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EPISODE 38: How to Document Your Client’s Brand Voice

by Jun 15, 2021Brand Voice, Podcast

Learn how to document your client’s brand voice. In this episode we will cover:

  • Our company history with brand voice
  • How tapping into brand voice benefits writers
  • How tapping into brand voice benefits businesses
  • The basic 3-step process for documenting brand voice

Brand voice is North Star’s bread and butter. Our clients know us for our ability to find and replicate their brand’s unique voice authentically in copy. And while we’ve talked about the basics of brand voice before, we want to go deeper now. 

In this episode, we’ll explore some of the benefits of tapping into brand voice {for both writers and business owners}. Plus, we’ll give you a high-level crash-course on documenting brand voice in just three steps.


The Benefits of Tapping Into Brand Voice

One of the reasons we made brand voice the cornerstone of our copywriting business was because we recognized how it benefited everyone involved: our writers and our business, but also our clients and their businesses. 

When writers can capture a brand’s authentic voice in content…

  • It saves time and energy on revisions. When the content sounds like the client from the start, they’ll have fewer requests for changes, and writers will have less work to do on future revisions. There’s a lot less wasted effort on both sides trying to figure out why something isn’t quite clicking.
  • It builds confidence. Writers feel confident in their ability to create exactly what their client is looking for, and clients feel confident their content truly reflects their business.
  • It creates transferability. When a brand has a well-documented voice, it easily allows for different people to create content within that voice. Within a copywriting agency, documenting brand voice allows writers to shift on or off projects as needed. Within a business it allows for flexibility as well, whether that’s outsourcing copy to an agency or hiring a new team member to create content.
  • It fosters better client-writer relationships. Clients are happier with the content they receive, and writers feel more comfortable working with them. The confidence, trust, and respect encourages repeat clients and longer-lasting working relationships.

So, now that you understand some of the benefits of tapping into brand voice… How do you document your client’s brand voice so you can tap into it effectively?


How To Document Your Client’s Brand Voice

At North Star, we have an in-depth Brand Voice Intensive process, but we’ve distilled that into a 3-step high-level process to get you started. Here are the three key steps to documenting your client’s brand’s voice:

  • Listen. Ask questions—even the ones they’ve answered before. You never know how they’ll respond this time! Develop your active listening skills and learn to read between the lines. Can you go deeper on a topic? Also check out other places the brand verbalizes its message, such as Facebook Lives or podcast interviews.
  • Document. Yes, actually write it down! Get verbatim quotes and keep track of specific words and phrases the brand uses {and the ones it doesn’t use}. Document key stories surrounding the founding of their business or other pivotal moments.
  • Refine. Brand voice isn’t static—it needs to evolve with the business. Periodically revisit the first two steps to make the necessary updates. Did the brand stop using a certain word or phrase? Has its audience shifted, so messaging needs an adjustment? 

Through these basic steps, you can begin outlining and replicating the unique voice of any brand!

Ready to dive deeper into brand voice? Check out these additional resources to learn more:


More Brand Voice Resources

The North Star Brand Voice Intensive Process



Jessi: Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

All right, welcome back to another episode. We are back together for another episode with both Marie and myself, and we are diving into a series where we are going to start getting into some of the details around brand voice. And we talked about brand voice on a high level earlier on in the podcast way back in some of our earliest episodes, which we'll make sure to link to in the show notes. And we thought that this was a good time to circle back to that idea and talk about it from slightly different perspectives. Brand voice is really at the end of the day, the thing that has allowed us as business owners and us as content creators to really establish ourselves and allow our clients to see a lot of success through their content without feeling like they are sacrificing any authenticity. And so we really wanted to sit down and have a conversation with those of you out there listening, especially those of you who are writers out there listening, about how you can leverage brand voice as a tool in your toolbox to help you create a more sustainable writing business for yourself, where you have clients who adore you and want to keep you on longterm, because you are essentially chameleoning yourself into their voice in a way that feels really authentic.

Yeah. So this episode came out of a question and the question is, how do I know when it's a good time or a good idea to document my client's brand voice? Like at what point can I just kind of keep it in my head and just go based on intuition or my experience with them, you know, maybe I've been working with them for years and years. And at what point does it really make sense to say, okay, I'm going to write some of this stuff down. And I think, you know, your mileage may vary as with all these things. So all we can do is share our experience. But obviously we're huge proponents of brand voice and documenting it because I think even if you do have that intuitive, deep understanding over time, just the process of documenting it will bring things up for you.

