By Katherine Karaus
If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur, there’s no avoiding the need for establishing your brand voice and writing for your brand. This might be OK if you’re a confident writer already, but what if it’s not your forte? I got you, girl. The first step – before you can start churning out compelling articles and riveting social media posts – is defining your brand voice.
Why do I need to think about my Brand voice anyway?
When you set up your website you had to make a LOT of visual decisions. What are your brand colors? Icons and imagery? OH SHIT – you need a logo too, don’t you?! And how do you put them all together so they tell a consistent visual story?
Hopefully you found answers to these questions that are super “you”.
Your voice is an equally important component of your brand. There’s copy everywhere on your website, in every email you send, and on every social media platform. Your brand voice has the power to either support your design or completely muddy the waters.
Voice is the difference between:
I provide professional-grade copywriting services to leading technology startups.
I help tech companies tell crystal-clear product stories.
The first is stodgy, formal, and corporate. Blech, I hate it. The second (my actual LinkedIn summary) is snappy, unpretentious, and clear. If I put the first description on my website (which is full of the color pink, hearts, and fun computer icons) it would make zero sense.
Potential clients would wonder, “Who is this person? She seems confused.”
Your voice is an extension of you, and your personal brand. It can communicate on a subconscious level who you are, and what it’s like to work with you. Like the visuals – it’s all about sending the right message to your ideal client.
So now we know why voice is important. Here’s how to get it right.
Step 1: Pick 3 adjectives to describe how your copy should feel.
Writing is an art, so evaluating it will always be somewhat subjective. It’s good to establish some broad measurements we can use to see if your copy hits the mark.
I like to start with 3 adjectives. They’ll usually be pretty complementary. Don’t pick opposites (like upbeat and serious), that’s setting yourself up to fail.
The good news? You might already have this information on your mood board! For example, the words I chose for my mood board are fresh, fun, confident, and relatable.
If your adjectives strike you as more visual, you might pick new ones for your brand voice. I’d also add sassy and irreverent to my word cluster. It’s important to me that I can crack jokes and be myself in my business. I make the rules, so that’s included in my brand.
If you’re not sure about your adjectives, you might approach it from the opposite angle. Are there things that you simply wouldn’t say? Attitudes that you wouldn’t indulge? Illuminating your boundaries (no swearing, for example) might help you hone in on your values. Find the negative, then flip it to find those sweet, juicy adjectives.
Step 2: Get to Know Your Natural Voice
Hopefully your adjectives already describe your personality to some extent. Now it’s time to figure out what you actually sound like, and bridge the gap between how you communicate naturally and your brand voice.
This sounds silly but it’s helpful: Grab a quick recording on your phone of yourself talking. Give it about five minutes. Don’t rehearse. Just do it. Shoot from the hip – talk about your life, about your business, how you like to help people, and what you enjoy.
Then transcribe it. When you see it written out, you’ll be able to identify linguistic patterns that are unusual (AKA: uniquely you!) You can edit out the “ums”, those don’t count.
Now, notice if there are any words or phrases jumping out at you. Do you use a lot of run-on sentences? Do you speak in metaphors? Are there adjectives or adverbs you keep coming back to? What about slang, or dialect (y’all)?
Try highlighting everything interesting that jumps out at you from the page. Identify phrases or words that you use often. Feel free to veto stuff that you don’t like, and to put little stars by everything that makes you sound great.
Now it’s time to align your real-life voice with your brand’s adjectives. Do a quick edit of this transcript into a more polished version of yourself.
Read it out loud. Do those adjectives from your mood board shine through, loud and clear? Keep tweaking until you arrive at a style you love, that sounds like you (but better). Take note of the things you included, and the things you edited out. This list (and your adjectives) can be the beginning of a brand voice guide.
I sometimes create tables for this, like so:
|Say This:||Not That:|
|Friendly robots||AI-powered killing machines|
Keep a running tab of phrases that you like and ones you avoid, so you can share it with your team as it grows!
Step 3: Web Content Structure 101
So now you have an understanding of your voice. The challenge? You’ve got to get people to actually read what you’ve written. Let’s pin down how to make your content readable, visually appealing, and digestible.
There are a couple of rules of thumb about writing in a way that’s readable. Short sentences help. Minimizing jargon, too! Oh, and don’t use the passive voice!
If this feels like WAY too many rules to keep track of, I’ve got a fantastic tool for you. The Hemingway editor identifies places in the text where you could be clearer. I’ve used it myself, and it almost always improves my writing.
In fact, I put this article through the Hemingway app and found a shocking number of adverbs. It helped me trim things down, and create a much simpler piece.
Paste your copy into Hemingway, and it’ll instantly assess your text for readability. It’ll help train you to identify places where you can be more clear.
Breaking up Text
It’s much easier to read text that’s chunked out into short paragraphs. Try to keep them to 3 sentences, and a couple of lines. Your readers will thank you!
If you’re communicating complex thoughts, it’s important to use headers. They help your audience skim through your writing, so they can find the information they need. (Bonus: Including your keywords in headers will help boost your SEO.)
If you’re making a list, consider bullet points.
- Bullet points help make your writing more scannable.
- English speakers spend FAR more time looking at the left hand side of the page. They read in an F-shaped pattern (take a look at this eyeball tracking heat map).
- Just like Beyoncé says, concentrate essential information “to the left, to the left.”
Don’t Bury the Lede
Important information comes first. It’s true in journalism, and it’s true in copywriting. Have an important, can’t miss, piece of information? Put it upfront in both your sentence structure and your paragraph.
Phew! You made it. (High five!) ? I’m guessing you didn’t realize the basics of copywriting could be so involved?
But don’t get overwhelmed. Defining and refining your voice is a process. You’ll get better over time, the more you write and the more you edit. In a digital world where “content is king”, it’s an investment that’s worth every second.
Katherine Karaus is an independent technical copywriter and full-time cat mom. After getting a Theatre Arts degree from Cornell, she used her storytelling skills to slide sideways into the software industry. She blogs both on Medium and for her amazing clients, and she contributes to the Cooper Review for funsies. When she isn’t writing or reading about tech, she’s biking around San Diego or snuggling her two cats, Sage and Jean Luc.