A brand is essentially an expectation. It goes beyond what you sell and says something about what people can expect when they do business with you. A fundamental part of that brand identity is the tone of voice. A brand voice used consistently across all channels helps to reinforce the expectation. Customers and prospects get a unified sense of the personality of your business.
Your brand should sound the same if a prospect is looking at your web pages, your blog, social media or printed marketing. The voice you use should be consciously designed to be attractive to your target market.
Through your authentic brand voice, prospects will get a feel for what the experience of working with you will be like. This should help nudge them along to the point where they are ready to make an enquiry.
Developing the right brand voice is harder than it might sound. Small and medium-sized B2B companies frequently struggle to come up with an engaging and consistent tone of voice. In my experience, there are three main reasons for this. First, there is the sheer weight of other stuff that has to be done to keep existing customers happy. Second, businesses don’t have a clear enough picture of who they are talking to. Finally, they look inwards rather than outwards to find the right voice.
Are Your Customers Just Like You?
There’s a principle as old as marketing itself that guides the search for the right brand voice. The principle is that you talk to your customers in their own language. If your customers were just like you then it would be less of a challenge. They rarely are.
Talking to customers in their own language means research. And it means thinking long and hard about who your customers really are and which ones are most important for the future of the business. Don’t be put off by this. Some fairly simple online surveys and a bit of analysis can give you an accurate enough picture of 80% of your core market.
At the most basic level, you want to document what job your prospects do and what is the biggest problem that you can help them to solve.
Once you’ve worked out who your prospects are, how they behave, and what motivates them to act, you can start to understand how you need to position your business in their minds. This too needs to go into the development of your brand voice.
At the most basic level, you want to document what job your prospects do and what is their biggest problem that you can help them to solve.
If you’re selling to corporates the tone may be different compared to selling to SMEs. But never forget that corporate buyers are still human. B2B buying decisions are still based on who people feel comfortable working with. The rational, objective analysis usually comes later, mainly to justify the purchase decision.
Beware the HIPPO
Few B2B SMEs have the equivalent of a chief marketing officer who has the final say on all things marketing. Important decisions are often made collectively. Often, the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HIPPO) holds sway.
Be careful of being drawn into a process where the brand voice becomes a question of interpreting what the HIPPO believes the business should sound like – their opinion in other words. The word ‘punchy’ will probably come up at some point, which means different things to different people. And your prospects might not like being punched.
Keep your focus on how customers and prospects want to be spoken to and how you can use language to sound more welcoming.
Otherwise, the marketing manager or assistant will have a real problem when they try to brief an agency or develop copy that sounds right. They will inevitably get it wrong – because nobody is quite clear about what ‘right’ is.
Professional services businesses (accountants, solicitors, commercial property agents etc) often believe they need to sound authoritative. It’s all too easy to end up publishing content that seems designed to impress peer groups, rather than have a conversation with an ordinary person who could become your customer. It can be really hard to break out of this mindset.
Roleplay a conversation with one of your customers (maybe use one of your best salespeople for this).
Record the conversation.
Compare a transcript of the conversation to the content you have on your website.
Do they sound remotely similar?
How to Put the Voice into Action
It takes considerable writing skills to take those insights and turn them into copy that gets your message across and prompts your prospects to take action. And, wrapped up in all of this, you need to find a voice that is distinctive and authentic.
Because your customers are not ‘just like you,’ you have to look outwards to find your voice.
Hopefully, if you have struggled to find the voice of your brand some of this will make sense. You can then start a new search for your brand voice but, this time, looking in the right places. A professional copywriter may be able to help. I always start by talking about your customers. And I will inevitably have a different perspective – because I’m an outsider.