Yeah. And you know, there's, there are a multitude of reasons why documenting brand voice is valuable. Not just that it helps you kind of create that deeper understanding, but also access it easily. So if you step away from the client and then you go back to them, you don't have to spend as much time reorienting yourself. But it also means that you are not the only holder of all of this knowledge. So if you ever do grow your team or get support, or even work with someone who's in a complimentary field from yours, like for example, a visual branding expert, you can share in that knowledge and all benefit from it. And so there's a lot of reasons why having an actual physical documentation or digital documentation of a brand voice can be really valuable. And this is something that we didn't do for a while.
We are so passionate about documenting it now, because for a really long time, we didn't. And in not documenting brand voice, we ran into a lot of problems and they were the same problems over and over again that we saw repeated and that I'm pretty sure a lot of the writers listening can probably relate to. The most frequent issue that we would run into is we would dive into a project and the client would be really complimentary about the writing itself, as far as yeah. That blog post talked about what I wanted it to talk about, or that website page is the format that I would want it to be in. And I have a million revisions and here I want to insert my voice into it even more so than how it was written initially, or we get feedback that it was great, but kind of missed the mark a little bit. That feedback we realized was often because we didn't take dedicated time upfront to talk about brand voice and to not just talk about it, but document it. As a result, we were relying on our intuition and sometimes our intuition was right on the mark and sometimes it wasn't, and that's totally normal. And it really meant that our client projects sometimes dragged a little longer than they needed to. And that's frustrating for us and for our clients.

Yeah. I'm going to go way, way back to my college days where I remember... I was an English major in college, which meant a lot of essay writing and I wrote a senior thesis that was even more essay writing. And I remember it was probably late in my sophomore year, maybe my junior year that I had this like revelation. And it was like, Whoa, Whoa, that sounded really sleazy. But I was like, wow. I just, that like, every time I write a paper, if I get critique on it from my professor, it's about the content and here, not about how I'm presenting the information. And I realize, cool, I've developed this like academic voice that I can apply. And literally none of my professors have an issue with it. Like I've found I've cracked the nut, you know?
And so then I, you know, years later, I'm writing for clients and it turns out my voice wasn't always, you know, every single client was a new nut to crack. Right. And so it was a little challenging. And I think, um, this process has been so helpful with all of those things Jessi was talking about and something that, you know, you kind of alluded to a second ago, Jessi, about, this happened to us when we, we landed a client who was kind of one of our dream clients. He was like kind of influential. Like he was one of those people that when we decided we wanted to work with business owners. We're like, yeah, someone like him. But like then all of a sudden he's like wanting to work with us. And we're like, okay. So we worked with them, we went through the brand voice process and he was like, cool, wow, you you've got my brand voice. Very few people can do that. And then that was like for one-off campaign. And then like, I think it was a year later, he was like, okay, I'm ready for another project. And we were like, good thing we wrote the brand voice out because this person has a very particular way of communicating. And if we have not documented that, I think that second project would have been a lot more painful, but as it was, he was like, this is great. So it really has saved us time, energy clients, all kinds of good things over time.

Yeah, absolutely. Those early days of struggling through infinite rounds of revisions, which for the record is not just, not having a voice process problem. That was also a boundary problem. But one of the reasons why that boundary needed to be established is because we didn't have that voice process. So, you know, I think part of it was in our early days, we needed to figure out what works for us. And the other part of it was listening to the clients themselves. And so once we actually created the early version of our brand voice process and started taking people through it, we noticed a trend in prospective clients who were coming to us and we weren't necessarily, at this point marketing the fact that we were like a brand voice content marketing agency. We weren't really talking about it as much as we do today. And yet in our sales calls, when we were talking to prospective clients, the same sort of thing kept coming up over and over again. And that was a business owner coming to us saying, I have hired people to write my content in the past, they were great writers and they could not get my voice. And so we had to part ways.
And this is something that we heard over and over and over again, really talented writers who knew their craft and knew the types of content that they were creating. But for one reason or another were unable to get that content to a place where the client felt like it was authentically representing them. And so when we kept hearing that, that's when we knew we were onto something, because we had stopped hearing feedback like that from our own clients. We had stopped hearing feedback from our clients about that since we had implemented our brand voice process. So that's when we decided, okay, we're onto something here. We need to refine this process and make sure that it's something that we can put in the hands of other writers because other writers deserve to have this tool in their toolbox.

