Swearing, Slang, and Other Decisions That Define Your Online Voice

When you begin to write for your digital marketing, you'll quickly be faced with some critical questions about how you want to communicate with and come across to your audience. While your voice will continue to develop over time, it's important to make some choices about your basic style from the get-go. You want your online voice to be in line with the ethos and style of your brand, and your decisions about these elements will help set you on the right path:

SWEARING. Some of my favorite online business personalities sprinkle their content with curse words, and it totally works for them. In fact, in the right context and in measured doses, swearing can feel refreshing and honest and enliven their copy. But when cursing is overused, used inauthentically, or mismatched with your profession, it won't feel appropriate.

SLANG. Do you like to work the newest lingo into your vocabulary? Will that appeal to the folks your business serves, or might it leave them feeling confused and, as a result, alienated from your brand?

CATCHPHRASES. Have you developed a quirky phrase that sums up your business approach or how you look at the world, or that you just can't stop saying and applying to everything? Catchphrases can be fun and memorable. But before you plaster yours all over your digital content, ask yourself if this phrase is something that other people will understand right off the bat, or will it take a two-minute soliloquy to explain its connection to your business? 

MADE-UP WORDS. Do you have a vivid imagination that enjoys playing word mashup, leaving you with whimsical combinations that you're dying to work into your copy?

ACADEMIC VS. ACCESSIBLE. If your business is helping graduate students write their dissertations, or you sell consulting services to tech companies, then you'll speak to your clients differently than someone selling consumer goods or offering life coaching packages to frazzled parents. 

FLOWERY VS. MINIMALIST. Do you like to pepper your writing with a healthy dose of adjectives and adverbs, or is pared-down your M.O.?

ENERGY/CALM. Do you enjoy using high-energy, stimulating words, or is your voice calmer and more soothing or down-to-earth? Both voices can create heartfelt connections with their audiences, but they will attract different customers.

There's nothing wrong with any of these style choices. But they will have different impacts on readers and appeal to different audiences, and the significance of that cannot be overlooked.

So how do you figure out how to define your online voice?

When I conduct a voice analysis of a new client, I start by looking at four things: Who they are naturally, how they define their business, who their ideal customer is, and how those first three answers can be combined harmoniously. This simple-sounding formula is actually full of nuance. But taking an early stab at it will set you on the path toward defining your own ideal voice. Return to these questions as your business develops, and you'll continue to refine your answers and solidify your voice.

Today's To-Do

  • Write down all of the words you can think of that describe you.
  • Now write down all of the words you can think of that describe your business.
  • Describe your ideal customer. Get specific about the things that impact how they look at the world: age, gender, religion, marriage, parenthood, career, health, personality type, etc. How do these aspects of your customer's life affect his/her emotional state and his/her needs?
  • Based on your three lists -- you, your business, and your customer -- what are the overlapping elements? Think of this like a Venn diagram:

As you can see, there's that sweet spot where all three elements overlap. When you work from that point of synthesis, your business's voice comes from a place of strength and integrity, and it will resonate with your audience.

What is that sweet spot for your business's voice? Look inward at your own traits and those you want to bring to your business, and then look outward at with whom you want to connect and how your voice can accomplish that.

First and foremost, remain true to yourself, lest you strip your content of what makes your business real, unique, and relatable.

I would love to hear from you: What qualities do you strive to bring to your business's voice? What stylistic choices have you made in your copy to achieve that?

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