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Illuminating what makes the voices of Danielle LaPorte, Havi Brooks, Marie Forleo, & 4 other online entrepreneurs so irresistible to their right people {& what the heck is voice, BTW?}

by Abby Kerr

in Uncategorized

About this column

Vintage Chandelier by ETersigni courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by ETersigni, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Okay, so this is what I do. I’m sharing this post to show you what I mean by ‘brand voice development,’ which is a core feature of my latest one-to-one service, PHRASEOLOGIE LUXE.

Whenever I read online entrepreneurs’ blogs, their tweets, their site copy {if they wrote it themselves — which you shouldn’t always assume}, I start mentally dissecting what the voice is doing.

Yep, your voice does stuff to and with your readers. Did you know that? Connecting online, through written, audio, or video content, is all about building relationships. Per usual around here, we’re focusing specifically on the written parts. Although in many {but certainly not all} cases, there’s a direct and very cozy link-up between how people write and how they speak. Google ‘video’ plus the name of any person I profile below and you’ll see what I mean.

Once I get a handle on what someone’s voice is doing and how it’s doing it, I can articulate what their voice really sounds like.

And then, if I’m working as your brand voice ally and digital copywriter, I can translate your voice into words for your website.

I should note that none of the people I profile in this post are or ever have been clients of mine, nor have I worked one-on-one with any of them. {Although I did take a Laura Roeder course way back when and have purchased a product of Danielle’s, too. There are NO affiliate links in this post.} Neither do I consider myself to be any of their right people, exactly. I’ve purposely chosen ‘bigger name’ online voices to comment on because, well, you’ll have a greater chance of being familiar with their work.

I have no value judgements attached to what I articulate here. There’s no right or wrong way to show up in your own business and brand and these voices are not to be held up as models of ‘the right way’ to do it. When it comes to developing your own voice within your brand, there’s only what’s good, better, best for you, in terms of what’s most natural, feels most pure and powerful, and what’s most sustainable for you when you’re writing for your biz.

The goal of my commentary in this post is solely for your edification as someone who’s looking to understand your own voice better in the online space.

First, know this: when I speak about voice, I see it as having 4 elements —

TONE — Attitude of the writer/speaker toward his or her audience. Tone establishes the relationship the writer wants to have with his or her readers, prospects, and clients/customers.

STYLE — Vibe. Also, level of formality, grammatical features, sentence structure. ‘Style’ is often what we’re referring to when we say someone’s a ‘good writer,’ or that we wish that we could write like so-and-so. Style can refer to abstract stuff as much as to technical stuff. ‘Writing style’ is a preferential and often habitual matter of organizing ideas, musicality, and varying sentences.

PERSONALITY INFUSION — Personal anecdotes, personal journey, level of ‘authenticity’ versus showing up as a crafted persona {again — no value judgements here, just different approaches}. The level of personality infusion a writer chooses also works to establish a relationship with readers. As in, you can get this close but go no further.

WORD CHOICE — Phraseologie, signature metaphors, brand language. Examples of phraseologie in action: Danielle LaPorte’s White Hot Truth and fire metaphors, Marie Forleo’s Rich, Happy, and Hot,Tara Gentile’s You Economy and the Art of Earning, Charlie Gilkey’s ‘swallowing a frog,’ Mark Silver’s ‘resonant pricing.’ When we hear someone else in the space using this language, we know where {and who} they got it from.

More on the above 4 elements in a future post.

Below, I’ve articulated what I think is going on with the voices of 7 of online entrepreneurship’s most popular brands:

Danielle LaPorte

She’s fierce {in a less approachable-than-Tyra Banks sort of way}. Devotional. Sacrosanct. Crafted by ear — you can read her pieces aloud and many of them sound poetic.

  • Substance: Humanistic business and the awakened lifestyle. With regular musings on love, faith, money, and meaning.
  • Tone/Relationship to Audience: Teacher-Oracle-Artist. For many of her right people, D’s POV is its own religion.
  • Style: Goddess-y. Emphasis on evolution. Highly alliterative. Concrete metaphors {note the bit about the boat in this post}. Elevates simple ideas to the level of high concept art — for the soul.
  • You’ll never catch her {in other words, what is ‘off-brand’ for her}: Nurturing. Consoling. Whining. Making anything too precious. Working out her ‘stuff’ on her blog.

Marie Forleo

She’s polished, she can work a live event stage like nobody’s business, and she delivers bottom-line online marketing basics with an injection of swag. She’s polarizing — her people love her and her detractors don’t dare to stop watching her.

  • Substance: Women in business {especially online business}. Marketing. Social media smarts. With a side of philanthropy.
  • Tone/Relationship to Audience: Mentor-Cool Big Sister. She easily addicts her right people with bounce-y, hook-y content they can’t stop watching — or sharing.
  • Style: In your face. Femme-tastic. Occasionally R-rated. Ranges from rip-roarin’ jester to spiritual guru-ini. Uses humor and pop culture references to drive her points home in signature Marie style. Highly conversational and impressively casual in writing — which is harder to pull off than it looks.
  • You’ll never catch her {what is ‘off-brand’ for her}: Being anything less than positive in public {snark-free}. Being boring.

Laura Roeder

She’s the girl who gets up at the front of the class and gives the report that gets an A+ — then helps you improve your work, too. She’s often the first person you discover when you bring your business online and then realize you need to get a handle on social media to be viable — and she seems to cheerfully embrace her role as orientation leader.

