How to Capture a Client’s “Unique Voice”
Here’s an email I got last week from Circle of Success member Colin:
I recently negotiated with a prospective client. We were agreeing on strategy, content, client focus, products, and sales expectations. Then, bang! The topic of tone and voice came up, as we drilled into the details.
“I’m so unique that I don’t believe anyone can write in my voice. My voice, my style, and my message are as important as any product. I think I have to write the copy myself. You can edit it.”
This got me thinking about voice.
We, as copywriters, are encouraged to find our own voice. We also need to write in the client’s voice. On top of that, we have to resonate with the voice inside the customer’s head.
So many voices! Call me Sybil.
Could you write about voice, please?
Colin is dead on when he says you must find your own voice as a copywriter. But, he’s also right when he exclaims there are so many voices to pay attention to in copywriting.
So many voices … how do you make sense of it all?
I’ll start by looking at voice and bringing some clarity to this complex subject.
After that, I’m going to debunk the misconception Colin’s client held. It’s not impossible to capture a client’s “unique voice.” The strategy for doing it is easy … and one you’re probably familiar with.
First off, there’s no simple one or two sentence definition for voice. The subject is too complex to distill into something simple.
To begin with, there are two voices: Copywriter’s voice and letter writer’s voice (the voice of the person whose signature appears at the end of the sales letter). In Colin’s case, the client was the letter writer.
So, what do we mean when we talk about your copywriter’s voice?
Copywriter’s voice: Your subtle, unique stamp on everything you write
Your copywriter’s voice is the quality of writing that saturates all your writing. This voice is you. Look at John Forde’s writing. I can almost always tell when he’s the copywriter, regardless of what letter writer’s voice he’s using.
Your voice is revealed by things like how you construct your sentences. How you use fragments (like I did here). What words you subconsciously choose. The rhythm and pacing of your words. (Called diction in your literature classes.)
There’s really only one way to develop your personal copywriter’s voice: write. Write, write, and write some more. Write every day. With practice, you become a more natural writer. You don’t have to stop the writing process to figure out how to say what you want to say. It flows more naturally.
The more you write, the more distinct and effective your personal writer’s voice becomes.
Letter writer’s voice: Giving voice to the client’s product
I know talking about the “letter writer” can be confusing. But here, I mean the person who signs the sales letter, not the copywriter.
A sign of an accomplished copywriter is that he’s able to write in different voices for different letter writers. It’s a lot like writing dialog for a novel, play, or movie. Each character has a very distinctive voice, although the same writer has written that voice.
Here’s a good example: In one of the COS Targeted Learning Programs, we use an alternative-health promotion for Mountain Home Nutritionals written by Kent Komae. This letter provides an excellent example of “letter writer’s voice.”
When you read Kent’s letter, you can hear Dr. David Williams (the “letter writer”) talking to you. He has a certain style and rhythm. That’s Dr. Williams’ voice. (If you don’t have access to Kent’s promotion, find a promo where you can really “hear” the person speaking to you in the letter.)
So, if you write several promos for the same “letter writer,” you have to make sure his or her voice stays the same.
How do you keep that “letter writer’s voice” consistent? This gets us back to the problem Colin presented … how to capture his client’s unique voice.
Using a familiar strategy to capture voice
You must do two things to nail down that voice.
First, read everything you can that’s been written in the letter writer’s voice.
Second, pick two or three samples of that voice that are most consistent with each other. Then, hand copy those samples until the voice contained in them flows naturally as you write.
This sounds familiar, if you’ve taken the AWAI Accelerated Program. Hand copying letters like this invokes a powerful strategy called structural priming. (You can read about it by clicking here. Structural priming lets you write in the style and voice of the promotion’s letter writer … or, of your client, even if he thinks it’s impossible.
This strategy works well. It’s used by many successful copywriters to pick up the necessary voice of a promo.
But, the bottom line for developing voice goes back to the single most important thing you can do to become a successful copywriter. Write. All the time. Write.
I’d love to hear how you capture voice in your writing … or, about anything we’ve talked about today. Let us know your thoughts below.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance
At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »