5 questions that define your brand’s true voice

There’s something about your business or non-profit that sets it apart. Whether it’s a service you provide, the way you communicate with your clients, or how your staff interacts, there’s something about you that makes you different. You know what it is, even if you’ve never defined it.

Now let’s define it.

1. What do we REALLY do?

Web & graphic design were the roots of this business, but as we grew, we had morphed into a consultancy, heavy on strategic planning, data analysis, and conversation. We didn’t want to compete with chintzy DIY website builders or crowdsourced overseas teams willing to slap a logo+website together for $500. We never would’ve survived.

The reputation we’d earned wasn’t about pretty pictures—it was about energized conversations and long-term relationships. If you asked our clients, though, they’d probably say we were designers. Our brand voice had a frog in its throat.

So we decided to really disrupt the misperception: We renamed the agency and relaunched the brand. Dramatic? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely. We needed to project ourselves from a new angle entirely.

It’s possible, isn’t it, that your brand voice isn’t what it was a few years ago? It’s also possible that you only think you know what your brand truly embodies—or you never have.

So let’s begin with:

  • Do you provide services? Offer goods for sale? OK, write down the full range of what you sell. Now that’s out of the way.
  • Write down your mission. That’s a lot harder. WHY do you sell the services, products, and advice that you sell? What motivates you every day to go out into the community—hell, what motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
  • Next, write down what you think your customers think you do and whether or not it’s accurate.
  • Now this is the hardest one of all: Where do you see your business or non-profit in 1, 5, and 10 years? Write it down. Be limitless. If everything went according to plan, how would your baby grow?

2. What sets us apart?

In your area, there are likely several places customers can go to get ice cream. Or are they more swayed by frozen yogurt? Some places provide plenty of mix-ins for the ice cream, while others are more traditional. What is it that makes your “ice cream parlor” distinctive from every other one in town?

What do you personally bring to the field—certifications, years involved? What’s your personal story, the tale you tell to people about what specifically qualifies you to care enough to show up every day?

Your business may offer a variety of services or products, but there’s likely one—maybe two—that are simply better than the rest.

That’s the signature flavor or dessert. It doesn’t have to be a fresh new flavor every week. The specialty could be the chocolate ice cream you’ve been selling for 5 years—same recipe, consistently ordered—but that flavor has earned you your reputation.

By clearly defining your specialty—what you do best—you know where to focus your energy and attention and what to recommend to clients who are unsure exactly how you can help.

3. How do we engage with our customers?

What kind of customer service do you provide? Defining this not only gives your employees a standard to adhere to—a brand culture—but also offers your customers an idea of what to expect each time they interact with you and your staff.

Visit your Yelp page or your Google reviews. See how the public evaluates you on Facebook or Glassdoor. Online reviews are one of the best sources for what people are willing to say publicly about your brand. 

By clearly defining your business’s brand voice and sharing it with your customers, you’re building customer relationships—and that means that you’re building loyalty.

Lacking reviews and recommendations? You can try asking for them—or build a loyalty program to stimulate the impulse in customers to refer and review you!

4. How do we engage with our community?

What causes does your company stand behind? Do you perform community service, regularly contribute to a charity, or partner with an organization to fundraise? Maybe you work with a local school or elderly community center to teach new skills. Perhaps you donate one day every quarter to volunteer work.

Publicizing the ways in which you engage with the community shows that you’re not solely focused on bottom lines and end-of-quarter results. Giving back to the community shows that your organization has soul.

5. How can I share our brand with the team?

One thing every lean startup owner and non-profit leader knows is that few people realize how hard you work—how many hours it truly takes to run the show, to stay true to how and why you show up.

Even when you’re not working, you’re working, right? Late at night in bed, in the shower, nearly any quiet moment is full of to-dos, expectations, planning—and a little hope.

Your staff must understand your vision. By giving them an idea of your brand’s mission and goals from the very first day they sign on with you, you help them to contribute at a higher level. You make them part of those goals.

Giving back is good for morale too. According to Fortune:

Our study of several hundred companies and more than 380,000 employees in conjunction with this list revealed that giving back is associated with greater employee retention, higher levels of brand ambassadorship on the part of workers and more enthusiastic employees. Staffers who believe their organizations give back to the community are a striking 13 times more likely to look forward to coming to work, compared to employees who do not perceive their employers to be generous toward the community. [Emphasis added]

Once your team is on board with the team’s message, then you’ve engaged a community from within—one whose purpose for 40+ hours a week is aligned with yours.

Your list probably won’t get shorter, but you might even get a vacation one of these days…

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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