Business 15 October 2016
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.
6 Min Read
I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.