If you’ve written anything for your business (a product description, an Instagram caption, an about page), you already have a voice - whether you meant to have one or not.
Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘oh no, this lady wants to talk to me about marketing.’ But trust me when I say that, while I know the phrase Building A Brand Voice sounds boring and arduous, it’s really not that bad.
I spent some time in corporate America, and I saw how difficult it was to cultivate and maintain a consistent communication style for a large company with many public-facing writers. We had pages upon pages of guidelines, dos and don’ts, and examples. While that thought might make you break out in cold sweats, adopting this approach on a smaller scale can help you determine your shop’s purpose and place in the world. And with a few simple exercises, you can be sure that your artistic spirit and individuality will shine through.
Determining what you value and what resonates with you will help you figure out where your strengths lie and where you should focus. So let’s look inward: What are your favorite shops, websites, artists, personalities, television shows, or books?
I’m inspired by:
Once you have a list of your own, ask yourself what you like about each of these things. Are there one or two traits that everything you listed has in common? For example, my favorites are emotionally vulnerable or darkly funny (or both). This makes sense for what I’m selling - emo-inspired shirts and buttons for sensitive weirdos. There are other parts of my personality, of course, but those parts probably wouldn’t make sense for my brand. For now, the Pinterest board of inspirational quotes will have to wait for another project.
Create a moodboard
Compiling a visual reference for a writing exercise may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve found it helps get your creative juices flowing. Personally, I’ve always preferred the analog experience (it’s safe to say my collage habit is helping keep the magazine industry afloat). If you’re more digitally inclined, this could take the form of a Pinterest board. Digital scrapbooking gives you access to more source material with less mess. I guess it all depends on your approach and your tolerance for glue-hands.
Once you’ve settled on a method, have at it! Add things that remind you of the work you’ve created and what you’re trying to sell: words, phrases, colors, photos. There are no rules here.
For example, my moodboard for The Aging Emo includes song lyrics, band merchandise, interior decor, street style, and old Myspace photos (hey, I said “no rules”). I essentially built a visual representation of what I think when I hear “emo.”
Create a list of adjectives
Once you have a moodboard, start thinking more specifically about your customer base and other shops they might browse. Choose a list of three (or more) adjectives that best describe your brand.
For The Aging Emo, I chose the following:
Next, find a limiting adjective that corresponds to each of the words you’ve chosen. I might say that The Aging Emo is nostalgic but not old-fashioned, or irreverent but not offensive. This helps create boundaries, within which you can cultivate a unique voice.
You may need to do this exercise more than once before you’ll feel like you’ve nailed it. For me, a person selling $1.50 buttons to grown-up sad kids, an extremely personal voice makes sense for my business. If your customer base is wider (maybe you make stationery or jewelry, or something even less niche) you might want to find adjectives that are more universally positive than “melancholy.”
Now you know where your voice comes from! After these exercises, maybe you’re noticing that your writing already falls within your new guidelines. Great! You’ll use this as a reference moving forward. If it doesn’t, you can overhaul your existing content with a fresh look at how each element supports your voice.
Remember that these rules aren’t set in stone. If you start incorporating your new style into product descriptions and realize that it doesn’t feel right, start over from step one. You’ll know the right voice when you find it.
Amy Brown is a writer, freelance marketing strategist, and small business owner in Columbus, Ohio. She used to run social media for a major fast food corporation.