Nicola Moors Talks Uncovering Your Brand Voice
In August, it was my pleasure to chat all things brand voice with Nicola Moors.
Nicola is a launch strategist and copywriter known for dunking her clients’ copy in a bucketload of their personality and writing copy that sounds like them. She’s even written in the voice of a dominatrix. She has worked with some of the best in the online world, including Jordan Gill—who brought us together!—and Ellen Yin, and has delivered brand voice training for Copyhackers, the originators of conversion copywriting.
In this interview, we discuss:
- What “brand voice” even means and why you need it
- How to know if you’ve landed on the right brand voice in your writing
- How brand voice helps you stand out from the competition while connecting with your target audience
- The difference between brand voice for your launch copy and brand voice for your book
Watch the video or read the transcript below to learn how to uncover your brand voice for launch copy and even your brand book manuscript!
Hey, Nicola. Thank you so much for sitting down with me for this chat. I’m so glad that we could talk to each other about brand voice because I know that you and I are very much aligned on this topic.
The first question I have for you, Nicola, is what do we mean when we say “brand voice”? I feel like you and I work under the umbrella term of branding, and that means wildly different things to different people. And you and I work under the same sub-umbrella of branded writing style. So tell me in your own words what you mean when you use the term brand voice.
Brand voice is the personality you’re writing in. So everybody who is writing, no matter what kind of business you have, you’ll be putting some sort of personality across. And that’s really what brand voice is. If you ask different people, brand voice is gonna consist of different things. But when you ask me, I think that brand voice is basically your language, your values, your stories, and the style that you’re writing in, and all of that envelopes to become your personality. Brand voice is really how you’re talking, and your message is what you’re saying.
Your brand voice should stay consistent no matter what platform you’re writing on, whether it’s your website, your emails, your book, social media… it all needs to be the same. And that’s really how you engender that sense of recognition when people come across your content. The way that I like to think about it is: if you were to send an email to your audience without any visual branding on it and without your name, if you have a strong brand voice, your audience should recognize who is writing that piece of content purely from the style of the writing. And especially for your clients’ email inboxes, which are getting busier and busier these days, you really need to distinguish yourself, to make sure that your emails are standing out from the crowd and attracting that person that you really want to target.
I have a follow-up question to that, but I wanna get to it later. So for right now, I want to ask you: how do we get a brand voice? If we don’t know how to uncover one for ourselves, how do we know when we’ve landed on the right one?
Oh, I love this. Most people I work with are the main person in their company. They might have a team, but they are the face of the company. So I say that if you’re the face of the company, your brand voice should be an extension of who you are. When you’re writing, it’s going to come unnaturally if you’re trying to force a different personality.
I have a process to uncover your brand voice, but the main way I look at it is this: ask your friends and family because they know the real you. It’s really hard for you to know how you come across, so ask your friends and family how they would describe you. Then look at those words and bucket them into different categories. What you’ll find is that some words will come up more than once, and some will be in the same bucket.
Then what I would do is look at your competitors. The whole point of a brand voice is to differentiate yourself from your competitors. I’m a launch copywriter. There are thousands if not tens of thousands of us in the world. But they’re not gonna have my voice, my personality. I used my brand voice on my website to set me apart from other launch copywriters. So look at your competitors and think about how their branding and their brand voice makes you feel. What is their personality like? If you were to meet this person in real life, how would you describe them?
Then look back at the words your friends and family gave you. Find the words that are different to your competitors’. That’s a really good basis for a brand voice or the beginnings of a brand personality that is you but is different from your competitors.
Then from there, you want to look at how you can stylize it. So when I talk about style, I mean what punctuation you use. Do you use italics? If so, how do you use them? Do you swear? If you swear, do you use asterisks? For example, on my website, with my brand personality, you know, I’m very right to the point. I don’t use any language that’s sort of hedging, like “I think” or “I might.” So that’s the way I show that side of my personality. That’s how you can stylize your brand voice differently. And that can be a little bit difficult.
One way I like to do this—and I always get my clients to do it—is to look at the texts you send to your friends and family. And obviously, you’re not gonna use all of your texts because they may not be appropriate for business. But texts are a gold mine because you’re writing as you, and you’re gonna use really fun language. That’s also a good place to find email subject lines. And then, if you’ve got a lot of content, you can use tools like Word Cloud, so you just copy and paste your content in there, and it will tell you what words you use the most. It’s just a little bit of a cheat way, really, to pick out some language.
If you’re starting from scratch or you don’t know what your brand personality is, I would go through all of your content and analyze it. What tone are you writing in, what style are you using, what’s the language? So do some of those exercises but for the content that you’ve already got.
So many things came up there for me. I love that you spoke about style in terms of whether we use asterisks or italics, and what kind of punctuation we use. That speaks so much to the proofreader in me. Those things count for me, but I don’t think we always acknowledge how much they also count for readers because they form almost more of a visual aspect. People aren’t necessarily always gonna remember the words, but they could recognize you as “the girl who uses the stars” or even by emojis, which are also really striking visually.
