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My 7-Step Process for Identifying and Writing in Your Brand Voice

Biz Strategy & Growth, Messaging & Copy

Your brand voice is the embodiment of your brand personality — your identity — so it’s critical that it is not only distinct, but also compelling and consistent.

As a copywriter and brand and web designer, I spend a lot of time talking to people about their brand voice. And one of the refrains I hear most commonly is “I write all my web copy myself because no one else gets my voice.”

First of all, let me just jump in here and say writing about yourself objectively and effectively is one of the most difficult things to do in the world. Even for a seasoned copywriter like myself, writing my own stuff is infinitely harder than writing for someone else. You’re almost never as clear as you think you’re being. And it’s easy to miss some of the most compelling stuff because you’re just too close to it. 

All that aside, though, it is still possible to find someone who can write in your brand voice. Maybe even someone who can elevate it a little. That’s what good web copywriters and brand messaging strategists do every day.

The One Thing at Which I’m Unconsciously Competent 

As a long-time writer, I’ve often been asked how I can toggle back and forth between voices. And it’s something I rarely ever thought about. When you like to write, and have been writing for years, you just get in the habit of doing it. You have to be flexible and adaptable depending on what you’re writing, who you’re writing it for, and what the purpose is. 

If you’re a fiction writer, you get used to switching between different characters’ perspectives. If you’re an academic writer, you probably become accustomed to writing differently in a paper for a journal than you might if you were submitting a grant. It just becomes second nature. 

In my early corporate days, I remember someone explaining in a presentation that there are four levels of competence.

  1. Unconsciously incompetent. You don’t even know what you don’t know. 
  2. Consciously incompetent. Oh shit. You are FULLY aware of all the things you don’t know. 
  3. Consciously competent. Okay. Now you’re getting it, but it still takes some thought and intentionality. 
  4. Unconsciously competent. You could do it in your sleep.

Writing in different voices and for different reasons – well, that falls under the fourth category for me. I’ve always just sort of known how to do it. It’s easy for me to slip into someone else’s skin and rattle around in their brain to find out what makes them tick. 

When I’m working with a new client to write their brand messaging and web copy, we always start with a Brand Blueprint session that entails a 90-minute interview of sorts. This is where I get to dig in and ask questions to uncover the information I need to be able to do my job. 

So when someone asked me that question again recently, I decided to sit down and try to parse out my method for so effectively understanding and conveying different voices. 

Without further ado, here it is: 

My 7-Step Process for Identifying and Writing in Your Voice

1. Ask the right questions. 

My background as a journalist comes into play here. It is so important to start any brand voice exercise with the right questions because surface-level or irrelevant questions will not yield the answers I need to understand how you think and speak. I’ll go for open-ended questions that could be interpreted many different ways. And sometimes I may even repeat a question with different wording just to see if it solicits a different answer. It takes a healthy mix of experience, intuition, and preparation.

While I come to every Brand Blueprint session armed with a lengthy list of prepared questions, it’s also important that I am nimble enough to pivot and probe as needed when something juicy or unclear pops up in conversation. I’ve trained many writers, and a clear sign of a rookie is someone who lets a great answer go by unprobed. They stick to the script. But asking the right questions typically means you have to be able to improvise along the way. 

2. Facilitate honest answers.

No one I’ve interviewed or written for has ever been intentionally dishonest with me (that I’m aware of), but omissions of critical details and subconscious truths can tank a session pretty quickly. That’s why it’s essential that I create an environment that facilitates honest answers. That means an environment in which the client feels comfortable opening up and sharing their raw story vulnerably and honestly. 

 Depending on the client, this might mean sharing bits and pieces of my own story. Or giving them plenty of uninterrupted time to consider their answers. Or letting them review the list of questions in advance. Building trust is the key.

3. Listen actively.

The ability to listen actively is a real skill. It requires patience and attention to detail. When I’m chatting with a new client in a Brand Blueprint session, I make sure to eliminate all distractions and focus all my attention on what they are saying. And sometimes even more important, how they are saying it. 

Some of the things I will look for include:

  • Did they fidget when they gave that answer?
  • Is that the real answer? Or the answer they think I want to hear?
  • How comfortable do they seem giving that answer?
  • Is there a deeper meaning to what they just shared?

 I also listen for patterns in the way you speak. 

  • Are there words they use repeatedly? 
  • Do they speak in short staccato sentence fragments? Or are they more flowery and descriptive in the way they speak?
  • Do they use cliches or make a lot of pop culture references?

4. Identify the “why.”

While there are a lot of things I look and listen for during a Brand Blueprint session, arguably the most important thing I’m hoping to discover is your big “why.” In other words, what drives you to do the work you do. Why is it important to you? What impact do you want to create in the world? 

Once we get to the bottom of your purpose and vision, it becomes much easier to slide the other pieces of your brand voice and messaging into place. Because we always have that guiding principle to come back to.

5. Emphasize what makes you unique.

With clients, I always listen for the things that make them unique and help them stand out from the competition. That requires an understanding of the space in which they play. So I’ll often do some leg work on social and on competitors’ and peers’ websites to get an understanding of how the other folks in your industry are talking about their work. 

This piece, especially, can be difficult for people to tune in to themselves. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to pinpoint the things that really set you apart. If everyone else in your industry is prim and proper, the fact that you curse like a sailor might just be a differentiator. Getting clear on the things that make you uniquely you is a thread I can pull on over and over again when crafting your brand messaging and web copy.

6. Integrate your voice into strategic messaging.

There’s an art and a science to copywriting and brand messaging. A lot of what we’ve talked about thus far has been “art.” And I’ve seen what can happen when people lean too heavily on that side without tempering it with some “science.” What you end up getting is a really personality-filled rant that you might enjoy reading but you likely won’t understand why you were reading it or what you’re supposed to do with the information. 

Good copywriters and brand messaging strategists can use words to do many different things: build trust, create urgency, educate, inspire action, and simulate familiarity (just to name a few). That’s why it’s important to ensure your brand voice is tempered with strategy.

7. Develop a seamless visual identity. 

While we’ve focused primarily on the written pieces of your brand voice thus far, it can (and should) also come through in your visual identity. For example, if I’m working with a client who has a really casual friendly vibe, a stark color palette and stuffy logo suite just won’t cut the mustard. A brand’s visual identity rounds out its voice and helps it feel holistic and complete.

I’m sure there are hundreds of different tactics other copywriters use to shimmy into the brand voices of their clients. If there’s anything you’re unconsciously competent at doing, have you ever paused to consider the process behind your success?