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I remember I was in the 9th grade and had to present a report in front of my entire Spanish Class, all 24 of them.
I’ll never forget that day, the assignment was to make a short script in Spanish with a partner and read out our lines.
Five minutes tops.
Not a very difficult assignment in hindsight, but hindsight is 20/20 while most of life is nowhere near as perfect.
This was well before my days as the Chief Scientist of The Lab and I was having major growing pains.
I’m talking pimples all over my face, cracked voice, and getting raging boners in the middle of class.
First, I sucked in Spanish and had made C’s throughout my five years taking the class (yea, I took it in the seventh and eighth grade too).
That was a huge stain on my GPA because I was gunning for the HOPE scholarship to pay my way through college (I didn’t even end up going to school in the states).
So I’m in this Spanish class walking to the front of the room, my palms are sweaty, my mouth is dry, and I’m sure I looked like I wanted to cry.
My partner, Janet, was a ball of joy and it just made me even more nervous because I knew she would hit all her lines without flinching.
After what seemed like an eternity and a day, all eyes on me, I finally made it to the front of the class and Janet jumped into the script.
“Hola Thomas, ¿cómo estás?”
“Im bien gracias….” I uttered, my first three lines went well and then it happened, my voice split in two. I don’t mean the normal cracking of an adolescent boy.
I mean a full-fledged loss of functionality.
My eyes were wide with shock and Janet just sat there staring at me, urging me to go on with her eyes. But I just couldn’t get my voice to work. I couldn’t get my mouth form the perfectly polished prose I’d been spewing since I was a baby.
What do you think happened next? Obviously, my entire ninth grade class started to laugh at me.
I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
But, fortunately, depending on how I’ve impacted your life; It didn’t swallow me and I moved beyond that day.
But let me ask you; if as an entrepreneur, you’re unable to find your voice, will your fledgling business be able to move beyond it?
Will your startup live to fight another day?
Will your blog make the impact you designed it to have?
In a word, NO.
Larsen Defines Brand voice as the purposeful, consistent expression of a brand through words and prose styles that engage and motivate.
Distilled Defines it as not what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.
In a nutshell, your brand voice is the way you communicate your unique perspective to your audience. It’s your personality and without it,you’re just another me-too kind of business.
There’s nothing new under the sun. We have a million companies selling widgets, but only a few companies have a voice so compelling we have no choice but to listen when they speak.
If you’ve ever watched a competition on TV like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, the standout acts, which eventually become finalists, are easy to spot from the beginning.
They have a unique perspective they infuse into the songs they sing or the routines they perform which build a narrative over time.
Week after week and month after month, we start to understand this narrative and gain insights into who they truly are and what’s motivating them.
That’s why you have your favorites.
That’s why you have the person you want to win no matter how badly he might have performed this week.
Contrary to popular belief, your brand voice is not an “aha” moment of divine insight that comes to you in that rare moment between sleep and wakefulness.
It’s built, crafted, curated, and refined until it becomes a beacon on the horizon guiding your lost audience to safety and succor.
Am I being dramatic?
But if you take the time to develop your brands voice, your entrepreneurial voice, then you’ll have an insane advantage over your competition.
Yes, you sell widgets to any and everyone who’ll buy them from you, but that’s what you do, not who you are.
Let me show you my favorite example of missing the mark when it comes to developing a unique voice to describe who and what you are.
There are so many things wrong with this website that it’s difficult for me to get started. Let me just focus on the way they communicate. I can’t get a grasp of what they stand for or what exactly what they’re telling me because of the inconsistent language they’re using.
Not to mention the fact that it seems like none of the content on the website is original.
Don’t be them.
If you look like everyone else, sound like everyone else, then you are everyone else.
You were made into the person you are by personal history, cultural influences, unique experiences, your family, your sense of humor, and so many other factors.
The same is true about your brand, your blog, or your startup. It was made into what it is by you, your team, and the people you do business with.
Why would you do yourself the disservice of failing to find and articulate your unique identity?
Take the time to audit your business and find out who you are as relates to your audience and create messaging across all platforms that’s consistent with that image.
Sounds tough? Don’t worry; here’s a worksheet to help you get it done.
Let me dive into the five factors that’ll help you create a tone that stands the test of time.
Your audience is made up of humans; they’re not unique pageviews, bounce rate, or search volume. They’re human beings that appreciate being spoken to as such. (This goes for you as well Mr. B2B company)
I don’t mean just on your blog. Everyone knows the most important word in a bloggers vocabulary is “you.” I mean across all your messaging. Your home page, your about page, your twitter feed, your Facebook page, your Google+ profile.
Guess who does that well? General Electric. I know, mind blown.
Everywhere and anywhere someone can get in touch with you is an opportunity to show them there is a human turning the wheels of the machine you’ve created.
This is obviously easier with solopreneurs because they’re really the one doing all the talking and communicating, but what about when your business grows?
