Subscribe for Letters From The Interior & discover YOUR brand's Voice Values with our complimentary self-assessment.

Voice Values How-To

What’s the connection between your brand voice & your ideal client? It’s pretty major & you’ve been probably been overlooking it.

Right People RulesHere’s what you already have figured out:

Certain people are drawn to you.

You are drawn to certain people.

As it is in your personal life/friendships/romances, so it is in your client roster and subscriber list.

Here’s what you haven’t yet parsed: the particular alchemy of those seemingly-destined connections. The recipe for that subtle mysterious magic. You’re highly self-aware, but you know you haven’t yet put your finger on all of the insights that will make the client connection thing make sense.

Divining and describing the patterns (and the outliers) that can be found in connection with our Right People is one of my very favorite things to do in my work at The Voice Bureau.  I call it Right People Profiling.

Back in seventh grade, I wrote an innocent, ‘wanted ads’-style matchmaking column for the Valentine’s Day issue of the student newspaper. (What was the paper even called? The Lehman Ledger, maybe?) Anyhow, I wrote about how Kelley W. was obsessed with Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block and was looking for a “fine, sensitive guy” who resembled him, and how Marcus L. was in search of a special “fly lady” who was looking for appreciation from “a true gentleman.” Keep in mind, I was not quite 13 at the time and the oldest classmate I was writing about was 15.

While I’ve long had an eye for chemistry, I never thought this skill would show up in my work. (Nope, being a professional matchmaker — a less brash Patti Stanger — was never on my radar.)

But being obsessed with the particularities of what makes two humans magnetize each other . . . and then describing the texture of what that is and why it’s works . . . that’s my sweet spot.

At The Voice Bureau, describing the chemistry between you and your ideal client is at the heart of our work.

It shows up in our copywriting projects with clients, in our evergreen courses, and in our signature Voice Values methodology. Truly, your Right People Rules are all encoded in your brand voice.

The 16 Voice Values help brand creators understand what their innate brand voice sounds like (and looks like) in action, and understand why certain people are drawn to that voice and why others are ambivalent or repelled.

Haven’t taken it yet? 48 questions, about 10 minutes of your time, and you’ll self-score your way to clarity on what’s naturally powerful about the way you tweet, Facebook, write blog posts, and email your list.

You’ll also learn a bit about why certain people are drawn to you and what you should watch out for as you grow your brand.

Enter your best email address below and click Go to get started.


I created this paradigm for branding to help brand creators and business owners — especially small, creatively-oriented brands (writers, authors, web and graphic designers, artists and illustrators, singers, dancers, and performers), helping-focused brands (healers, teachers, trainers, coaches, consultants, wellness practitioners), or aesthetically-inclined brands (fashion designers, floral designers, food stylists, interior designers, product designers) — own how they naturally and powerfully communicate when they’re at their best, standing in their strengths. So they can do more of it, consciously and intentionally.

The Voice Values give name & substance to what is already there.

But your top mix of Voice Values don’t stop at describing what you are and how you do it. Your top mix of Voice Values also tells you a LOT about the reader, client, customer, or buyer who is going to be drawn to you, when you’re owning what’s uniquely potent about you in your brand. When you’re owning your voice.

After all, when we speak/write/teach, we don’t do so in a vacuum. We are part of a conversation. Yes, even before we’ve grown our readership to a certain size of audience.

Our voices matter. Because voices inherently do.

If you believe this, too, you’re in the right place.

So what is the connection between your Voice Values and the people who will be innately motivated to learn from you, buy from you, do business with you, read you?

I have some conclusions and some insights to share, and I’m putting them together into The Voice Bureau’s first fully digital, downloadable product. It’s called Right People Rules: Define Your Brand Voice & Your Ideal Client. It’s a digital inquiry kit, which means it goes beyond basic e-book-ness and takes you into self-assessment, self-reflection, and immediate applications of what you learn.

I’m taking what I know to be a big, complex subject and distilling it down to the pith. Well, the pith plus. You know I have a high Depth value.

Noteworthy: Right People Rules is the first of several fully digital, highly affordable products we’ll be releasing . . . and we’re pricing it to SELL. We want to get this into the hands of as many of our potential clients and longtime readers as possible. This work is designed for accessibility. While it’s currently one of our lowest-priced products EVER, it packs so much value. 

