So you started your very own shiny new business (you lovely, crazy fool, you.) As a Leeds based freelance copywriter, I understand what it’s like to be responsible for all of the things, and to struggle with knowing what’s a good investment, what order to do thinks, and whose advice to take.
Chances are, one of the first things you did was think about visuals. You probably paid a professional to come up with an eye-catching logo (if design isn’t your area of expertise) and to put together a website that’s lovely to look at and handles like a dream.
Visuals are important – they provide at-a-glance cues about your business; your core values, your personality and what a customer can expect from you. They attract attention and help you stand out from the crowd.
But they’re only part of the story. Like the colourful wings of a butterfly, they catch the eye. But you need to back that style up with substance, or potential customers will lose focus, lose interest and drift away (into the arms of a competitor.)
So how do you encourage someone to stick around, to invest their precious time in learning more about you? How can you build a rapport that sees a potential customer start to kinda like you, start to trust you a little and, ultimately, start to become loyal to you (because that’s when wallets start opening, my friends.)
One word. Copy
Copy is a posh term for words. Text. The stuff that populates marketing materials (web pages, brochures, leaflets, emails, articles, blog posts, case studies, social media posts, press releases, proposals, product descriptions and more…)
Producing good copy doesn’t mean throwing out words like you’re at a rap battle and hoping for the best, or stuffing your website with content like you’re having fun with the kids at Build a Bear. As a freelance copywriter, I don’t just charge you for a serving of words in a random order, with no consideration for who they’re going to be dished up to, or what you want them to achieve.
The words that you choose to represent your business contribute to your brand voice. This may sound like just another twatty marketing term, but it’s the most powerful and influential tool that your business has at its disposal. This voice guides customer opinion. This voice can prove your credentials or discredit your claims. This is the voice that builds or destroys reputations.
Is yours rusting away, neglected in the garage or gleaming as it severs the heads of the competition? LOVING what I did there.
Meet your brand voice (you already have one.)
Unless you’re a new start-up that’s yet to produce a single piece of marketing material or issue a solitary Tweet, you already have a brand voice. Whether you like it or not, the words you’ve chosen are out there in the big wide world, speaking for your brand.
Whether this voice is making you sound like a twonk, or not, is entirely up to you.
A strong brand voice is like a great logo – it’s instantly recognizable, and clearly communicates the core values of your business. Even if a million other companies across the globe are offering your product or service, they’re not being run by you. You’re unique. You’re special. And people need to know about that.
Who me? Yes, you. Don’t deny it, madam. Don’t shake your head at me, sir. There’s a reason why you started this business. There’s a rich and interesting story behind your brand that’s unique to you (and I’ll drag it out of you if I have to, then I’ll send you my bill.)
Your brand voice should be your own voice, filtered through your business, and should be carefully crafted to appeal to your target audience*, allowing them to relate to your brand, to share in your story, to want to share it with friends and trust in your consistency.
*you know who they are, right? Down to what underwear they’re wearing today, the car they drive and what they ate for breakfast.)
Look who’s talking (great copywriter, distinctive brand voices)
To appreciate the value of a strong and distinct brand voice, we need only look to some of the big companies who are getting it right (I typed, then deleted ‘smashing it’ – that’s definitely not something my brand voice would say.)
‘We make natural, delicious drinks that help people live well and die old.”
Innocent have one of the most distinctive and clever brand voices out there. It’s friendly, inclusive, conspiratorial and fun. While the concept is cleaver, the voice itself if straight-forward and clear. r
Innocent refer to their HQ as ‘fruit towers’ and encourage you to call them on the ‘banana phone.’ They’re not afraid to be quirky and irreverent, which appeals to a younger audience. But you’ll notice that they also give clear information about the quality and health benefits of their product, which appeals to an older market who are make buying decisions for their families and are looking for healthy and tasty options (Innocent also let us know just how much they value their customers by describing their products as both ‘delicious’ and ‘natural’ – a combination that’s hard to pull off.
Right behind gay footballers.’
‘Who’s the mass-debator (Clegg Vs Farage)’
Paddy Power take risks with their brand voice, particularly through their advertising campaigns. They’re not afraid to shock – in fact, they go all out to schock (and anyone who doesn’t like it, isn’t their target market anyway.’
his appeals to their young, male audience. Their brand voice is jokey and laddish, addressing their customers as if they were mates, in on the jokes and ready to join in with the pranks.
This brand voice may cut close to the bone on occasion, but Paddy Power are deliberately excluding those who are too stuffy and humourless to appreciate what they’re doing. This creates a feeling of inclusion for those who enjoy and share their voice.
The brand also work hard to use language that helps people see them as individual people, working together – rather than as a faceless corporation. This helps to build both trust and loyalty.
Brewdog are straight talkers. They’re just two normal guys who are too busy making great beer to have time to mince words. The brand’s ‘About Me’ web page sums this up brilliantly.
MARTIN AND I (JAMES) WERE BORED OF THE INDUSTRIALLY BREWED LAGERS AND STUFFY ALES THAT DOMINATED THE UK BEER MARKET.
