A brand without a voice is like a painting kept hidden in a basement. It might be something truly special, but no one will ever know because they’ll never get to take a close look at it. All other brand elements only drive promotion through being promoted themselves — create all the brand guidelines and logo variations you want, but it won’t matter if you don’t tell anyone.

This is particularly true of the B2B world. As a B2C company, you can still get somewhere through simply being in the right place at the right time — pop up in a few searches with a compelling offer, and you can win a sale even if your brand is wholly unremarkable.

But B2B is more demanding. Searchers are less likely to happen upon your site, and any that do appear are going to be much more discerning about how and when they do business. Keep this in mind: studies have indicated that 80% of people consider authenticity the main factor in whether they follow brands, and that’s including B2C.

The practical conclusion is obvious: if your brand doesn’t have a clear, resonant voice, it’ll be overlooked. So here’s how to create one:

Research what your target audience is looking for

When you’re trying to find a voice that resonates, you need to start with the one element you can’t control: what your target audience wants. Many companies have stubbornly tried to defy audience preferences in the hope of somehow reprogramming their expectations, but it’s a complete waste of time.

Your brand voice is for your audience, not you — so don’t be precious. First, investigate what they say about anything and everything relevant:

  • How do they talk about your industry?
  • What pain points do they bemoan?
  • What are their hopes for the future?

If you can speak to suitable people directly, then by all means do so, but you’re likely to need the reach and simplicity of social media channels and online forums. You should also carefully review your current traffic to learn more about which companies are visiting your site so you can get more leads.

If someone is interested enough to view your site, but not enough to reach out to you, there must be a reason. You need to know that reason — so ask.

Research what your target audience is looking for

That said, since you’re operating in the B2B world, you’re best served taking your time to find only the most valuable opinions. If you can discern the secret to impressing an enormous client, it will work similarly well for any other businesses you care to target.

Focus on platforms such as LinkedIn for the most influential figures (around 45% of all LinkedIn users are valuably positioned in upper management), then reach out to them with some friendly questions. They’re likely to feel flattered.

See what comparable companies are doing

Now that you have a reasonable idea of what your prospective buyers actually want, you need to take a close look at what your competitors are doing with their branding. After all, your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and there’s little sense in adopting a particular brand voice if it transpires that your direct competitors have already taken that route.

If you do go with the well-worn approach, you’ll come across as oblivious at best, and outright plagiarists at worst. This can be difficult to deal with, because you might think that your competitors have cornered the market by using the exact brand voice you identified as being the most valuable, but it’s also a golden opportunity.

Look at it this way: the more obvious it is, the less likely a particular style is to leave a meaningful impression, allowing you to step in with a different approach.

See what comparable companies are doing

The more generic the feel, the more dramatically a minor tweak can change things. For instance, your audience might be looking for a brand that seems to genuinely care about its customers, and all your competitors might have adopted customer-first approaches to brand copywriting — but it may be that you can express the same attitude in a different way.

Perhaps you could provide much the same message, but with a much lighter tone. Informality is tough to get right in business, but if you can nail it, you can earn a lot of goodwill. To keep up with what other companies are doing, use suitable competitor research tools like Feedly’s topic-based RSS aggregator or Followerwonk’s Twitter analytics platform.

Write suitable content, then trim it

Let’s say that you’ve ticked all the boxes so far, and you’ve come up with a solid concept for your brand voice. You know what your audience is looking for, and how you deliver it while also moving in a fresh direction relative to your competitors. The next goal is to achieve brevity: finding a way to get your voice across as efficiently as possible.

Suppose you were running a furniture company, and you’d decided that your voice had to be optimistic and cheery, with the goal of communicating that you’re enthusiastic about what you do and eager to take on any challenge. You’d be offering a one-stop solution, essentially, setting you apart as a reliable long-term partner.

Write suitable content, then trim it

Now, just as a brand needs a voice, a voice needs copy. If you don’t say anything, that voice goes unheard — and underwhelming copy can utterly destroy an effort to create a compelling brand voice. Online, in particular, the key is keeping things simple. On average, any piece of content you produce is going to get just 37 seconds — not a huge amount of time

Be aware that you don’t need to cram everything into your site, because you don’t need to serve one version of your site to every user. You can and should serve targeted experiences to distinct visitors, as we’ll see next.

Build personalized B2B storefronts

The B2B sales funnel requires a much more in-depth approach than its B2C equivalent, and you’ll never get the results you’re looking for (and set your brand apart) if you meet each prospective customer with exactly the same experience. Instead of doing this, you can introduce elements of personalization to enhance the user experience (UX).

For example, if you use a platform like Shopify Plus (Shopify’s B2B-viable enterprise-tier service) as the foundation for your store site (or sites), you can do such things as creative targeted pricing for distinct clients (giving one customer a volume-based discount, for instance) — but that’s not all you can do. You can also target your copy accordingly, allowing you to present each client with a particular tone.

This is great for developing your brand voice because it takes your varied target audiences into account. The benefits of your product or service will often differ depending on who is buying. New customers, for example, will have distinct expectations compared to returning customers.

If you have multiple audiences to address, an adaptable ecommerce platform will allow you to personalize your checkout with tailored promotions and test new products (and copy) through stand-alone stores. Just be sure to make your different versions strongly distinct, because tiny changes often aren’t worth doing: it’s been found that only 1 in every 8 A/B tests of any variety actually produces significant change, and it’s likely due to people making very minor tweaks.

Add a dash of personality and humanity

At this point, you should have identified your brand’s unique voice, and written some basic content to carry it across to your readers. That’s the bulk of the job done already — it isn’t actually all that complex a task — but there is one more thing you can do (and should do, provided you’re willing to do it): adding a dash of personality. It’s exceptionally powerful in the otherwise-cold digital world.

Add a dash of personality and humanity

This is something you can leave to last because it’s so delicate. On one hand, you don’t want to be so careful about causing miscommunication that you shy away from anything truly interesting in your copy, but you also don’t want to get so brazen and self-indulgent that you end up alienating the audience you sought so hard to win over.

It’s generally a good tactic to try some self-deprecation, though, or throw in the occasional nugget of slang. It really depends on what your audience will accept. As long as you’re clearly serious about solving customers’ problems, you’ll likely find that they’ll accept other aspects of your brand quite readily — so don’t be too afraid to express yourself.

In B2B marketing, the stakes for each customer are a lot higher, so glossing over your content and brand voice isn’t a viable option. Before a business commits to working with you, the managerial level will need to be completely convinced that you’re the perfect fit: do your research, find an edge, offer succinct and customized content, and demonstrate that you’re capable of humanity, and you’ll achieve good results.

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