Yeah, for sure. And I won't say it's like a magic bullet, a hundred percent of the time. There have been a handful of clients, even since we have created and refined this process where we just couldn't land it. And I sort of suspect that some of that may be due to just, you know, a mismatch in terms of communication styles potentially. But I will say that like, we have a whole boatload of evidence based on like time-tracking, customer testimonials, looking at the number of revisions that indicate and prove that this has helped more than anything else we've ever done to help us get closer to all that stuff, to make our business more efficient, to make our clients happier, to make them want to retain us more. So it's not a hundred percent, but it's, you know, 95, I mean, 99, I don't know. It's been very supportive for us and so we didn't want to just kind of keep it to ourselves.
So when we kind of thinking about that question of like, when is it beneficial to actually document a client's voice? Like, do you mean I really have to go through every single client I have and write this stuff down? Like, no, you can you do you, but, I really believe it's beneficial for any client to have a resource like this and for the writer to have the resource like this, it really can help the business messaging stay organized and on point. And I think it's really especially beneficial if the client really wants to feel secure, handing off the writing to someone else, particularly if it's the first time they're doing that, or if they've done it before and it didn't work out so well. And so they're giving it another shot, but with a little skepticism.

Yeah. You know, one of the things that I think clients want to hear early on, especially when they're interviewing writers to potentially work with is what their process is. And sometimes it can be a red flag for those clients, if you don't really have an answer for that question around specifically the voice part. Because often writers will have a process for actual content creation and maybe content strategy, but throwing in, Oh, and I have a process to capture your voice, helps that client to feel even more comforted that, Oh, it's not just untrusting your intuition person who I've never met or worked with yet it's Oh, okay. You probably have really great intuition and you have an actual process that is visible that I can see a result from, and that I can implement on my end. So it's really helpful for writers. It really, I mean, for us, it is the backbone for our business, for our writing teams, all of our writers have training in this and all of our clients have their own brand voice documented. Like Marie sent you, do you, if you don't feel like you need to read every single one of your clients, that's totally fine for us. We have found that it has been the one thing that has consistently made our projects so much simpler.

Yeah. And I mean, I think for a company like ours, to where there are multiple writers. So like if you're a freelancer who maybe has somebody else too, who who's working with you or somebody that you trust to hand things off to like. Let's say you, you know, wanna go on a four week vacation around Europe or whatever. Um, how nice would it be if you could say, okay, and here's the little packet I'm going to hand you so that you can crack the code to client A. And everybody can drill really comfortable with that. And then the other really nice thing is we ask our clients to take a look at our brand voice guide before we actually start creating content for them, because this is kind of, to me, it's the same idea as like, if I write a novel, I want a beta reader to read it before it goes out to the world or publishers or Amazon or wherever it's going.
Cause it's like, I would rather, my buddy find the error and there's only one person or maybe, you know, 10 people finding this problem, then it getting out into the world. And now there's, you know, a million, one star reviews. Okay. That would be a lot of reviews for any book, but you get the idea, right? Like it's better for the client to say early on like, Oh, that's not what I meant by this at all. So that then you don't assume the wrong thing and then base your entire website copy project or whatever it is off of this assumption that was incorrect.

Absolutely. So let's dive into how you can actually do this and we're going to talk about it sort of at a high level because we have a very specific, detailed process. And what we want to give you today is the sort of three pillars of that process, because you can create your own version of this that works for you. You may be a solo writer and you know, we have a team. And so our process may look a little bit different when you get down into the nitty gritty, but at the high level, it's going to be the same across the board. So three steps that go into this process, listen, document and refine. And we're going to talk about each of those individually, starting with listen, which really I think is probably the most important thing a writer can do, even more important than the writing. Sometimes it's the listening period.

Yeah, for sure. I would say, you know, one of the things I always tell our clients is, Hey, I'm going to ask you a bunch of questions. You're going to possibly have already answered some of these questions with me or with others, please humor me. Please answer them again because you'll never know how they're going to respond this time. And I really believe this is personally, I believe this is best done verbally because people tend to self edit themselves quite a lot when they write out a response. But if they're just talking A, it gives them a chance to say what's on their heart. And B it gives you a chance to come back and say, Oh, let's let this conversation organically evolve a little bit. I heard you say this thing. That was really interesting to me and lets you follow up.