You also talked about how we uncover our own voice, making it about ourselves and yet differentiating it from our competitors’. That’s really hard to do, first of all, because most of us come from an academic background in which we’re taught to write a certain way. “Don’t use ‘you’, don’t start a sentence with ‘and’… even though those things are not actual rules! Or we might have a corporate background in which we’re supposed to be talking like businesspeople, and it’s all very serious and grounded.
We have to dismantle all these things when we’re doing web copy or any type of branded writing because otherwise it prevents us from connecting with the right audience. And to that point, my LinkedIn muse, Tania Bhattacharyya, once said on a podcast that you have to strike the right balance between using language that’s gonna make you stand out so that you can target a certain audience, but also using language that’s gonna connect with them. So, like, you wanna be unique, but you also wanna be the same. And you have to find a balance between the two.
And I would love to get your perspective on that. How do we strike the right balance in our brand voice and our writing style between the language that can identify us and the language that our audience is using so that we can connect with them? What’s the right proportion?
Got it. So just to touch upon what you said about how a lot of us have come from corporate backgrounds, we’ve been taught to write and speak a certain way, but really that isn’t who we actually are. When we start a business, we sound the same as everybody else because we’ve all been taught the same thing. This is why I’m so passionate about brand voice because it’s a really great way to show your clients who you actually are. And when you start being yourself online, you are actually gonna attract better-fit clients because they like who you are. And it means that when you go on calls with them, you can just be yourself, and it’s really liberating. It’s great.
To answer your question, in marketing jargon, we call the language that the customer uses Voice of Customer. And using Voice of Customer is really important because that’s how you’re gonna sell your products and offers. Right? I get your question a lot, and I really love answering it.
The way I approach it is I always use my customer’s language, but I’ll say it in what my friends call a Nic Name. So for example, on my website, I say, “Strategic and profitable funnels fueled by data, research, and a pinch of sass.” My customers always use “strategic,” “funnels,” “data,” “research.” The customers I work with have launched several times, and they know the importance of having data and research when writing large funnels. So all of that language is used by my audience, but I’ve made it me by adding “and a pinch of sass.” Then underneath, I say, “Online business-owning humans who aren’t afraid of going balls to the wall.” I have Fireball Whiskey as part of my branding. Again, that is speaking to a very specific type of person who’s gonna relate to that. But I’ve made it me by adding in a little joke about going balls to the wall.
When you do the research, you should know the language that your audience is using. And a lot of times, there’s gonna be crossover with your own language. So use their language, but just stylize it and make it yours. For example, if you’re writing a list of benefits for a product, what are customers gonna get out of it? Why should they care? You can add that list of benefits in your customer’s language and then maybe afterwards you add an asterisk, or something in brackets, maybe a side comment or something like that. Just adding a bit of your personality.
In terms of the balance, I don’t really think there is a set balance. I think the balance is gonna depend on how much crossover there is between your language and your audience’s language.
But one thing I will say is: for your top of funnel—that means anywhere that somebody’s coming across your brand for the first time, so maybe that’s Instagram or your welcome sequence, the top of a landing page, or sales page—in that moment, use your customers’ language as much as possible because we want to attract them and get them to keep reading on. As they get further into the funnel or further down the page, that’s when you can start to add in more of your own language.
To give you a quick example, a couple of years ago I worked with a client who helped women lose weight. The main goal of her audience was to lose weight. But the way she did it wasn’t by making them go on crash diets or by making them go for a run. Instead, she spoke to their behaviors and their thought processes. She would help them reassess when they were eating and how they were feeling in that moment.
Now, if we’d gone to the top of the sales page and said, “I’m gonna help you change your thinking and make you feel less bored at night and stop snacking.” No one’s really gonna buy that product because that isn’t what they actually want. What they want is to lose the weight, but how they’re doing it in terms of changing their thoughts and processing their emotions was my client’s language and branding, so to speak. So we wanna introduce that later on.
Also, at the top of the page, her target clients are gonna be at a much different level of sophistication about what it is that they actually want. So use their language, then sort of coach them on who you are, what you do, how you do it, and then that’s when you can bring in more of your own language. But you will find there will be more of a crossover than you thought.
That’s so interesting. Definitely, we have to pay attention and be very aware of what our audience wants, or what they think they need, and then what they actually need. So at the top, I agree that you have to start with what they want and then towards the bottom what they need because some people are gonna be solution-aware and others problem-aware. There’s a whole spectrum that you have to be aware of. So that’s really interesting.