The language is unfussy and direct. They’re not afraid to speak plainly about their successes (‘2013 was pretty epic’) but they let us see their fallible, human side too (opening a bar in our home town was a dream come true.) Brewdog’s brand voice addresses its target audience as equals, using very relaxed informal language that simplifies the decision-making process for customers…
‘Wanna sign up to this newsletter?’ They ask, casually. ‘Sure, why not? We reply.
‘Bad decisions make good memories.’
‘Get dressed up to get messed up.’
Missguided, an online clothing band, has cultivated a cheeky, witty brand voice that draws the reader in by sharing in a sense of mischief and fun. Their use of up-to-the-minute slang terms (‘slay it’ and ‘seriously bangin’) resonate with their young, female audience. Their address is direct and confident. ‘Girl, it’s cold outside….’ – making it hard to resist their offering.
How your brand voice could be affecting your business.
If you’ve never given any thought to developing your brand voice, chances are that it’s currently pretty confused and, therefore, confusing. You may also have fallen into some bad habits when talking about your business. That’s understandable. We’re all pushed for time. So we get jobs ticked off as and when we can, sending a few tweets while we wait in line at the post office or dashing off a blog post in half an hour, paying little attention to tone, language and consistency with other work.
But each and every time we do this, we’re at risk of diluting and devaluing our brand by failing to maintain a consistent and commanding voice. Running my own copywriting business, I know that it’s important to build tust with potential customers, in order to make sales. But we don’t spend enough time thinking about how to communicate with them clearly.
If you take one thing from this article, it’s that the language you use to describe your brand should never be accidental.
Setting some time aside to work on a strong brand voice is a sensible investment in your business. Even devoting half a day to put down some simple guidelines on paper will make a difference. It will also allow other members of your team to write copy with a consistent tone, freeing you up to do other things.
How can a freelance copywriter help me with brand voice?
As a freelance copywriter, I help brands find their voices, across both print and online materials. Working with me will make the process of developing this voice much faster, less stressful and, ultimately, more successful. Choice of language, consistency of use, correct spelling and grammar – they’re all vital to proving legitimacy and building trust. Collaborating with a professional copywriter, who understands the process of finding and shaping a clear brand voice, is a valuable investment long-term investment.
When I do brand voice work with your business, I’ll leave you with a document that remains useful long after my invoice has been paid (within seven working days, if you please.) This list of do’s and don’ts, when writing about your brand, can be applied to anything from a tweet to a ten-page proposal, works for both printed and online materials and can be shared with your team, in order to streamline brand voice across your, erm, brand.
Together, we’ll make decisions on areas like;
• Formal vs informal language
• Slang vs proper terms
• Words to use regularly
• Words to avoid like the plague
• Alternatives to jargon
• Level of technical language
• Use of profanity
• Using inclusive words (e.g. people with a disability vs the handicapped)
• Standard greetings (Dear Sir / Madam, Dear Friend, Hi Y’all)
• Using I or we
• Active or passive voice
• Key qualities / values and how to convey these
Answering these questions (and more) will help you write copy that’s clear and consistent, building trust with your readers as they begin know what to expect (and to seek out your content, as they enjoy its tone and may even like sharing it with friends.)
Inconsistency in brand voice
Many businesses find that, because their marketing materials have been written by lots of different people, there is no consistency of language or tone. Brand voice guidelines will help to address this issue and can be given to any copywriter that you choose to work with on future projects (which, of course, I hope will be me…)
It’s never too late to develop a great brand voice, even if you’re been writing your own copy for years. Many businesses choose to do this sort of work when they’re rebranding or developing a new product or service, but there’s always room to improve on what you already have.
I can take a look at existing copy, to let you know where you’re going wrong, identifying poor choices in vocabulary and unhelpful language patterns. I can also help you find clearer ways to say what needs to be said.
My brand voice guidelines can also help you brush up on the basics of structure and style – so that you can make conscious, deliberate decisions with your copy. For instance;
- What tense do you need to use for the piece?
- What level of formality is required and how should this be conveyed?
- Are you using the active or passive voice?
Even basic formatting decisions are important in keeping copy consistent and identifiable;
- How will you write numbers (1, I, one)
- What format will you use for dates (12/09/1981 / 12th September 1981
- Will you use acronyms or write names in full? (RSPCA / Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Working with a copywriter is a great investment
Once language guidelines have been written and absorbed, using them will become second nature to you and anyone else who writes copy for your business. If you decide to work with a copywriter in the future, these guidelines will already be in place, offering a useful framework and cutting down on costs, as the writer will be able to dive straight into the job.
Once you’ve absorbed your guidelines and begun to use them regularly, your confidence in writing for your brand will also grow. Whether you’re penning a quick social media post or a spending days crafting an important funding bid, you’ll fall comfortable into talking ‘as’ your brand and will create better quality content that your audience are more likely to engage with and act on.
Creating a brand voice is also a useful exercise in exploring and reconnecting with your company. So often, we make decisions without much conscious effort or thought. If you’ve fallen out of love (or have never been in love) with writing about your brand – now is the time to make that commitment.
Get in touch today, to discuss brand voice work. I’ll put together a bespoke quote for your business, based on the level of involvement you need and the mediums you’ll be writing for.
Consistency with language builds trust.
Trust builds loyalty.
Loyalty turns a stranger into a customer. A customer into a regular.
A freelance copywriter can you achieve this, by producing a set of guidelines for your brand voice.