For many writers, adopting another individual or business’s brand voice is a tricky endeavor. But for those of us who work in the growing (and vast) online marketing world, it’s an essential skill. There’s no shortage of work to be had, but success hinges on our ability to become chameleons, blending into each client’s world as if it were our own.
In my professional writing experience (particularly ghostwriting), I’ve come to utilize a few different strategies for imitating my clients’ varying brand voices. While this list isn’t completely exhaustive, it covers the tactics I use most often to capture the essence of the people and businesses I write for. Let’s dive in!
1. Adopting a Persona / Getting Into Character
I tend to think of emulating brand voice as adopting a persona or getting into character. My most significant pre-professional experiences with those concepts came through competitive martial arts and theatre. These two points might seem like a strange pair, but roll with me for a sec.
I got my earliest practice adopting a persona through competitive martial arts. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I come off as a pretty quiet introvert at first. But when I got involved in Tang Soo Do in 8th grade, I quickly latched onto forms (or kata). Before long, I decided to start competing.
I knew that my default, first-impression personality wouldn’t jive well with competition mentality. So I developed a persona that did: confident, strong, and precise. Once I hit the competition ring, I switched on that mindset and I was like a different person. And I won awards quite often.
My competition mindset paid off when I got involved in school and community theatre--which further developed that ability to get into character. When you’re playing a role, you have to dig deep into who your character is, what their motivations are, and how they would behave and interact with the other characters on stage. You have to become that person when you play that role. This can translate into ghostwriting for a client, particularly if you're developing in-depth projects and crafting content from scratch.
If you’ve been involved in performance or competition of any kind, particularly theatre, being able to get into character as your client can dramatically impact your ability to write in their distinct voice.
I’m a natural mimic. I tend to study people’s mannerisms and listen closely to how they speak. And if you know me well, you know I love to do impersonations. (As a fun aside, some of my favorite shows and films are parodies and comedies like Saturday Night Live that feature actors mimicking other famous personalities.)
Mimicry is great in comedy, but I’ve learned it’s also a useful talent to infuse into my ghostwriting. As ghostwriters, our job is to mimic our clients. And we want to do that so well that our readers have no idea where our clients end and we begin.
Depending on the depth of the project, mimicry might be all you need to tap into in order to write a great piece in your client’s voice. Pay attention to how they speak, their signature catchphrases, and their tone--then translate those onto the page as you craft their content. Careful observation is key when it comes to successfully mimicking the people and businesses we write for.
This strategy works particularly well when you’re working with individuals, although you can learn to mimic a company’s brand voice, too (it just won’t be as dependent on listening to individuals speak, unless they somehow embody the brand).
Keep in mind that sometimes, our clients say things they may not write in their content. It’s important to suss that out as you get to know your client, being careful not to throw in casual or conversational overtones they might not want to come through in their brand voice.
3. Using Existing Content and Material to Inform the New
Unless your client is undergoing a brand voice overhaul, you should be able to tap into existing content in order to familiarize yourself with their unique voice. All forms of content should be fair game--blog posts, books, articles, interviews, videos, speeches, podcasts, and more. Audio recordings are particularly valuable here, as you can observe your client’s speaking style (as mentioned above) and cadence.
If you’re creating weekly content for your client, you might even be able to re-purpose or use some of their existing content as derivative material. This should accelerate the process of learning and imitating their brand voice, as you’ll be working directly with works they’ve already created. (Also, it goes without saying: please don’t simply copy/paste from old works, and get your client’s permission before you leverage this strategy.)
It's also essential to consult your client’s brand style guide. This will give you tremendous insight into the tone they want to convey across all their content and assets. This guide, combined with other existing content, will give you more than enough information to help you adopt that distinct voice.
4. Interviewing Your Client
When I have the opportunity to interview my clients for blog posts, articles, or website copy, I jump on it. In fact, it’s my primary information-gathering strategy for my web copy projects.
Crafting blog posts based on interviews gets you the best of both worlds in real time: you’re taking notes straight from your client’s mouth, and you’re getting a chance to observe their mannerisms and speaking style. Interviews are fantastic because, while you’ll be crafting and refining the content with an expert hand, you can still use many of your client’s exact words as a foundation for the assignment.
You can employ multiple strategies to capture the interview, too, depending on what works best for you. I use a combination of note-taking, bullet lists, and voice recording when I conduct client interviews. Again, it all depends on what you need in the moment.
What are your brand voice strategies?
The ability to be “voice-versatile” can come from a number of unexpected places. (I mean, who would’ve thought I could tie martial arts back to my writing?) Once you make those connections for yourself, you’ll be able to craft your own unique set of writing strategies that will help you slip easily into your clients’ brand voices. Chameleon is the name of the game.
What strategies do you use to adopt your clients’ brand voices? Any that are unconventional or out-of-the-box? Have you traced back specific life experiences you’ve been able to employ in your copywriting or ghostwriting work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!