Remember what you already know:

Certain people are drawn to you.

You are drawn to certain people.

The why behind that magic isn’t always as easily discernible in our client rosters and subscribers lists as it is in our personal lives/friendships/romances.

If you’d love for ideal client understanding to become a much richer discovery process than it’s been until now, or if you’re turning a corner in your business and need to bring your brand and your audience along with it, Right People Rules is for you in mind.

$95 Pre-Sale happening now, until Tuesday, September 1st when the price goes up to $125.


This article was written in collaboration with The Voice Bureau former collaborative partner (and current friend!), Tami Smith.

Right People (AKA ideal clients or site visitors). Every brand has them.

This is true whether you’ve launched a product yet, have revenues of $500/month or $10,000/month, and despite whether you blog 2x a week likeyouknowwe’reallsupposedto or not.

4 Buyer TypesIt’s easy, in a frustrated state, to feel that your Right Person — the person most inclined to hire you, to buy your products and services, to read your articles and social media posts, and to become a brand advocate for you — is a needle in a haystack. Where, in the big bad internet, is this elusive one-in-a-million (billion?) individual, who is supposedly “hanging out” somewhere online with scores of other People Just Like Them who are waiting, wallets poised, to snatch up your latest creation, because you, to them, are like the entrepreneurial Second Coming?

This, as I’m sure you’ve gleaned from my sarcasm, is not exactly the way getting better qualified site traffic and better conversions (i.e. more opt-ins or sales) works.

There’s no secret place on the internet where all of your Right People are hanging out hoping to meet someone just like you.

But Right People? They’re real. Ideal clients? Not a myth. (Although there are many myths about how to size them up.) [link]

How do we know? Let’s take a look.

In the whole world over, there are a finite number of ‘types’ of people.

While we’re all individuals and our needs and desires vary from person to person, if you study universal human nature (and psychological-behavioral patterns), you’ll find that people tend to fall into 4 basic types: we call these types Humanistic, Spontaneous, Competitive, and Methodical.

  • HUMANISTIC TYPES are attuned to the interconnectedess of all people and things. They’re wired to be helpful. They dislike conflict and prefer to focus on beauty, harmony, and solitude. They seek unity.

  • SPONTANEOUS TYPES are attuned to freedom, flexibliity, and possibilities. They’re wired to be enthusiastic. They dislike rules and restrictions, and they’re turned on by big vision, adventure, and a sense of community. They seek approval from others.

  • COMPETITIVE TYPES are attuned to winning and achieving. They’re wired to be powerful. They dislike weakness, inefficiency, and people who slow down action by getting mired in feelings or wishy-washy deliberations. They love order and strength, and they desire to be the best — sometimes their personal best, sometimes best in class. They seek control.

  • METHODICAL TYPES are attuned to the search for pure, irrefutable truth. They’re wired to be deep. They dislike brashness, things that can’t be proven, and sloppiness. They’re attuned to details, measurements, and proof. They seek certainty.

While the Four Buyer Types are a well-known, well-documented marketing framework — a part of the methodology we employ at The Voice Bureau to guide our copywriting client projects and more — this perspective doesn’t apply to business alone.

Four different types run through our world in many ways.

There are The Four Seasons. The Four Temperaments. The 12 Signs of the Zodiac, which can be grouped into 4 Elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire). The Four Blood Groups (A, B, AB, O).

Of course, there are blends, too: there are Spontaneous buyers with a Competitive edge, and Methodical buyers with a Humanistic edge. In terms of Blood Types, you can be O+ or O-, etc. All of us have access to all four types (we human beings have great range), and sometimes we switch from one type to another based on context, or our needs in the moment. But essentially, we’re wired to be motivated like ONE primary type, consistently over time.

The bigger the brand and the larger their marketing budget, the less precise the company can afford to be about marketing to one primary type. This is why car manufacturers, credit card companies, pharmaceuticals, and major food brands can design for all Four Buyer Types in each social channel, while keeping their brand voice distinct. They have whole teams of people and millions (billions?) of dollars to help them pull this off.

But solo and small businesses? We’re obliged to specialize.

Solo and small business owners — like The Voice Bureau, and like our clients — have limited resources (time, money, interest, human power). In order to be most effective (and usually, most profitable), it’s necessary to design a brand conversation and an offer for a particular type of person — someone most likely to buy.

Here are some tips for moving closer to designing a strong Content Strategy:

  • Understand your Brand Voice and how it meets the needs of your Right Person buyer.

  • Consider building yourself a Brand Language Bank — a branded lexicon of words, phrases, and “handles” — that engage your Right Person buyer and make your conversation fresh (without being convolutedly cutesy or abstract).

  • Step into the shoes of your Right Person buyer and ask yourself, “Why would this be important to her? Why would this solution work for her?”

Here are some beginning tips for engaging your specific primary Right Person “type” through your content, using an empathetic marketing model:

  • If your Right People are HUMANISTIC, engage with warmth, intimacy, even love, and show them you’re a real person who genuinely cares about people, planet, and profits. The Humanistic buyer appreciates a peek behind the scenes of your business, as they want to believe that you are who you say you are. Create content that will present all sides of the picture with equanimity (big picture thinking). Keep your tone and your calls to action harmonious and conflict-free. They’ll get value out of content that helps them to move forward toward their goals, without risking overwhelm. Focus on presenting small slices of your brand conversation that feel positive, encouraging, uplifting, and promote a peaceful approach to life, work, and business.

  • If your Right People are SPONTANEOUS, engage their possibility orientation by using visionary language. Design offers and experiences that keep them at the center of attention. It’s about them, not about you (although the Spontaneous buyer is drawn toward a charismatic personality who opens doors for them to experience something new, fresh, and exciting). The Spontaneous buyer grooves on community, sisterhood/brotherhood, feeling like they belong, and having opportunities to self-express. Keep your tone and your calls to action clear, easy, playful, and positive. They’ll get value out of content that connects them to their unique potential and ability to have an impact. Avoid overcomplicated explanations, lots of hoops to jump through, or dry navel-gazing philosophy. Focus on presenting visually-oriented content that feels cutting edge while activating their love for lifelong learning.

  • If your Right People are COMPETITIVE, engage their drive to “get it done now” by being direct, straightforward, and competent. Demonstrate your credibility and assume that your Right Person will choose to do business with you because they see you as the best option. Match their high Excellence value with your own, and redeem all opportunities to demonstrate your wins. Position yourself at eye level with your high-achieving buyer. The Competitive buyer is relentlessly focused on activating ideas and being in control, which creates security. Through your content, show them how they are the hero/ine, how they can rise to challenges, and conquer obstacles. Avoid asking them to go against their nature, which includes slowing down, seeing things in grayscale, and admitting they have been wrong. Note that your Competitor buyer may be oriented to compete with himself or herself, just as much or more than with others.

  • If your Right People are METHODICAL, tap into their desire to know why things are the way they are, through understanding all the nuances and seeing the big picture as well as the fine details. Validate their passion for solving problems, pointing out what isn’t working (i.e. being a contrarian), and finding the next layer down. Provide them with research, resources, systems, tools, frameworks, and visual data to balance their overactive brain. Frequent content is less important for the Methodical buyer, just so long as your content is deep, thorough, and consistent. Methodicals care less about the personal details of a brand creator’s life; rather, they’re obsessively interested in the brand’s reasoning for doing what it does, the way it does.

If you understand your buyer, you’re closer to understanding what content they need/want to see from you in order to make a purchasing decision.

In the comments, we’d love to know:

In your perspective, have you already been using this Buyer Type approach intuitively, without quite knowing why? If so, how did you come to “know” that you wanted to talk to this type of person? What have you noticed? How does it feel? We’d love to hear about your process and experiences.

(Image credit.)


By now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably taken our complementary Discover Your Voice Values self-assessment.

Haven’t taken it yet? 48 questions, about 10 minutes of your time, and you’ll self-score your way to clarity on what’s naturally powerful about the way you tweet, Facebook, write blog posts, and email your list.

You’ll also learn a bit about why certain people are drawn to you and what you should watch out for as you grow your brand.

Enter your best email address below and click Go to get started.