Something else that came up for me: you have another layer that just occurred to me, another layer of this onion. Your copywriting clients… you have to pay attention to their language, their brand voice, and then also to their audience’s language because your clients want to use the language of their audience. So, Nicola, you have your own brand voice that you’re using to attract your copywriting clients, you have their language that you’re using, and then your clients’ clients’ language. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah. I have this conversation a lot, and whenever I’m writing copy, I try and point out the areas where I’m saying, “No, this is from your customer. So it isn’t gonna sound like you.” We might tweak it slightly to make it feel more like my client. But, yeah, I have that conversation a lot. And sometimes it can be hard to strike the balance because when the audience is speaking a certain way, and you have a really strong brand voice, that’s always gonna be difficult sometimes. But I love it. It definitely keeps the brain cells turning over for sure.
Now the synapses are firing. I love it!
One more question that came to mind. You are dealing mostly in web copy, and I’m dealing in books. I would think that the brand voice for those two mediums is gonna be different, and I wanted to get your initial thoughts on that.
Sure. I do web copy and launch funnels—things like sales pages and emails. I would say that the brand voice should be the same. If you’re writing an email, you’re gonna have stories in there. I mean, you’ll have to back up what you’re saying because you’re trying to make a point. And I would use that same voice in the book.
But I think that really depends on how honed your brand voice is and how true to you it is because when you’re writing web copy, you don’t necessarily have an editor. So this might be where we have slightly different thinking because when you’re seeing people write their book, you’re editing it for them and thinking, “Oh, no, this isn’t actually you speaking,” or, “Doesn’t sound like you.” So that’s probably where the mismatch is coming from and why the book sounds different to the website because they don’t have your brain on the website.
Whereas if somebody is using their brand voice on the website already and knows what it is…
(And a lot of people do. I work with clients who know how they want to sound, and it’s brilliant. And I’m trying to catch up to them. Right?)
Whereas if you have somebody who has a really good brand voice on the website, and they know what that is when they’re writing their book, it’s gonna seamlessly cross over.
See, it should be the same, but I don’t think it would be because people don’t have your brain on their website.
I didn’t think of it that way, but I have worked with a few authors who have told me in some areas, “We have to change this because it doesn’t sound like me,” after I had edited it. And that’s mostly from people whose first language isn’t English. I speak French as well, and I have a background in reverse engineering what you meant to say because you said it a certain way in English, but we wouldn’t actually say it like that. So I would change it, and then they would read it and they’d be like, “Okay, it sounds good in English, but it also doesn’t sound like me.” So I’m often working with them to strike the balance between exactly how they wanna come off while still making themselves understood by someone whose first language is English.
But the rest of my clients are often starting with the book. That’s the first thing they’re writing. They may have dabbled in some content marketing before. But I feel like when they come to me with a book, like I said before, it’s either too skewed on the academic side of language or too skewed on the corporate side. And what I’m trying to do with them is pick out the topics and ideas that are gonna really speak to their target readers, but then the whole voice of the book should be in their style.
So you might disagree with that. But it’s interesting to think about before you start writing the book, how you wanna sound, how you wanna come off. And what exactly do you wanna say to your target readers? Again, the book is not a long-winded sales pitch. It’s more like a nurture piece. By the time it hits my desk, I’m picking it apart and mining those phrases and those words, and punctuation even, that does sound like my client. Then I give them the style guide after, and I say, “This is you.” On a one-sheet. “This is how you sound. And now you can take that for all of your future writing. If it’s content marketing or launch copy or whatever, you can now just refer back to this and pick out some words and phrases so that you make sure that you, and your team, still sound like you going forward.” And I know that’s something you do for your clients, or used to do. You created what you called a “brand book,” but it was like a style guide.
Yeah! I did the same thing. And it’s so interesting. I actually did one a couple of weeks ago. I have an offer where I’ll co-create the brand voice guide with you and get it up on the screen. It’s actually fun. You’re dissecting that personality and putting it onto paper and breaking it down. And the whole point of a style guide is that, theoretically, they should be able to pass that style guide onto me, for example, a copywriter, and I should just be able to take it and write in their brand voice.
And something I just wanna mention: I don’t want it to seem like an extra layer of pressure that when you’re writing, you have to sound like yourself. It isn’t that. It’s just something to bear in mind because even though it’s a little bit of work at the beginning, once you know your brand voice and you can write it and you have this style guide, it makes everything so much easier because you’re not second-guessing anything. You can outsource copy sooner. It just makes everything a lot easier. So, yeah, don’t approach it—and this message is to people watching this—don’t approach it like, “This is something I have to do.” You do, but once you do it once, it’s done.
I love that. Do the work once, and then it’s done forever. I would love to end on that note. Thank you so much, Nicola. But before we hop off, please tell people where they can find you and how they can hire you.
My website is nicolamoors.com. I am on Instagram. I’m also on LinkedIn as well. I write launch copy, and I also do co-creation brand voice guides if you’d like me to look at your brand voice and help you hone it.
Wonderful, Nicola. Thank you so much for sitting down with me, for your time, and for sharing your expertise with my audience. I know they’re gonna get a ton of value out of this, so thank you. This was fun.
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.