Marketing That Sounds Like You: A Primer on Finding Your Voice
“People respond to the humanity, not the form. The voice, not the form. Put your whole self into it, and you will find your true voice. Hold back and you won’t. It’s that simple.”
–Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Whether you know it or not, you have a unique voice. It comes from the places you’ve lived, the jobs you’ve held, the people who have influenced you, and the experiences you’ve had.
Your voice gives you character. It helps people remember your message, and facilitates trust. Sadly, the first thing many business owners do when writing marketing materials (copywriting) is abandon their voice and imitate someone else.
Usually the person they imitate is bland, detached, and instantly forgettable.
Disguising your true voice often comes so naturally that you probably don’t even realize you do it. You’re just writing the way you were taught in grade school, when uniformity got you an A+ and a little sticker on your paper that said, “Good job!”
Unfortunately, this uniformity can be counterproductive in the business world. But people keep writing that way because it feels safe. Writing what you really feel, and expressing who you are, opens you up for rejection.
It also gets you more business in the long run, because people prefer doing business with those they know, like and trust. By showing your human side, you invite people to get to know you better, and to take a vested interest in your success.
How To Find Your Voice
How do you find your real voice? I asked a group of professional writers how they did it, and got a variety of responses:
“Your voice is always there, though beginning writers tend to sublimate it. They work hard to sound authoritative or hip, but voice isn’t like that at all; voice is natural. …You ‘find’ your voice by becoming comfortable in your own skin first as a person and then as a writer. Writers, even news writers, begin showing their own unique voices the longer and the more often they write. They become comfortable enough to be who they are, never in a show-off, look-at-me way but as someone letting the reader share time with them.” –Holly Ocasio Rizzo
“Mostly I just loosened up and told the story in a conversational tone, the way I wanted to write it. My voice came through.” –Dan Ferber
“I struggled with voice because I didn’t trust mine. Once I started ‘talking to the page,’ literally, it all came together. I really do write the way I talk.” –Andrea Collier
“Writing columns, first for a newspaper then for a wire service, helped me find my voice, because I had a chance to be more creative than I could be in a run-of-the-mill news story or even a feature. More recently, blogging has definitely helped – I love it when I get feedback from readers who know me and say ‘That sounds just like you.’” –Michelle Rafter
“Voice starts to come out paradoxically as you make telling the story more important than your writing. Focus on what you have to communicate and your voice starts to slip out. The more you wrestle with story and topic, the more you subconsciously bring all the cultural, educational, and psychological tools you have to get across ideas in ways that you feel are genuine.” –Erik Sherman
Permission To Write Badly
For some people, just allowing themselves to write badly is enough to give them a panic attack. In fact, many writers struggle with this.
Natalie Goldberg writes in cheap spiral bound notebooks, saying it helps her take her work less seriously. Writing coach Brenda Ueland once forced students out of their paralysis by making them write as bad a story as they possibly could. Other writers — Norman Mailer, Ernest Hemmingway, and Graham Greene among them — use word quotas to move their focus from quality to quantity.
Ralph Keyes’ book, The Courage To Write: How Writers Transcend Fear is a helpful resource for anyone who feels anxious about writing. In it, Keyes writes:
“All working writers devise their own program for keeping fear at bay. Although writing nerves never vanish, they do become more manageable over time.”
“No magic strategy exists that will turn an anxious novice into a self-assured veteran. Since courage points vary so much from writer to writer, there is no one-size-fits-all program to recommend. Developing writing courage involves learning about one’s working style and how it’s best manipulated.”
Telling Your Story
Another great way to find your voice is to start telling your own story. For one thing, no one knows your own life better than you. You’ll probably find your story plays an important role in your written marketing materials, too: from your elevator speech to your personal biography, your story is a huge part of your personal brand.
As you answer these questions, pretend you’re writing to a close friend. Feel free to joke around, curse, get off-topic, or do whatever feels most natural and authentic to you.
Then, put your writing away for a few days. This is an important part of the process, because having distance gives you a fresh perspective on what you’ve written. When you finally revisit your writing, you’ll probably find some interesting anecdotes that you can work into future copywriting projects.
· What three childhood experiences most affected who you are today?
· How did you arrive at your current job, and what do you love about it?
· What education, training and/or unique experience do you have?
· What would you or your friends say are your personality strengths?
· How do you use these strengths in your current job?
· What sets you apart from the competition?
· What are your biggest dreams, goals and aspirations?
· What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your lifetime, and how has it made you a better person?
· What three accomplishments are you most proud of, and why?
· How do you make a difference in people’s lives?
How do YOU find your own voice — and how do you know when you’ve found it?