Do you have a business - brick, mortar, or online - a book to promote, a website that needs traffic, a podcast, a show you want audiences to attend or watch? Are you looking for a new or better job?
A clear brand voice will help you with all of that.
The voice of your brand is what helps people see you as you. With so many choices available online and off, it's good to offer a filter, and not only in Google searches. People need to know who you are, as a company and as an individual. When they discover you in an online search, walk into your store, open your physical book in a bookstore, click on your book cover on Amazon, or receive your resume, they need to get a quick sense of who you are. That quick "take" is powerful.
From the moment you walk in, a Dunkin Donuts store has a different feeling from Intelligentsia Coffee. A Kia dealership feels different from a BMW dealership. Best Buy feels different from an Apple Store. What you are feeling when you walk in those places is a concrete manifestation of brand voice.
A brand voice can be expressed by interior design, as in the examples above, and by typefaces and graphic layout. You get a different feeling reading the New York Post than you do when you read The New York Times. Brand voice can be expressed by editorial writing styles, by how many multi-syllabic words your use in your text or speech, and by your domain expertise. It can be expressed in media you put out about yourself, such as blogs, articles, images on Instagram, or a podcast.
Developing a Brand Voice
Surprisingly, developing a brand voice for an individual or for a company is not all that different. They involve the same steps and a similar process.
If people are going to hire you, or do business with you, or buy your stuff, they have to have a sense of who you are or what kind of company they are dealing with. They need to know your values, or at least get a sense of them. They need to know that the work or product you offer matters to you and therefore should matter to them. They want some of your backstory, so they get a sense of “who’s behind this thing.” All of those elements help buyers or employers get to know you.
Pathways to Discovering Your Brand Voice
Step 1 - Look Inside
First, you have to understand why you do your work. What makes you feel good about it? What makes you get up in the morning and "press go?" If your best answer to that question is, "I do it for the money," that will work for a while, but it's not sustainable. Customers and clients want more. So do you. If you miss your kids' soccer game to land a big account, that might feel okay, for a while, but it soon gets old. You need a deeper mission for why you do your work. If you're an author, are you working to inform your readers about a topic that matters to them? If you are selling, is there a deeper benefit to the product, such as making your customer fitter, healthier, or smarter? If your best selling point is "we are the cheapest at what we do," that will not impress customers over the long term. There will always be somebody who comes along who is cheaper.
Step 2 - Discover Your Domain Expertise
One of life's greatest satisfactions is mastery. When you learn how to kick a soccer ball well enough to score a goal, write a book that interests an audience, express an idea in a TEDx talk that spreads, that is all intensely satisfying. Your domain expertise is what makes you you and it also is a lot of fun to work on. If you really enjoy something, and sharing it, you will never get tired of working on it. What is your domain expertise? if it aligns perfectly with your job, lucky you! If you are the best sailor in the world, and you've been winning the Americas Cup pretty often, you will be happy. If you are a secretly brilliant photographer who is selling insurance most of the day, you stand a chance of being pretty miserable. Sometimes your domain expertise "chooses you" - it’s just that thing that you like doing the most. For me, it's writing and media making. For others, it's design or music. It's a fair bet that if you lose track of time while doing something, you are in your domain expertise. (Or to use Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's phrase, you're "in the flow.") Your domain expertise is a strong expression of your personal brand.
Step 3 - Tell Others About Your Domain Expertise
Once you know what you love, it seems like it would be easy to tell others about it. But some people have a lot of resistance to self-marketing. They think it's rude, or showy, or loud-mouthed. Understandable, if you are an introvert, but if you want people to buy your stuff, walk into your store, look at your resume, or buy your book, they have to find out about it. If you're stumped about how to promote your personal brand, take a look around and see what others are doing.
Step 4 - Look Around, Compare, and Analyze
Have a look around at the ways others are promoting themselves. Learn from them. If you were getting an MBA, you might call this "competitor analysis," but the people you are learning from are not always competitors. They might be fellow authors or podcasters who are successfully using channels like blogs, or Facebook ads, or giving away free PDFs of their books to build an audience for their work. They might be fellow coders who have helped themselves stand out by writing an opinionated blog on Medium about what it's like to be a coder. They might be fashion designers who are doing pop up shops or mentoring fashion and design students at a local college.
Step 5 - Stand Out
Whether you are creating a brand voice to use as a personal brand or as a corporate brand, it must be different from other voices out there. It just won't work to say "We're an awful lot like Urban Outfitters." Or, "My photographs are probably just as good as Edward Weston's." Or, "Many of my books have been compared to books by better-known authors." Saying you are like another brand won't work. The essential part of a brand voice is that it is yours alone. Now, it's fair to say that lots of brands piggy-back off other brands. People may discover a product in a speciality store, but buy it on Amazon because it's cheaper there. But that is not a brand voice decision, that's a price decision. If your client, user or potential employer is comparing you to somebody else and making a decision based on price, you're in trouble. See Step #1 - there will always be somebody who will be cheaper. Competing on price is a good way to lose the sale or the job.
Step 6 - Measure
Once you've started to express your brand voice in your blog, or podcast, or in advertising, or on social media, start to measure how well it is working for you. You need to get yourself some sense of what success looks like. Success for you could be increased visits to your website, or more clicks on a certain page. It might be downloads of your book or plays of your podcast. It could be the number of job interviews you've been getting. If you're doing all this work to get your brand out there and you can't measure it, there's not much point to that, is there?
If you don't know how many people are visiting your website, install Google Analytics or an app like Clicky. If your podcast is on iTunes, you won't know how many plays it's getting, but you will if you put it on SoundCloud. You can also use services like Libsyn, or Blubrry, which provide stats. The Amazon Kindle publishing platform (KDP), Amazon's audiobook platform (ACX), and CreateSpace will show you if you're selling any books or not. Measuring matters.
Step 7 - Measure Some More
If you select a unique hashtag and use it on social media, monitoring platforms like SproutSocial or Meltwater will track them for you. You'll see how others are using them in retweets or shares. You'll be able to build a cohort of people who care about what you're doing. That cohort might start out only as "interested people," but they can become customers, users, coworkers, clients, and employers. They can show you the way toward building an audience for your brand: Use those social media monitoring tools to see who has the loudest voice (who posts the most, who uses your hashtag most often), and pay attention to the channels they use. Your book might be best promoted on Instagram, while your podcast might need more Twitter love. Your potential employers could be hanging out on Medium, or on LinkedIn's Pulse blogging platform. Reddit, or Goodreads might matter the most.
Step 8 - Calm Down
It may seem like there are a lot of moving parts to this, but remember: It's all about expressing your domain expertise. Your domain expertise is something you're really good at and love to do. By design, that should be a small target to hit. Not everyone will care about it, at least not at first, so you don't need your brand voice to be heard by "everyone," and not everyone has to be touched by your brand message. Only the people who might care: Your true fans, real customers, potential employers, readers, or listeners.
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