I thought it would be fun to provide a (sometimes humorous) rundown of what the 16 Voice Values think, do, and say in action. (If you’re curious about what my own top Voice Values are, I share them here.)

The scenario: You’ve just had a huge flash of an idea for your business. We’ll call it Idea X. Based on your Top 3-5 Voice Values (see below), you’ll probably respond like this . . .


THINKS: Wait a minute. Slow down. Let’s chart a course here. I don’t want to miss anything.

DOES: Opens your favorite of three mindmapping tools and begins a new project.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: Absolutely nothing — until all the details are sorted out, checked, double checked, and ready to go. Or: “Looking for resources around Idea X. Who else has information, studies, knowledge?”


THINKS: F*ck yes, this is it! This is bad ass. Can’t wait to launch this baby next week.

DOES: Immediately gets to work writing the sales page. The sooner you can get this baby up and out the door, the better.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “Coming VERY soon: possibly the very best idea I’ve ever had. It’ll rock your socks.”


THINKS: This is the beginning of something amazing. I need to fill in the details. It’ll be a while until I’m ready to go public with this.

DOES: Opens a fresh doc and starts typing like the wind. You need to write your way into knowing what you think.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “In process. In flow. Illuminating. Clarifying.”


THINKS: Ooh, my people would really come together around this! How can I get others involved? A forum? A Google Community? Small Mastermind groups that meet bi-weekly over Skype video?

DOES: Immediately Facebook messages your community sharing the idea in one line and requesting feedback.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “Would you be interested in working alongside your peers and colleagues around Idea X?”


THINKS: I’ve scratched the surface of something here. I wonder what else is beneath this idea.

DOES: Log the idea in a Google Doc (along with a hundred other ideas that have yet to be mined) and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing you can return to it as soon as more layers unearth themselves. And they will. They always do.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “Contemplating our relationship, as humans, to Idea X.”


THINKS: Oh my gosh, this is what I’m meant to do! This is the lightning bolt I’ve been waiting for! This is where my business is supposed to go.

DOES: Creates a new Pinterest board called “My Vision for Idea X.”

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “I dreamt a little dream, and it’s all coming together now. Stay tuned!”


THINKS: Perfect. Peeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrfeeeeeeeeeeeect.

DOES: Carefully outline the idea, making sure not to lose any of the details.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “On such-and-such a date –” [which you will hold yourself to or die trying] ” — “I’ll roll out the latest and greatest creation from My Business Name. If Idea X is important to you, you’ll want to pay attention.”


THINKS: Who could really use this?

DOES: Makes a list of people and businesses who could benefit from Idea X. Then creates a landing page with an email opt-in to get people on a list for when the idea is ready to go. It’s never too early to start letting people know a solution is coming!

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “If you’ve been challenged by Idea X, hang on. Relief is coming.”


THINKS: OhmyGodIhopeI’mthefirstonetoeverthinkofthis.

DOES: Immediately runs an advanced Google Search for Idea X plus all related ideas, to see what else is out there. You need to know how your solution can be different and better.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “You thought you knew everything there was to know about Idea X. Just wait.”


THINKS: This feels really right. It’s like it’s been there all along. How could I not have noticed this before?

DOES: Meditates. You need to be alone with this idea, so you can expand into it and really see inside it. Probably let it see inside of you, too.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “Spent time in stillness with Idea X today. Focus is knowing.”


THINKS: I wonder who else has done something like this before, and what I can learn from their work.

DOES: Thinks about how what you already know is connected to Idea X.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “If I were to create a new tool to help you create more Idea X in your life, what features would you want it to have?”


THINKS: Swoon. Every new idea feels like falling in love. It’s like I’ve entered into a courtship with Idea X.

DOES: Gets a little hot and bothered, thinking about how happy the people you want to serve will be when they receive this. Idea X is a gift, really.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “Working on a prezzie for my people. I love you so.”


THINKS: Wheeeeeeee! This is going to be so. much. FUN!”

DOES: Creates a graphic of it in PhotoShop or collages it on Polyvore to help you understand it better. The more visuals, the better.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “Oh my gosh, you guys, I can’t wait to share Idea X with you. You’re going to have a ball!”


THINKS: How can I quickly and confidently become a content authority on Idea X?

