If you’ve spent any length of time around writers, discussions of “voice” will inevitably arise. “I’m writing in the first person, but I’m finding the voice a little tough,” or “I really admire the richness of Margaret Atwood’s voice” or even, “I’m trying to fit my voice into a male character, and it’s just not working …”
But if you try to corner one of us to ask exactly what we mean by “voice”, you’ll find we stammer some half-arsed answer, cry “look, a man wearing an enormous novelty mustache!” and scamper away when you back is turned. “Voice” is a concept writers understand innately, but we struggle to describe.
But “voice” is a concept that’s vital for any business owner to grasp, as it’s an integral part of your brand. And since I’m a writer who works predominantly with small business owners, I thought I’d do my part to demistify the concept of voice and why it’s important for your business.
What IS Your Business “Voice”?
It’s the words, the tone, the inflections behind your products and services. Your business voice – alongside your logo, your images, your products – is what clues your customers in to what you do and who you do it for. Your voice doesn’t just tell your customers WHAT you sell – it shows them your whole branding concept: your target customer, your business principles, your customer service policies. It’s all there, wrapped up in your voice.
Your voice is HOW you say the things you need to say to your customers. It helps them understand your products and services, and it helps them feel comfortable using your company. Your voice is what separates your copy from something written by a robot.
Your voice should always be friendly and courteous, but it can also be elegant, glamourous, down-to-earth, humorous, straight-to-the-point, poetic, dramatic or downright silly. Your voice will vary, depending on the clients you’re trying to attract and the particular aspects of your personality or business you want to emphasize.
It flows from you, as the owner and the creative force behind your branding and focus. But your voice also has to address the needs of your customers. You have to make your business relevant to them.
Why is Your Business Voice so Important?
The voice of your business helps your clients and customers to trust you. It’s friendly, it’s informative, but it also has a personality that resonates with them. It says, “I understand your problems. Let me fix them for you.”
The tone, the words you use, the way you convey your message are vital to forming that trust. They make your customer feel comfortable, and establish your brand as friendly – as someone who speaks their language. All communications involves is the ability to speak to customers the way they want to be spoken to.
As an example, say two businesses offer the same product – bespoke furniture designs for the high-end of the interior design market. Company One have a very “bare-bones” approach to their catalogue and website copy. They talk about materials, function and very little else. Company Two have crafted a brand based on elegance, and their copy reflects this, with products descriptions that emphasize how a piece can function in a room as a whole. They have a section of their site dedicated to explaining their design concept, and another talking about their sustainable building materials. They aren’t flowery or over the top, but you key sentences and words to explain how a piece of bespoke design can enhance their customer’s life.
Both “voices” are equally valid, but I know which company I’d be drawn to. However, in another market segment, or in another industry, the “elegant prose” of Company Two would seem out-of-place and ostentatious.
In my line of work, getting the voice right is vital to successful copy. Clients and customers expect a certain tone for specific industries, they need to see and hear certain words before they’ll commit to an order. Sometimes you can play with this to great effect, by inverting their expectations to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. The voice of Grymm & Epic is very unique for example: a little bit odd, a little unusual. This is part of what makes me stand out to potential clients. But I have to back that up with solid results and seriously good writing. I have to show potential clients that I can step out of my own voice and into theirs.
Your voice needs to be something definable, so that you can help others understand it. If you hire employees who offer customer service for your business, edit your website or perform any other function that involves your written or verbal communications, they need to understand the company’s voice, so they can use it/ What can and can’t they say? What should their tone be? How do they deal with this or that problem?
How do You Find Your Business “Voice”?
You need to look carefully at two things – the personality behind your communications, and the needs of your target customer.
Your business voice will, naturally, be your own. You’ll put in jokes you think are funny, use the sentence structure you’re familiar with, express things in a way that resonates with you. It can take practice to get your words to reflect your personality, especially if writing doesn’t come naturally to you. I suggest you try journalling – documenting your life for a week or a month. Don’t try to laundry-list every single event, but pick up those situations that struck you as humorous or sad or troubling or fun – and write about those. Write the details. Work on conveying a sense of those moments. This is how you find your voice.
Or, you might have a product that really creates it’s own voice. You find this a lot with things like kids toys, board games, and sexy lingerie. In which case, you might want to do the same journalling exercise, just from the point-of-view of your toy or underwear. Have fun with that!
The next thing you need to look at is your customer’s needs. You can do this a number of ways, but I like to do it through profiling. I create a profile of the ideal customer: give him or her a name, an age, a family life, hobbies, interest, an income, worries, fears, hopes and dreams. Then, read through your website or catelogue as if you were that customer. Try to answer these questions:
- Why do I need this?
- What is in this for me?
- Does this answer my questions?
- Why should I care?
- Does this get me closer to my goal?
- Will this excite me? Surprise me? Give me an experience I’ll never forget?
- Will I regret buying this?
Your business voice is where your voice and your customer’s needs intersect. Does your business “voice” reflect what YOU want your business to be?
If you want more articles about creative marketing for ass-kicking small businesses, as well as my FREE ebook, “Unleash the Beast: Releasing Your Inner Creative Monster”, hop over and get the Grymm & Epic Gazette.