How do you measure whether your voice is a success?
Here’s a quick test. Try reading this out loud:
It’s impossible not to read it in Liam Neeson’s voice.
If you’ve nailed voice, that’s exactly what you should be looking for when someone reads your copy.
They need to hear you.
On Copy Chief, we’ve covered strategies designed to help you deliver the right tone of voice for your own copy or your client’s copy.
Yet, there are some pervading myths, mistakes and misinformation around tone of voice that will send you down rabbit holes, snap the bond of trust with your reader and kill sales.
Avoid these at all costs.
Mistake #1 – The Myth of Uniqueness
If I had a dollar for every time I hear a marketer or business owner lament that they “need to find my unique authentic voice…”
I’d have enough savings to pay for someone to personally go around to each of their houses and punch them in the groin. Hard.
Here’s another punch in the balls you may not like:
Your voice isn’t unique.
Your voice is almost exactly the same as that complete stranger you walked past this morning. Or your biggest competitor.
95% of what you say is pretty much word for word what they say. And how they say it.
As soon as you get it out of your pretty little head you need to “search” for your unique voice and realize you’re not unique, the faster you can move onto the realization that being unique isn’t the game-changer.
(This is particularly hard when you’re working for a client who thinks they’re Seinfeld…)
But this is almost what everyone misses.
Your goal shouldn’t be “uniqueness”; your focus needs to be on developing a “strong” voice.
Because strength and confidence is what bonds your reader to you (or repels the wrong kind of reader).
Just look back at what I’ve written. Is there anything in what I’ve said that’s 100% original?
That Pulitzer Prize isn’t finding its way into my hands any time soon.
But is the voice “strong”? You betcha.
This is great news. You no longer need to focus on chasing that ever-alluding goal of being “unique”.
Realize you’re not a snowflake (in the true sense, not the Alt-Right douchebag sense).
Get working on giving your voice muscle instead of a really ‘original’ tattoo (that you have to hide from your mom every time you’re round for dinner because you know she’d just be so disappointed in you…)
When you topple this myth, then the next comes a-tumbling down as well…
Mistake #2 Thinking no-one can capture your voice
Oo, you delicate little peach. You’ve even used the word “capture”, as if your voice is some kind of mythical little creature that’s so elusive it’s in need to trapping and taming.
This is what everyone thinks about your struggle to capture your voice…
As I mentioned above 95% of your speech (and I’m being conservative) is exactly the same as everyone else’s.
By that calculation an 8th grader can write in your voice.
Let’s look deeper into this, and get to the heart of what really differentiates one voice from another.
It’s often not grammar or sentence structure (unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson).
The one differentiating factor is simply this:
There’s a narrow range of words we all use. If you’ve ever studied shorthand you’ll know our active vocabulary is less than 100 words.
So we differentiate our language by changing or including an even smaller range of vocabulary that others don’t.
It really is that simple.
But sssshhhh…. don’t let those branding agencies hear me tell you.
If this “secret” got out, they’d no longer be able to stiff their clients for $10,000 a pop.
Once you know your “voice” – that badge of identity upon which your whole brand sits – comes down to a differential of a few words, it really can be a game changer.
So what do you do?
Make word lists!
One of the most useful exercises to do around understanding the characteristics of your voice is to create two lists: a good word list and a bad word list.
The Good List contains all the vocabulary you regularly use. The phrases and idioms that may not be unique to you, but are part of your everyday/normal parlance.
The Bad List is the opposite. And much more important. Your closest friends know when you’re talking because they know when it doesn’t sound like you.
The negative effect is more pronounced with voice.
It’s easier to know when it’s NOT you by what you say.
As my wife regularly says to me:
“That was so kind, so sweet and really heartfelt… you clearly didn’t write it.”
Note: you’re a bad judge of knowing what you do and don’t say. Get a friend or a colleague to record you.