DOES: Hoard the idea and never mention it to anyone until you’re ready to go into pre-launch.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “It’s finally the right time to share my long-held expertise on Idea X with you.”


THINKS: This is a really valuable idea. I need to hold onto my edge here.

DOES: Checks the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site to see if Idea X is already claimed. Log the steps you’re taking to go about securing your claim to the idea.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: Absolutely nothing until you’re sure the idea is free and clear and yours for the taking. No sudden moves!


THINKS: Whoa. What an amazing opportunity to share my process with others.

DOES: Writes the first of a 20-part blog post series taking readers inside the workings of you creating and launching Idea X.

SAYS/TWEETS/FACEBOOKS: “An inside glimpse into the way I create and launch a great idea? Why, yes. I thought you’d enjoy that.”

Oh, you. What do you think?

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

Do your own top Voice Values in action resonate with you? Why or why not? How are you already drawing on your strongest Voice Values to help you shape a meaningful brand conversation with your Right People?

Looking forward to chatting with you!


I saw one again over the weekend. A good friend, an entrepreneurial peer, sent the link to me with some wry commentary. Good Lord, I thought. How bad could it be?

And oh, it was bad. Horribly mortifying to watch, I’d describe it as.

A twenty-something, fresh-faced woman with a coaching business, contorting herself sexily in a video on the home page of her website to the thick, seductive beat of an R+B song. She gestured suggestively, she pulled faces, she stopped to deadpan lines at the camera about contacting her for a free one-on-one consultation session. With total sexual overtones. Swap out the copy scrolling across the screen and you’d almost think it was an online ad for, well — something else.

It was obvious that she wasn’t behaving “naturally.” She was putting on a marketing show that she’d seen play out before, but exaggerating it to the -nth degree, really trying to ‘commit.’ Good Lord was right.

The problem is, if I’ve seen one of these videos this year, I’ve seen fifty.

And for every fifty I’ve seen, there are probably 150 I haven’t seen. And there are probably 500 more women out there wondering how they can get their energy up enough to create something like this for their own site. Something hype-y, sexy, glam-my, and attention-grabbing. Something that says to the world, I’m here. I want you to watch me. I’m committing to my message. I’m a model for what’s possible for you when you embrace all of your gifts and your potential.

Ugh. Because my potential naturally means hair-swinging, lip-pursing, and goofy imitations of women in rap videos.

It’s time somebody says something. Here I am.

What I’m critiquing here in this post is the commonality of self-made marketing videos featuring entrepreneurial-minded women, earnest about building and promoting their work in the world, in which these women are:

  • dancing on video,
  • getting down to sexy club music, hand jiving and “booty popping” {yes, I just typed that phrase on my blog},
  • including a gag reel full of fart jokes,
  • making funny faces at someone ‘off-camera,’ as in, whoops! forgot this thing was on!

You know exactly what I’m talking about. If you read regularly in the entrepreneurial blogosphere or follow links on Twitter to so-and-so’s latest video, you’ve seen plenty of it, too.

First, let me lay out my biases:

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with the marketing style I’m describing. {Though I understand that’s up for debate.}
  • I take no exception to women using overt sex appeal to market their work {although it’s not a tactic I’d use and it’s not one that makes me want to buy}.
  • I take no exception to women or men dancing in marketing videos.
  • I take no exception to gag reels. {Fart jokes . . . eh.}
  • I take no exception to Jester brands workin’ their stuff like they got it. {Because they do.}

But I want you to really understand what you’re looking at here.

What we’re looking at with the proliferation of cutesy, hotsy-totsy marketing videos {most of them made by the under-35 and female set} is a stylistic trend.

It’s naked emulation of a very popular online business personality’s natural, effusive, Jester style as enacted through her marketing videos. Complete with occasionally R-rated humor and lots of sexy, girly energy. {Much of it done tongue-in-cheek.}

This style is so compelling for Very Popular Online Business Personality because it is her personality {or, never having met her, I’d bet it’s one very well-edited element of her personality}. In other words, it’s not a stretch for her; it’s within the range of her everyday behavior.

She doesn’t have to try very hard to make her videos so addictively watchable. {Even if you don’t dig her work, you’re watching her videos every week.} A good camera, a clever director and editor, and she can just bring it. It’s her and it makes her content go viral in the online entrepreneurial community almost every week.

