Copywriting is the art and science of using words to move your audience to action. Let’s talk copywriting, but not just copywriting for copy’s sake, we’re going to show you how to find your unique voice in your copy. It’s 2017 and the good news is, becoming a small business owner has become more and more possible. The bad news? It’s also become more common and thus more competitive. Before you turn your turbo-jets on and set out to win the race, what if you could find a way to stand out and take flight right from the lane you’re in – simply by finding your unique voice. Sound too good to be true? Hear me out and I’ll let you be the judge.
Find Your Voice
The last thing any of us want to do is blend in when we’re born to stand out. Before you eye roll at that overt cliche, think about the truth of that statement. You were born to stand out. So your primary job, before solidifying the logo, brand colors, or hiring the photographer, is to slow your hustle and really ask yourself – what makes me different? Let’s walk through a few actionable pieces and practices so you can really own whatever it is.
Determine Your Core Values
This one I love and warning, it may also come with a bit of a tangent. Core values are so important and I hear a lot of creatives hyping them up and plastering them to their About pages. That’s great but what’s even better is when they also live outside of your About page and are articulated throughout all of your copy. For example, you could tell your audience “My core values are generosity, adventure, integrity, and fun.” Or…
You could show your audience by having a give-back or donation fund that shows your commitment to giving and service. You could post pictures working from various coffee shops throughout your city or of your recent travels as photos on your site to show your love of trying new things. You could be goofy and silly on your Insta-stories and use emojis in your writing to show your true personality. Does that not show your core values in a much more powerful way? Bonus, tell me why those values matter and how your business has set out to make an impact.
Moral of the story: Be less concerned with how perfectly you can articulate and achieve a printed list of core values, and more intentional about how you can align your life and business with them so it speaks for itself.
Timeline & Storytelling
Think about your life as a non-linear timeline. Where have you seen the dots connect and pieces of your experience start to click and form the whole of where you are now? For example, I was a D1 athlete in college and later worked for a yoga athletic apparel company, lululemon athletica. In my time there I fell in love with not only the health, wellness, and athletic side of it, but also their approach to marketing and digital communications. It was all about connection, community, and cultivating a spirit of growth and development.
Suddenly my “worthless” college English major started to take on a new application. Before I knew it, I had to be in the field of communications and creative entrepreneurship. So today, I love working with athletes, trainers, foodies, and retail business. We get each other because parts of my story align with theirs. What is your story?
This brings me to another question, do you know who you’re talking to? (Hint: Your audience isn’t everyone.) If not, discovering your audience is a good place to start. If you’re attempting to talk to everyone, you are going to sound like everyone! And you want to sound like you, addressing a very specific individual. That’s how people get that feeling of, “It’s like they wrote that for me!” In the words of author and copywriting professional, Ann Handley, “Your point of view is your bigger story – your broader perspective – that represents who you are.”
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Define your unique value + communication style
Create Brand Guidelines
Next, you’ll want to start compiling your values, story, and voice into what’s known as Brand Guidelines. (There’s still no color palettes or mood boards in this one.) Also known as Brand Messaging, Brand-isms, and so on, it’s essentially a document that explicitly highlights attributes unique to your communication style. Are you from the South? Does ya’ll come naturally in your copy? Or maybe you’re from the West and prefer the use of ‘yous’? It’s these little idiosyncrasies that help identify you as you, so that with or without your visual brand elements someone will still be able to say, “X wrote that.”
Things to include: mission statement, value proposition, tagline, core values, punctuation preferences (oxford commas, parentheses, exclamations, etc.), favorite emojis, common phrases, a bank of favorite words, word descriptors (i.e. cheeky, humorous, sarcastic, heartfelt, soulful), “you-isms”, etc.
It doesn’t have to be a standardized list and I recommend it be a work in progress. This is also helpful for when you add new team members, copywriters, editors, or other freelancers. You’ll be able to share your brand guidelines rather than trying to figure out how to help them learn how to sound like you/the same brand.
Pass the Party Test
Now that you’ve started getting a feel for your unique voice, you’ll want to test your copy. Some things sound cute and clever in our heads, but when said aloud they aren’t as appealing. To try this out, pretend you’re at a party and you say something from your brand guidelines to a group of friends. Do they tilt their heads to the side in awkwardness and confusion, or does it flow right along and maybe even get a solid laugh or metaphorical high five?
This test helps you feel confident in your word choice and elevator speech before you share them. Our home page does this by simply stating what we do and who we do it for right. It’s a value-driven pitch with little room for confusion.
Keep it Personalized, Not Personal
What’s most important is that your copy feels human, natural, and authentic. For example, do you share openly and honestly about things but also know when to not spill it all on the internet? Sometimes a conversation with your mom or best friend might serve as a better channel for true connection.
Digital writing is still about engagement, but always be careful not to sell your heart for the sake of readership or sales. Only you can discern in each instance what brings the most value to your readers and to your spirit as a creative professional. Be ruthlessly empathetic to their needs, never self-indulgent.
For example, Paper & Oats starts off her home page by succinctly and uniquely telling you exactly what she can do for you. Her copy and graphics work in tandem here keeping it clear, concise, and personalized! She keeps it down to earth and uses her voice without sacrificing content.
Create More Than You Consume
It’s borderline impossible to be original when you’re constantly consuming media from competitors or fellow creatives. It’s great to engage with others and even do some industry research, but if for several days you find yourself taking in more content than you’re expelling, it’s time to get to work! Close all the other tabs, vow to stay off Instagram for the rest of the day, crank up the tunes and work on the first project you feel led to.
Another great way to source inspiration is to look outside of your industry, like interior design, the food industry, a magazine. You’ll get ideas but won’t feel stifled trying to further innovate the content.
Keep it Consistent
This one might seem obvious when we’re talking about finding your voice, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes it feels like we’re constantly repeating ourselves, but that’s a good thing! It takes that kind of repetition for people to grab hold of it (For example, Nike’s “just do it”). Everlane has set themselves apart in the clothing industry with real transparency about their prices and where their products come from.
As soon as you land on their about page, they highlight their core values throughout their web copy and keep a tone unique to their brand. You could crop a piece of their copy and know it’s Everlane without seeing their logo or branding!
Connecting Your Voice to Your Why
Finding a unique voice often comes from grit, that’s why successful entrepreneurs are so good at it. They evade noise because they know what it’s like to stand among the clutter, fully experience the problem, and find a solution for cutting through it. As said by Simon Sinek, they go beyond profits (the results) and address the why (the purpose, cause, or belief). That differentiates you and invites people on your mission. Always speak from that motivation because, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” (Simon Sinek).
What strategies do you use for finding your voice? What has been the most helpful or the most challenging?