Yeah, absolutely. It's really helpful to hear people talk a little off the cuff. And really when we are, especially I'm talking to a newer client where we're really sinking into their brand voice for the very first time. What we want to do in that initial interview is just talk as little as possible, listen as much as possible. And so that's our goal during that initial interview is we have a bunch of questions that we ask and the more they talk the better because that's more fodder for us as we're sort of taking all the information they provide and getting it down on the page as their brand voice. Of course, this really requires active listening skills. So it's not just listening to what they're saying, but listening to what might be happening between the lines. Finding those areas where maybe they could go a little deeper and typically don't. This especially tends to happen when you're talking about stories, they may brush on a topic and you can say, tell me more about that. Tell me a little bit, go a little deeper. This is essentially journalism and an interview skills. And I know that maybe you, when you decided that you want to write as a career, you didn't necessarily think, Oh, I have to have interview skills too, unless you were going into journalism, but it really is helpful to build up that muscle of comfort, asking questions, listening, and then really thinking about not just what are they saying, but what is being said, that is not actually part of the verbal response.

Yeah. The other part of this skill set. I am not an it kind of therapist or counselor. I'm not like a certified coach, like, anything like that, but like those types of skills can also be useful here for kind of listening deeply and reading between the lines.

Yeah. Especially when you're talking about some of the crucial topics for content creators, which is really knowing your client's why. Why something is important to them, not just what they're doing and not just how they do it, but why it's valuable, why they think that it's worth getting up every day to come to work and do these things, what kinds of impacts they want to have. And we found that those questions in particular, a lot of times your client will share something with you that they've been afraid to share publicly. But something about their big vision that they're like, you know, I've always wanted to do X, Y, Z, or I'm really passionate about this. I haven't talked about it, but this is where I want to go. And it's a really incredible moment having that conversation and hearing them talk about those passions, not just because it's great to support them and to provide some validation for them, but also because from a voice perspective, that's the bit that you really like might not have been tapped into before and can take your representation of their voice to the next level.

Right. And I mean, part of it's a mindset shift for the client too, because part of the reason that thing hasn't come to fruition is because they're not talking about it. And so with you being aware of it and being able to integrate it into their messaging in a way that makes sense and compliments what else they're doing, this actually gives them the courage a lot of times to actually take those steps and pursue that dream.
You don't have to just have the conversations with somebody over the phone or over zoom though. You can apply active listening skills and other areas. So, you know, you can listen to a podcast media where they were interviewed. If they went on some kind of live on social media, wherever they're spending time really verbalizing their message. Again, sort of the more like unpolished unscripted can be better for this purpose. But it doesn't have to be, but just dig in and do some deep listening as you go.
So, after you've listened, the next step of this is documenting, right? So, one of my sort of favorite things is just listening for specific words and phrases that are just very like them. You know, if it's something where you feel like, Oh, if I heard, you know, or I saw a transcript of something, I would know immediately that those was, you know, Joe over here. That's just really fun, I think. And that's the stuff that really kind of like puts the little cherry on top really makes it sparkle when you are able to turn it around and start writing. And I would suggest getting verbatim quotes as much as possible. So record those sessions if you can with them or, you know, those podcasts, great, those are already recorded. Because you can always refine their quotes in writing because sometimes people don't speak and, you know, coherent sentences necessarily. But this really helps you sort of capture the cadence. And I know that some people will say, Hey, you know, my written voice is different from my spoken voice and that's fine if somebody has decided that that's the way they want it to be, that's fine. But I tend to push back a little bit personally against that idea because my thought is okay, but if one of your values is authenticity, and sort of representing honestly who you are, it's a little weird if you kind of show up sounding like super polished and academic in writing, and then somebody pops into a sales call with you and you're extremely off the cuff colloquial and casual. It's like, who wrote that over there? You know, there's a disconnect. And so I actually really encourage the writing to reflect the natural cadence of their spoken words.

Yeah, absolutely. I want to take a quick aside here too, and mention, you know, we've been talking about this in terms of a single voice that is being captured and reflected. So, you know, a business owner who they are the sole business owner and their voice is the voice of the brand. You see this a lot in industries like coaching or like, healthcare where it's a single person's practice. However, the same process can be applied to larger organizations where there is a brand voice and there is not a single person who is representative of the brand. In fact, we are a great case study for that because it is two people who have founded the organization, myself and Marie, and we have a whole bunch of writers on our staff. We have a whole bunch of other team members and our brand voice has become this amalgamation of kind of all of our voices distilled down into how we want it represented through the brand.
And so while we're talking about, for example, documenting the specific words and phrases, when you're asking these interview questions back in the listening phase, one of the things that's really helpful if you're working with a larger organization is making sure that you know who the key stakeholders are for the voice of the brand. Depending on the size of the organization, this may be different people, different numbers of people, but making sure that the people who have a say are a part of that interview process is really important.
The process itself doesn't really change that much, though. The questions you ask, aren't really going to change that much and the way that you've documented, isn't going to change that much. So everything we're saying here applies to a larger organization as well. So, I just kind of wanted to jump in with that quick kind of aside if you're thinking, okay, wait, okay, this sounds great. But I work with this nonprofit over here, where there are like 10 people who have something to say about the way that we communicate in the brand.

Yeah. And I mean, I do think it's a conversation with your clients of, you know, whose voices need to be at the table and make sure that you're asking, you know, are there voices that aren't usually at the table that really ought to be here right now? Because a lot of times those are the people who are kind of in the weeds. They have really powerful things to say they are seeing the day-to-day, and they often have a very distinct vision for the organization or the company that really does deserve to have a light shown on it. So, ask that question, invite more voices to the table. As they're talking, you know, pay attention, if there's like particular stories, instances, types of anecdotes they frequently are touching on, or bringing up, metaphors that they're using examples that they're providing humor that they use, like, what does all that look like? Make a note of all of that. And then also I would suggest keeping a running list of words and phrases that do not align with the brand and its values. Sometimes they will volunteer this themselves and they'll say, well, I never use that. We don't use this. Ask why and that way you can say, okay, well then what's a good alternative. If that's relevant, or you can also ask them directly, like, are there words and phrases that you do not use for whatever reason and you can dig into the reasons.

Absolutely. Yeah. And so once you have this document created, you get onto the last phase, which is refined. You know, once you have the document, you can start creating content and using that brand voice and a brand voice is not static brands evolve over time individuals, they evolve over time, as well as the way in which the brand talks to its audience. The audience itself may evolve over time. And so that document that you create, where you have captured the voice is a great starting point. And it is also something that is not meant to be put in a drawer and taken out once a year or once, you know, Oh, I forgot what's that word that they use? Or what was that quote and only pulled out then it's actually a living, breathing document revisit periodically so that it reflects the evolution of your client, the evolution of their brand.
Every single time you have a conversation with your client, or every single time you engage with them in some way, maybe you watch a Facebook live that they do, or you listen to a podcast interview that they were on. All of those are opportunities for you to grab a few more words, grab a few more phrases. Oh, that's an anecdote I haven't heard before. Let me document that and add to your kind of running list of this is their voice. And to periodically check in and be like, Hey, you used to use this word and I haven't heard you use it in a really long time, or this was the metaphor you used to go to all the time. Is that not working for you now? And if not, we're going to strike it from the guide. And so that's why the last phase is refine.
Marie mentioned at the very beginning of this episode, a client that we had who a year later came back and he wanted additional content for us. We had a brand voice guide that we had created from the first project. And it was super, super helpful in creating the new content a year later. And we still met with him to see what updates needed to happen, to see if there was any additional refinement that needed to happen to that guide because a whole year had passed and things have changed within his brand. And we wanted to make sure that they were reflected in our documentation of the brand voice.

Absolutely. So as for me, I honestly, for the most part I will actually have, I have like my laptop screen and then I have a monitor. So I actually put the brand voice guide up on my second screen when I'm creating content for a client. So you can do that because you never know what inspiration you can glean from that document. And it really help you stay on target in terms of yes, their voice, but also, you know, what are their values? Is this like really being true to their values? Does the CTA makes sense, right? Like anything else that you discussed with the client, um, whether in that initial conversation or later.
So it's time for our homework. So we invite you to, um, create a list of questions to ask your client, put on that little cap that you would have as a journalism major and begin capturing their voice. I would recommend that you test these questions out on one of your clients. You might want to start with a client that you already feel like you may have a great grasp on their brand voice, just to see if the questions that you have developed kind of help you, like, the answers to those, would that be like enough that you would feel comfortable handing that off to a colleague. Because you kind of already have an understanding of their brand voice. So this will help you assess whether or not those questions are going to be powerful for you.

Yep, absolutely. And if you feel like the questions don't work, that's fine. That's also a refinement process. The questions that we asked during our interviews, they were developed over a period of years. And so, this homework assignment is not necessarily meant for you to get it right out of the gate exactly how it's going to end up. It's an exercise in creativity, really. And thinking about what questions can you ask your clients in order to get closer to their voice? And I will add that, those questions do not have to be hi client, what's your voice? Asking them questions about themselves and about their business and their goals that don't ask directly about voice, but to them to start talking, tend to be the most beneficial questions. And there's a reason we're not sharing our questions during this, because we really want you to take that creative challenge of thinking about what would best serve your client base and your specific writing style so that you can now create your own document and take ownership over the brand voice document.

Exactly so happy brand voicing! Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, Northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 

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