BUT . . . if you are NOT a natural Jester, if you don’t naturally ooze sex appeal and have the ability to rally people around a call to action in a humorous, over the top way {while solidly driving your valid and well-modeled point home at the same time} — then this style is NOT FOR YOU.

Why am I calling out this one style, this one online voice {an expertly well-curated, stylized, and professionally executed voice}, and criticizing its imitators?

Because I see mimickry {unintentional and/or not} running rampant in the online entrepreneurial space. At best, we can chalk it up to naïveté and inexperience, and at worst — it’s an online business marketing travesty, a voice snuffer, and a brand killer.

When you stretch and contort yourself to fit into a marketing style that’s popular and widely applauded, but not at all naturally aligned with YOU when you’re market-ing from your sweet spot, you sell yourself out. And you sell your right people short.

You have a naturally strong style that is totally marketing-worthy. It’s the style that your right people will love and connect with. It’s the style that doesn’t pull the rug out from under your people when they meet with you over Skype for the first time and you’re actually who you portrayed yourself to be.

And it’s very unlikely that your purest, most powerful, and most sustainable marketing style involves bleeped-out swear words. How do I know that without even knowing you? Because only a reasonably small fraction of the online entrepreneurial community would actually swear on video, even if they swear offline in their private lives, or in the comments of other people’s blogs, or in their own blog posts. {Ahem.}

This is not about swearing. It’s not even about the validity of swearing as a conversational technique.

{I happen to think it’s a wildly good one. Just ask my circle of close friends.}

This is about learning to express yourself online, in business channels, in a way that’s clear, compelling, and authentically you. {And that’s one A-word I will use online.}

In the interest of not making this post all preaching and no teaching, here are 3 ideas for how you can swipe the strategy you admire from your online brand idols and keep your own natural vibe intact {and your booty . . . unpopped}.

1. When something or someone online draws your attention, first say I can’t stop watching! I feel a little jealous, or pressured to do something equally interest-grabbing. Then ask yourself, Why?

Your answer might surprise you.

Perhaps it’s not because you actually want to lip sync on camera, maybe it’s because you have your own hidden talents that you haven’t expressed through your brand yet, or because you wish your latest content could get that many RTs, or because you haven’t yet seen a style of video-editing/sales page-writing/navigation menu-naming that impresses you more than this.

The value in knowing why you’re drawn to a certain style? It points you toward what you know is currently lacking in your own brand. {Even if yours will be delivered in a different style.}

2. Ask yourself why the brand creator would deliver such content, in such a place, to such people. Look at the actual format or delivery method this time, the platform {YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.}, and the intended audience, but not the style.

Is the video targeting blog post subscribers? Since a blog is a free information-sharing tool, the intent is to generate shareable content that will help build an audience and spread one’s point of view through the social media space.

Is the content creator asking you to share his content with your networks? Now he’s leveraging your audience for attention.

The takeaway here? All flash serves a purpose. Or at least it should. That’s strategy. And profitable businesses don’t do much that doesn’t serve strategy.

To apply this to your own business, think about your channels: Twitter and Facebook, your site, InstaGram, anywhere else your brand shows up. Who hangs out there? People who know nothing about your brand yet? Your most loyal, rarin’-to-go followers? Develop content to meet their needs in that space and deliver in a style that’s respectful of the relationship you have with them.

3. Notice yourself using your own brand language and being you with your clients. The elements of how you deliver that your right people pick up on — those are clues that point you toward the strongest and most sustainable style and voice for you.

Notice when your people say things like, I love it when you . . ., When you told me X, I was like Yes! That’s it!, I can always count on you to be X, Y, and Z.

The hallmarks of your personality, as they get translated through your brand, are what we call ‘style’ online. You know, as in, She’s got an over-the-top style, or His style is so refreshing.

Developing your own online marketing style is a work in progress, no matter what stage of business growth you’re in.

There’s no judgment on being new {a baby brand} watching and imitating a bigger, larger brand {a more mature brand} that has more reach, platform, followers. Imitation is the first way we learn. But at some point, something’s gotta give. It’s the facade.

