In my 20s, during my quarter-life crisis, after it became clear that Hollywood and I didn’t have a future, I was trying to figure out what to do with myself. I held a series of boring temp jobs, the most mind-numbing of which was answering phones for an exterminating company.
So what did I do with all that free brain space? I wrote the entire sixth book of the Harry Potter series (before the actual sixth book was released). Longhand. On yellow legal pads. One hundred and ten thousand words. The exercise kept me from going totally insane and my friends and family enjoyed it — but what I didn’t realize at the time is that it was also an incredible exercise in understanding the intricacies of a writing voice, in this case, J.K. Rowling’s.
Fast forward ten years or so, and my job consists of writing blog posts in various voices as well as teaching other business owners to develop their voice. Without a doubt, the art of channeling voice is a skill put to use every single day.
What is brand voice (and why do you need a strong one)?
In the most basic terms, your brand voice is defined by the words you use and how you use them. But more than that, it’s the place where what your customer needs and your experiences come together.
If you’re just trying to solve a problem for people, giving them a how-to or a step-by-step solution might be useful, but it’s not branded. It has no voice, and no soul. If, on the other hand, you’re just talking about your personal experiences, that’s journaling, which is not going to sell for your business. The power comes when you combine the two. Then you become not only helpful and interesting, but also unique.
When you think about your favorite online guru, you probably can come up with some words to describe what their writing or brand voice is like. And if pressed, you could probably pick their writing out of a lineup because they have such a strong brand voice.
Of course, it can take years to truly find a voice that represents you, and it's not something you ever fully figure out, but rather a process that continues as your brand grows and develops.
As you get more confident, so does your writing style. Here, are three key questions to ask to start uncovering your own brand voice.
What does your voice sound right now?
The best place to start is where you’re at, so ask yourself: is your writing voice currently a good representation of your brand? I once had a client who was a surfing coach. She ran retreats in California for women, and she taught them to surf and get back in touch with their spiritual side. But her website sounded like it had been written by a corporate lawyer. As it turns out, she had been in the corporate world for years, and that was the only way she knew how to write. I told her she was missing an incredible opportunity to distinguish herself by using the vocabulary unique to surfing and spirituality. There was a major disconnect between what she was doing and how she sounded.
But how do you know if your voice is a good representation of your brand? How do you analyze your own writing voice? I have a process I call the Voice Identification Process, and when I go through it with a client, I ask them a lot of deep, thought provoking questions. But my goal is less about what they say in their answers and more about how they answer: what words and phrases do they use? How do they describe what they do?
You can look at your own writing and analyze the same things. Analyze existing copy, Facebook updates, even your personal writings or journal — whatever is closest to how you want to sound. This may take you back to high school English class, but the vocabulary I use to analyze brand voice and the concepts you need to examine your own voice are tone, diction, and syntax.
Diction is the words you choose. Do you say “get,” “acquire,” or “invest”? They may mean the same thing, but they have very different connotations. Syntax is how you string those words together. Short sentences convey confidence, efficiency, strength. Long flowing sentences are more about poetic description, evoking feelings, strong emotions. Tone is the overall feeling. Is it conversational or corporate? Personal or impersonal? Emotional or logical?
I've written an ebook that goes into this in more detail (which you can download at no cost here), but once you’ve identified these elements, you’ll have a good idea of how you sound, and you can ask yourself: Is that how you want to sound? If the answer is yes, you can document what you’re doing so that you can keep doing it. If the answer is no, you have an idea of where to start to change it.
How do your customers sound?
So you’ve identified how you sound, but is that a voice your potential customers will relate to? As with my surfing coach example, your voice might sound one way, but your customers expect or want it to sound another way. It is important to remember that marketing is a conversation, but too often we think we’re the ones that should be doing all the talking. Take the time to “listen” to your potential readers and customers — whether that’s in person or online. How do they talk about their problem? What words do they use?
It’s a natural evolution. It’s a very involved process that often involves going deep with yourself and the reasons behind your business.
The best way to make sure you’re using the words your customers use is to keep a file of things your audience actually says — emails you receive, comments on your blog, Facebook or Twitter discussions. How can you mimic their voice back to them? Corporate executives want a lawyer to sound one way; while small business owners want a lawyer to sound a different way. You have to figure out how your particular niche wants to have your marketing conversation.
How do you want your customers to feel?
Voice conveys a feeling. So an important aspect of defining your brand voice is asking yourself, how do you want your readers to feel — and how can you use words to make them feel that way?
How to put your brand voice to work
Once you’ve uncovered your brand voice as it stands now, or worked out a strategy to get closer to where you want it to be… What’s next? First, it's important to remember that your brand voice applies to everything you write from a Tweet to a book. The best brands have consistent voice across every channel. This is not to say that you immediately need to rewrite your entire website, but it's never too late to start considering your brand voice every time you write something new.
I recommend creating a brand voice style guide to not only help you remember how you’ve defined your brand voice, but also to help any contractors or employees you bring on. It’s simply a guide that documents the tone, diction, syntax and style you’re going for with your brand voice. And I’ve created a template you can use to create your own right here. Uncover your unique brand voice, document it, and then start using it across all your content channels to differentiate your brand and create content people are eager to consume, like, and share.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.