The answer is so simple really, write how you talk.
Of course, there are some things you can say and can’t write, but I’m not qualified to speak on that so here are a few rules of thumb.
GoPro is one of my favorite brands. When I was writing about how to increase traffic to any website, I featured one of their videos in the post.
If you can’t show how interested and passionate you are about what you’re doing then how on earth do you expect me, your audience, to become interested and passionate about your solution?
Everlane is a fashion brand that’s merging luxury and transparency because they’re on a mission and they’re very happy about that mission.
Unless you’re selling guns or nuclear weapons, there’s no reason for you to shy away from approaching your content with a sense of fun and personality.
Take this video created by Rapt Media for example. They’re building awareness about the movie Point Break, but they do it with fun and enthusiasm that infects you and makes you want to be a member of their community or just go and watch the movie itself.
You need to lighten up, I promise, if you disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, the human race as a whole would keep on ticking without missing a beat.
It never ceases to amaze me how people approach business. All frowns and uninviting seriousness.
It’s ok not to take yourself so seriously.
You’ll be happier and so will your audience.
I took a much deeper dive into this part of the equation in my Free Ebook The Digital Jungle. Therefore, I’m going to use an example to illustrate the power of letting your audience guide your voice.
The XYZ Company just developed their latest and greatest widget. An app that lets people find restaurants close to them and figure out if they’re any good based on user generated reviews.
In order for the app to be useful, they need to get a lot of people to sign up for it. With this thinking, they decided to launch a campaign aimed at young adults who’ve proven they’re open to software in this space.
One of their promotional pamphlets reads like this:
It’s no fun when you’ve tried all the restaurants in town and can’t seem to find any new and interesting ones to sample. Either they’re too far away or you don’t know enough about them to risk gambling your time, energy, and money on their food.
Trust us, we’ve been there too.
That’s why we created a simple app to do the hard work for you.
It alerts you when new restaurants open up in your area and people like you leave honest reviews about the food, service, and general feel of the place.
It takes the guesswork out of choosing the best place to spend the night out with your whole family.
What are you waiting for, sign up today.
Can you see any places for improvement in the voice and messaging of XYZ Company?
Well, let’s look at what they did right.
They were conversational.
They hit on a few benefits of what they were offering.
They fostered a sense of community.
What they missed
They didn’t call out who the app was made for, it’s a campaign targeted at young adults, let them know it’s for them.
They failed to mention if they could save places they like EG in a bookmarks section or favorites bar.
Most young adults don’t have a whole family to spend the night out with (I know I probably wouldn’t want to spend a night out with my mother and father more than once a month).
They completely glazed over the sharing feature. That’s something the generation they’re targeting absolutely loves. (The first thing I do when I find something I like is share it on Twitter and Facebook).
Can you see why it’s important to let your target audience inform the voice and tone of your messaging?
If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. – Alexander Hamilton
This goes back to the blandness of the corporate world. In a bid to be everyone’s friend, they fail to be impressive, they fail to create remarkable content, and they fail to be remembered.
It’s always good to stand for something because you become a place for people to rally around.
A champion for people to believe in and place their hopes on.
Polarizing is not always bad.
MTV took a stand and supported the women in the workforce who, on average, earn $.79 for every dollar men earn. They created the 79% work clock that calculates when a woman in the workforce stops getting paid for the work she’s doing.
Being bland and undifferentiated is always a mistake.
It’s important to be able to talk about your position or attitude on certain subjects. Especially polarizing subjects your audience holds close to their hearts.
The ones who love you will love you and the ones who hate you will hate you.
I rather you love or hate me than be indifferent about me.
When you do this, take a stand with your voice and writing, it lends your unique perspective to whatever you’re doing.
A unique perspective is what humanizes you and allows your community to stand up for you when you stay consistent with the opinions you’ve shared and voice you’ve adopted.
The most successful companies have their own opinion. Period.
Authenticity, that amorphous ephemeral quality many strive for, but very few achieve.
It’s a word that can be interpreted differently depending on the context it’s used.
In this context, when I say authentic, I mean you walk the talk and you live the sermon.
There’s an actual human behind your voice, content, and messaging that lends credibility to what you do and how you do it.
You have a personality, enthusiasm for your topic, and are well suited to the people who you’re trying to impact the most. (The Pristine 35)
You should be comfortable with who you are. Like with taking a stand, you should be at ease with the fact that many people won’t like you.
You don’t always have to be the one in the news or on the wave of the latest fad. Just be who you are as honestly as possible while capturing the essence of your product or service. Enough said.
Whether you like it or not, your brand has a voice and that voice will determine how people perceive you on the wild wild web.
It’s up to you whether you’ll remain consistent across all channels and build a strong brand. Or whether you’ll fade into the background because you’re just like everyone else.
If you choose the first option get your brand voice worksheet here and start building something you’re proud of.