With all due respect, I hate to see so many stylistic rip-offs of Very Popular Online Business Personality and other A-List entrepreneurial brands. It’s not serving the imitators, it’s not serving the imitated, and it’s not serving any of our clients to have so many half-baked brand concepts in the space.

Postscript: June 10th, 2012

Since this post was originally published on June 25th, 2012, Marie Forleo, a popular, successful online business personality who is widely imitated, interviewed her friend and fellow “A-Lister” Kris Carr, another voice that many entrepreneurial ladies in the holistic wellness niche find enviable. One of the themes of their conversation? Brand voice mimicry. Check out that part of the conversation here between minutes 14:24 and 18:24. If you liked my post, you’ll dig what they’re saying.

In the comments, I’d love to know . . .

What’s this about? Why do you think there are so many stylistic rip-offs of A-Listers?

And how do we get acquainted with our own strongest and most natural marketing styles?

Let’s keep this convo clean and peaceable and refrain from naming names. This is about having integrity in our own ideas and contributing to a productive conversation about branding and business. Thanks in advance!


Confession time.

{Better listen up. Public confessions are generally not my thing.}

The first iteration of my web copy for Abby Kerr Ink — which was over a year and three iterations ago, in case you were wondering — read nothing like it does now. It wasn’t written in my voice, although I myself wrote it.

It sounded {to my ear, at least} very much like the voice of Sarah J. Bray. Sarah had no clue. At the time, I followed her on Twitter {still do} and had commented a time or two on her blog, but she didn’t know me from Eve. She wasn’t watching for this. She probably didn’t even notice. And at the time, if someone had asked me outright, “Um, does this sound a little like Sarah Bray?” I might’ve said, “Oh, really? You think so? Wow, thanks. That’s a compliment. I love her voice.” But I wouldn’t, at that time, have realized that it was a problem if there were a resemblance. Because we were, after all, in different niches — still are — and our visual brand identities bear no resemblance to one another. My unintentional mimicry of her voice wasn’t a problem until it was. And then I fixed it. And I realized what the hell was going on. And what a really big frickin’ problem it actually is, not just for me, but for you.

What was going on with me when I sat down to write the first version of my site copy over a year ago?

I just copped to it, but in case you missed it, here it is again: unintentional mimicry.

I was unwittingly mimicking the voice, tone, and stylistic features of someone else’s unique writing style.

{I’ve never told Sarah this story before. She’ll be as surprised as I was!}

How did this happen? I’ll tell you in a moment. But first, some backstory and more on what I mean by ‘unintentional mimicry.’

I am a writer. I write across the genres and I write every day. It’s my craft, my mode for understanding the world and my experience of it, and it’s a big part of my identity.

One of the features of the way my writer brain is wired is a hypersensitivity to the nuances of voice.

Holy hell — I often think when reading someone’s latest — this post feels like a mash-up of the last five things this writer read. And how do I know that? The voice is the opposite of a revelation — it’s a re-percolation, like reheating day old coffee, doctoring it with sugar and cream,  and hoping to pass it off in a pinch.

I can hear this wavering, this not-quite-hitting-it-yet note, in my own voice, too, when it’s there. I know when my voice is off and when I’m in a period of synthesizing new information or finding my own language for my ideas. I don’t post during those periods. I’d rather be silent than imitative.

That last bit was not said to stymie you. Frickin’ A, you might be thinking. How am I supposed to go off and write now if I have to watch every word I use?

My answer: write as you. Free you. Sound like you.

What you do have, whether you consider yourself a natural born writer or not, is a voice.

You may not tap into your strongest voice easily through writing. But maybe your voice gets freed through photography or short film. Through cooking or through home styling. Through leading a yoga class or through making handmade goods. Through teaching children or through speaking from intuition. Through marketing a non-profit or through graphic design. Through curating an online boutique or through coaching business owners.

The voice of your creative business, whatever vehicle it comes through, creates the experience your right people have of you, with you, because of you.

The three {of you, with you, because of you} are conflated and that conflation is the most powerful aspect of voice. Your voice is inseparable from you and how you do what you do.

Which is why, when you step out of your voice for a moment or a blog post, or when you go through a period of feeling lost and ungrounded {we’ve all been there}, the whole thing feels wrong to you.

