It’s in there somewhere – you just have to coax it out. Here’s how. 

[Image courtesy of Howard Lake at Flickr Creative Commons]

‘Tis almost the season to be jolly, and you’re probably up to your eyeballs in wrapping paper and ribbons, so I’ll get straight to the point.

What if Santa Claus brought you something this year that could transform how others see you? Something that could make you feel different about yourself – more confident, self-assured and natural?

And no, I’m not talking about yet another diamond golf sweater or distinctive bottle of scent. I’m thinking something more intangible, but which affects each and every interaction we have with others. And especially with clients. 

It’s your brand tone of voice – or if you’re a one-man band like me, then your tone of voice.

It may be something you’ve never given much thought to, because it’s evolved naturally and seems like second nature.  Maybe you don’t think you don’t have a tone of voice – but that’s a bit like thinking you don’t have an accent.

Everybody has one, whether they know it or not. 

Voice recognition made easy

So what’s yours? And is it doing a good job of communicating with your target audience? If it’s not, how do you fix it?

Here are my top tips for moving a step closer to the perfect voice: 

  1. You must feel comfortable with it. Whatever voice you choose, it should be one that feels natural for you or your company. If you’re trying too hard, or adopting language that’s outside your comfort zone, it’ll show – like a middle-aged parent using the latest slang with their kids’ friends.
  2. Listen to your audience. How do your customers and prospects speak? Remember the last time you met one in person or spoke to them on the phone. Or the last email you had from them. One of the cornerstones of NLP is something called ‘mirroring’ to create a rapport with your audience. You can use the same technique to make sure your voice matches your target market. 
  3. Who are you/your company? And yes, before you ask, this is the infamous ‘If your company was a person, who would it be?’ Clichéd it may be, but it’s an invaluable question to ask in finding your voice. Amazon is friendly and efficient, Ryanair is cheeky and irreverent, PlusNet is solid and reliable.
  4. What do you sound like now? Gather a representative sample of your marketing materials and take a long, hard look. You don’t have to be brutal – just be honest with yourself. If it’s too difficult to be objective (and very often it is) then get somebody else to give them the once over. Knowing where you are now gives you a starting point – so you can get where you want to be.
  5.  How does the competition sound? Though we all want to be different and distinctive, we still have to operate within certain parameters. And part of that is simply convention. How would you expect a bank to talk? Or a car-sharing site, a tech startup, or an investment fund manager? Readers have certain expectations, so you can’t buck the trend too much. But you can be distinctive without being too different. It’s just a question of degree.
  6. Are you B2B or B2C? There’s no doubt about it: talking to businesses is not the same as talking to individuals. So it’s less of the personal and more of the professional; more about capabilities and less about personalities. But do remember that even if you’re a business talking to a business, it’s still one person talking to another. So don’t swing too much the other way and lapse into corporate business-speak. 
  7. Think about follow-through. If you’re the brand supremo within your organisation, can you get your colleagues to fall into line? Deciding on a brand voice is all very well, but implementing it can be harder than you think. And if you’re thinking about a style guide or a long brand document, think again. In our attention-challenged times, short beats long. So think two-minute videos, interactive guides and at-a-glance cheat sheets. Water-cooler not workshops.
  8. Make sure it works everywhere. What’s right for your website may be wrong for social media, and what works in a blog post may not in a customer email. To create a wraparound brand experience, choose a voice that works in all channels. This is one area where one size should fit all (unlike those diamond golf sweaters). 

Remember that whatever brand voice you choose, it’s always a work in progress.

Buzzwords fade and slang falls out of favour. Memes spread like wildfire, then disappear without a trace. Companies change direction and focus on new clients and sectors, products and services. Competitors come and go, shaking up the market in their wake.

And brand invisibility is an ever-present threat, so you may want to reinvent your voice to make sure it gets heard – so mix it up from time to time.

Much like you do with the scent and the sweaters each year. Now back to wrapping.

Merry Christmas.