Don’t Find Your Voice. Refine It. Your Brand Should Not Be a Costume

echidna in star wars costume

Last night was Hallowe’en. Kids and adults alike dressed up, affected new mannerisms and appearances, and enjoyed the evening. And, at the end of the day, they shed those costumes and came back to reality. 

That’s the thing about masquerade -- you can pull it off for a day or two. You can pretend to be someone -- or something -- else, but over time cracks can appear. And once those cracks start to show, then you start losing authenticity.

It’s bad enough if you’re an actor and your audience loses its ability to suspend belief. It’s worse from a business perspective if you’re trying to be something you’re not -- and your customers find out.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from a communications training company that was promising to show how you can “create” your brand persona. The problem with that is that you are what you are -- and long-term success only comes when you embrace who you are as a brand and build your messaging from a foundation of authenticity and honesty.

Anything less and the cracks will show. And what slips through those cracks is the trust and faith that customers place in your brand.

If there’s one skill that our social-media-dominant society has refined is our ability to sniff out inauthenticity. And we’ve seen how quickly on-line sentiment can turn. The best way to avoid inauthenticity is to be yourself.

Obviously, you can refine your tone and messaging for your audience. You can write better and more concisely. But at the foundation of it all, your “voice” has to be authentic. It has to be you not only for sustainability purposes but for content creation -- if you have to “pretend” to be something you’re not, then it’s going to take longer to create content that fits the persona you’re trying to cultivate.

It’s Not About Creating; It’s About Refining

You shouldn’t build your brand voice from scratch -- crafting it out of thin air in order to fill a perceived voice. It needs to be rooted in reality and that foundation has to be solid.

It’s really not that hard. If you have a business that’s delivering messaging externally, ostensibly, you’re already a few business-building steps down the road. You’ve had an idea, you’ve been able to effectively communicate the value of that idea and convince others that it’s worth investing in. You’ve proven you’ve got a compelling voice -- so now you need to amplify it.

You’re not creating something net new -- your efforts should instead be on refining its delivery.

Going from Good to Great

What sets a great singer apart from a good singer? Technique, practice, and repetition. Good singers have a natural talent and ability that can be refined and perfected. 

But you’re never going to get a bad singer to be a great singer. You have to have the foundation first and then build upon it.

As mentioned above, you’ve already got a voice that’s compelling. You’ve been able to convince others of the value of your opportunity, so your focus should be on improving that voice, refining your delivery, and improving your technique.

The only way to do that is through practice. After all, you’re not finding your voice -- you’re refining it. 

Don’t Be Scared of “Ghosts”

If you’re a ghostwriter, you have to work diligently to understand what that voice is. Over the years, I’ve written “as” dozens of people and brands. It takes time to appreciate the nuance and you have to respect that you’re not always going to get it right the first time. 

There will be times when you get push-back and it can be challenging to interpret. After all, it’s easy to correct grammar, spelling, and content. It’s much more challenging to understand what to do when you’re told that something doesn’t “feel right.” 

But through repetition, conversation, and effort, eventually, it becomes second nature.

Accentuate the Positives

Not everyone is going to be a natural-born communicator. Some people are brilliant, but have all the personality of a wet sock. And some industries have specific requirements -- after all, I don’t want my medical professionals cracking jokes in their content.

Projecting your voice means understanding what your audience needs and expects. In the medical situation, you can be conversational but not flippant. People want and expect some sense of trust and authority, but they need to feel comfortable interacting. Casual authority is great -- a stand-up routine can be counter-productive.

So if you have that dry-but-brilliant brand voice, lean into its strengths. Focus on what’s in it for your reader and deliver it in the best possible way. Chances are they’re not looking for you to entertain them, but rather provide them information that they can use to solve problems.

There’s nothing wrong with a brand voice that’s direct and is focused on brevity and being authoritative. And if that’s the foundation upon which you’re building, then don’t try to change that too much -- it will be inauthentic.

It’s Easier to Stay in Character When You’re Playing Yourself

The larger the brand, the more players you’ll have presenting the voice. And the best way to ensure that people “stay in character” is to have the voice align with who you are and what your corporate sensibilities are. If the voice is fundamental to your business, then it’s easier for multiple people to embrace and reflect it. 

Where we run into challenges is if we’ve created a persona that’s so far away from who we actually are that we have to remember behaviours, traits, and character elements that are foreign to our day-to-day experience. 

And when those misalignments go public, it impacts our customers’ perceptions of us in a negative way. Something feels “off” because, as mentioned before, today’s customers are excellent at sniffing out inauthenticity.

In the end, Hallowe’en is a fun way to be someone else for a day. Acting can be enjoyable, but it’s also exhausting trying to maintain that facade. For your business, it’s also setting a foundation for failure. Instead, by being the best version of yourself, you’ll build customer trust and avoid the pitfalls that will come when you inevitably fall out of character.


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