Your voice is as indelibly you in the world as is your fingerprint. It’s unmistakably yours. It passes the test. And anyone can tell from a mile away when you’re moving cleanly in it, or when you’re half-assing it, or when you’re downright faking it.

How mimicry in the digital entrepreneurial space starts.

Mimicry usually starts by imbibing so much of someone else’s voice, through consuming their content like crazy over a period of time, that it comes out your pores and onto the page.

Mimicry happens because you like or love someone else’s stuff, not necessarily because you want to emulate them, exactly.

Mimicry usually originates unintentionally, but the results can look and feel coy or plastic at best, and at worst, insidious.

Now back to me and Sarah and the first iteration of my Abby Kerr Ink web copy.

Here’s how the unintentional mimicry happened: for two months leading up to the launch of my site, I was eating Sarah Bray’s content for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A lot of her content at that time was focused on doing business as a digital entrepreneur and creating your own rules for a lifestyle that supports your work. This was the conversation I needed right then. So I was reading her, plus Danielle LaPorte, plus Copyblogger {interesting mix, I know} for hours a day for weeks on end. I read years’ worth of archives. {I learn well by immersion.} I absorbed nuance, verbal tics, sentence construction patterns, brand language, everything. My brain patterns in the languaging lobe were altered.

And when I sat down to write my own This Is Me and Is This You and Services pages, they came out sounding . . . like Sarah Bray. With a dash of Danielle here and there and plenty of Copyblogger’s best practices thrown in.

Yep, I was ‘doing it right.’ So I thought. My site sounded good. It read well.

Thing was, it just didn’t read like me. And the result of this: I attracted some clients in those early days who weren’t exactly my right people.

They weren’t bad people {nor are they necessarily Sarah’s people, so don’t think that’s what I’m suggesting}, they just were pulled in by something in my copy — and by extension, who they believed I was and how they believed I wanted to relate to them — that was other than the purest, most powerful expression of me, my best work, and how I wanted to be in the world.

All this from too much reading of other people’s stuff, you’re wondering?

It happened to me. And perhaps mine is an extreme case, because I have some serious linguistic absorption tendencies.

For you, unintentional mimicry might look like this:

  • Leaning on someone else’s signature brand language to say what you mean rather than culling your own phraseologie. This is what you’re looking at when you see the same term floating through five or fifteen or twenty-five sites whose content all feels like it attends the same family reunion. The phraseologie was original to one person but others have appropriated it because they like it and it expresses something meaningful to them.
  • Borrowing an entire concept or metaphor from someone else’s business and offering it to your people as if it were original to you. This happens when the content creator a} doesn’t understand intellectual property, or b} creates and ships too quickly after consuming.
  • Openly referencing someone else’s work without giving them attribution, and the result is that newcomers assume the material is original to you. This is usually an oversight, but I’d encourage all bloggers and online content creators to practice some academic-style attribution and link back to your original sources. This is how we build networks of people and ideas.
  • Mimicking speech patterns or ways of referring to an audience. This is usually born out of your great fondness for someone’s voice, or for the way someone else relates to her audience. The key to shaking this is to envision and cultivate the relationship you want with your own audience. And then work those particularities for all they’re worth. {Because they’re worth everything.}
  • Creating an offer for your people {product, service, etc.} and marketing it based on three or four unusual words in the same order you’ve seen them in someone else’s marketing. Usually you’d do this because the original marketer’s language worked on you, you haven’t seen this kind of offer expressed more aptly/powerfully/specifically than this, and it feels like what you want to say. Watch out, though — this is intellectual thievery.
  • Absorbing and parroting what you’ve learned from your teachers, mentors, and coaches before you’ve had the chance to put it into practice and get some real-in-your-own-life results. Especially worth watching out for if those you’re learning from are in the same niche as you. All the better to free your own voice and work your natural points of differentiation.

In my next post, I have an exercise to share with you that’ll help you see other people’s brand language and voice for what it is — theirs — and see yours for what it is — yours. Exciting stuff.

Have you caught yourself unintentionally mimicking someone else’s business voice, like what I did with Sarah? Or have you seen other people doing this and had thoughts about it? I want you to tell me about it in the comments.

P.S. to Sarah — Love you and your work! Thanks for being so inspiring.