanting to buy from you.
Look at it like this: your user knows there are people behind the product you’re offering. If your user gets the sense that she would like the people making the product, or holds similar values to them, she’s more likely to become a purchaser of the product.
Think of Apple. (Most everyone in advertising, marketing and entrepreneurship does. For almost any situation.) They’ve created a brand built on innovation and simplicity. The copy on every page of their website reflects this. It was also reflected in the public persona of its founder, Steve Jobs. You could get to know the brand either through its presence online, or through Steve Jobs’ personality, and quickly decide if their products were right for you.
The question you have to ask yourself when it comes to choosing a voice for your brand is,
“Who do we want our brand to be?”
Are you the fun party guy? The professional girl with all the answers? The cool dad who’s always happy to help? The artistic designer who has just enough time to help you out?
The answer to this question is inextricably linked to the purpose of your product or service and your target audience. What are you offering, at the most basic level? Not just what your product is, or even what it does. What purpose does it serves in your user’s life? The answer could be help, fun, organization, escape, style, advice... almost anything.
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Who is seeking the solutions you’re providing? The busy mom, the high-powered executive, and college kids keeping in touch...you should know who your customer is and how they think.
Now picture someone who offers the solutions you provide to the people in your target audience. As an example, if your company is in the travel space, you’d want to picture someone who’d fit in your target audience and has travelled extensively.
Let’s say you could actually meet someone like that, take him out to coffee and ask a million questions. You’d want to find out not just where he’s travelled, but why he travels. Ask him about how he travels, if he’s picked up any tricks. You’d not only learn a lot, you’d also start to pick up how he talks.
One way to get insight into a character’s voice is by reading the blogs of people who are interested in the same subject that your startup is working in. You should be reading blogs anyway to understand your target audience, and this is one more reason to do that.
Now you should have a person (or a few people) who in your mind could be the spokesman for the company. Pick three adjectives that best represent this spokesman.
These should be adjectives like friendly, energetic, smart, helpful, humble, patriotic, thoughtful, boisterous… I could go on. However you describe them, your descriptions should be as specific as possible. A descriptor like “talkative” gives you a better picture than one like “friendly.”
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With these three adjectives in hand, figure out how someone like that would talk. This voice should be close to how your original idea for your startup’s spokesperson would talk. Test it out by writing a two to three sentence description of your startup’s product or service in this voice.
Once you’ve written a short description that you’re happy with, put it aside for a few hours. Refer back to it with fresh eyes and see if it still feels right to you. If so, now’s the time to share it with your team. Your brand’s voice is extremely important to your startup, so it’s important to get buy in from everyone.