If you’re like me, you’ll come to realize two things:
1) There’s a bunch of phrases you use which you didn’t realize only you used
2) You’re not nearly as clever or funny as you think you are…
Mistake #3 Not committing
Hitting the right tone of voice won’t necessarily win you more fans – although when done well it should attract the right people to you like a magnet.
But it will strengthen and deepen the relationship with the fans you do have.
Here’s the reality: you have to pick sides.
People like buying into the “unique, authentic voice” because it means they can dabble in the middle.
“People like me for me. And if they don’t like me, well there’s not much I can do about it.”
C’mon! It’s the ultimate way to shirk responsibility.
Developing strength in your voice means saying something.
Confidence is the primary engine of developing a strong voice.
You’ve just have to commit.
That’s all there is to it.
One of the most useful tools for “speaking” in a confident voice is having a position.
That’s why you need ANOTHER list:
The Nemesis List
This isn’t a shit list of everyone who’s ever slighted you or a rundown of every damaging relationship you’ve ever had.
(Those need to be kept out of public sight. Mine are written on the inside cover of a Bible in my kitchen for quick reference).
No, this is your position.
What do you stand against (and by deduction, what do you stand for)?
As copywriters we know a villain is the best lightning rod for our readers’ attention. Here we get to put together a rogues gallery of everything you or your business stands against.
Yes, yes, you may know in your mind who those people are.
But get them down in this list.
You need to see this every time you write.
Everything about your voice needs to ooze disgust at these villains.
Strong voice is soaked with distaste for baddies and celebration of the good guys.
Better still, start expressing those sentiments in a way that resonates with your audience.
Bet you can instantly identify the writer from this single word:
Getting the right tone of voice can do everything for your business.
In a cramped market, it’s often the ONLY way of emerging unscathed.
A perfect example in the UK is in the hugely competitive betting market.
It’s cut-throat. Yet, one business stands apart from all others even to non-betting folk such as myself: Paddy Power.
The strength of Paddy Power’s voice is clear. It’s bold, somewhat aggressive towards its enemies and is right on your side.
And because of that its ads regularly appear in the top most complained about each year.
Just look at these beauties…
They’re uncompromising, controversial and have the strongest voice of any ads I’ve seen in years.
And they can’t help getting eyeballs, gaining attention and constantly pulling customers into their shops.
But consider: do they say anything new? Are they original?
Or does their success simply come down to tethering their business and brand to a strong, confident voice which gives it that distinctiveness.
I’m not saying strive for controversy. Or swear gratuitously. Or alienate people.
That’s not the point.
The point is a distinctive brand voice – one that stands out in your marketplace – is achieved through:
- Understanding the relationship you want with your customer
- Understanding how the vocabulary you use connects with your customer
- Bringing these together in a cohesive way so anyone is able to quickly understand your brand’s voice and write using it when needed
When I worked in publishing, the biggest challenge was ensuring consistency of voice across a whole editorial team.
Our copy had to maintain a single voice – consistently – even with dozens of contributors.
If you can get a bunch of overstressed, underpaid hacks to stick to some basic rules, believe me… you can do it.
What to do next
Nailing your voice is simpler than you think.
It just needs an understanding of your audience (check!), an understanding of what enrages and enthralls them (check!) and the ability to express this in a simple straightforward way.
If you want to refine and define a brand tone of voice that really does make you pop in your industry and affects how your readers and audience perceives you then you need a strategy.
Creating your own tone of voice guide is a must.
And this is especially important if you’re handing off your copy to a writer or a team but still want to maintain control.
That’s why I’ve developed a comprehensive handbook to develop your own voice guide, The Ultimate Tone of Voice Handbook.
If you’re a copywriter looking for clients, right away you’ll have a template you can go to clients with and show them you have a means by which to capture their voice, removing one of their main objections for hiring you.
If you’re a business owner or marketer looking to hire a writer to take over your copy production, download this and insist your next hire uses it to keep your audience happy.
Download the guide today and get started on making your business or brand stand out in your marketplace, connect with your target audience and strengthen the relationships you already have. Click here to download.