  • Substance: Social media marketing for businesses.
  • Tone/Relationship to Audience: Trainer-Friend-Girl Next Door. She has an effective way of crossing generational lines in her marketing appeal by inviting curiosity, then practically de-mystifying everything.
  • Style: Just the facts, ma’am. Keeps it simple {and preaches that it should be} and gets to the point. Unadorned language with clear, straightforward structure. Approachable with zero gush factor. {Gush factor = how much a voice coos over her right people. I loooooove you! You are so amaaaaaazing!}
  • You’ll never catch her {what is ‘off-brand’ for her}: Spilling too much of her personal life. Over-complicating anything. Waxing philosophical.

Chris Guillebeau

He’s the lord of a motley but talented and dedicated kingdom of readers. He travels on foot {not really} and eats around the campfire at night with his people. Possibly while wearing Birkenstocks. Or Vibrams.

  • Substance: Living, working, and traveling on your own terms.
  • Tone/Relationship to Audience: Leader. Encouraging co-traveler. Wayfarer.
  • Style: Writerly. Earnest. Rational. Contemplative. Storytelling, personal anecdotes, full-hearted calls to action. Measured sentences that don’t put readers on-guard. At times, slightly novelesque in feel.
  • You’ll never catch him {what is ‘off-brand’ for him}: Sweating the small stuff. Being rant-y or petty or hung up on tactics.

Havi Brooks

She’s a friend to and advocate for the weird, the differently-wired, the offbeat, and the intensely creative. She is quite possibly one of the most beloved and highly referenced {and unintentionally mimicked} online voices in the entrepreneurial space.

  • Substance: Entrepreneurship, creativity, personal development.
  • Tone/Relationship to Audience: Cheerleader-Friend-Interpreter-Coach. She’s a genius at rallying her people and creating the kind of community she wants to have.
  • Style: Constructed {metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor}. Affable. Lovably neurotic. Self-conscious and self-referential. Winning {not in the Charlie Sheen sense}. Loopy, playful sentences. A fun read if you dig her style.
  • You’ll never catch her {what is ‘off-brand’ for her}: Chiding. Dictating. Positioning herself as the all-knowing expert.

Justine Musk

She’s a darling of the incipient American internet literati. A mother of five, a novelist, and a prolific blogger. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a deep read.

Charlie Gilkey

He’s a friend and advisor to business owners who want to thrive in life and business — without burning themselves out or reinventing the wheel. He’s got a high ‘know, life, and trust factor’ and appeals to readers who want a little cerebral-ness served up with their heart-and-soul.

  • Substance: Sustainable business growth for people who want to do great work and maintain a sane lifestyle at the same time.
  • Tone/Relationship to Audience: Business compatriot. Strategist. Compassionate but hard-nosed-when-he-needs-to-be advisor.
  • Style: His mind seems {to me, from the outside} like a well-organized matrix. Thorough, measured, balanced. Mindful and detailed. Deeply considerate of his readers, their bandwidth, and their attention. His style can feel almost scholarly at times, and at other times, intensely personal narrative-driven.
  • You’ll never catch him {what is ‘off-brand’ for him}: Being hasty. Promoting something or someone he doesn’t deeply believe in. Spouting off tricks and tactics.

So that’s what I do when I work with my clients as a brand voice development ally. Except, of course, we work together on cultivating their voices — and in an even more detailed and fleshed-out way than I’ve demonstrated here.

Interested in learning more? Check out PHRASEOLOGIE LUXE.

In my next post, I’m going to illuminate the 4 elements of voice, and show you why they each matter in the convo you’re having {or want to have} with your right people.

In the comments, would you be willing to . . .

Share with me what landed with you about the voice profiles in this post. What resonated with you? And did anything not feel spot-on to you, in terms of how you experience one of these online entrepreneurs’ voices? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Marlee Ward March 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Wow! Great break down here. Impressive. Nice work, Abby,


Abby Kerr March 6, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Thanks, Marlee! Appreciate you saying so. :)


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

 Thank you so much, Marlee!


Kimberly Houston March 6, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I think you got it spot on with all the peeps you profile here.  I don’t follow all of them, though I’ve heard of most of them.  I do follow Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte and Laura Roeder quite religiously, and look to each of them for their own particular and nuanced brand of business wisdom. 
Someone else I love and gain great biz insight from is Naomi Dunford.  The thing I so respect and admire about all these women, and what I think unites them, is their ability to communicate in their own unique and wonderful voice and speak to their “right people,” all while dispensing genuine and useful nuggets of business gold! 

I happen to really dig your writing/voice/biz wisdom too!  (Did I just say “dig?”  Well yes, yes I did!  I guess that’s part of my “voice.”  ; )  )


Abby Kerr March 6, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Thanks, Kimberly! Glad it landed for you.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hi, Kimberly —

Great noticing here: “ability to communicate in their own unique and wonderful voice and speak
to their “right people,” all while dispensing genuine and useful
nuggets of business gold!”

Glad you’ve found voices that resonate with you to help you along in your entrepreneurial journey. And — LOL — I totally dig dig, too!


Kimberly Houston March 7, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Yep, the word “dig” is so totally groovy!  ; )


Corrina GordonBarnes March 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Brilliant, brilliant piece Abby – and I agree about Naomi Dunford. She’s one of the most readable bloggers around, I’d love to hear your take on HER brand ;) 


Bridget March 6, 2012 at 9:07 pm

I like this muchly, and I think you are dead-on! I’d love to see how you’d describe me. I think everybody would like to hear your description of them!


Abby Kerr March 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Your wish is granted, Bridget! Look for my articulation of your voice in the upcoming sequel post. :)


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Thanks, Bridget! Your wish is granted. Look for my profile of *your* voice in the sequel to his post, coming tomorrow {Thursday}.


tanyageisler March 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm

This is a wildly useful, practical, interesting, brilliant piece of work, Abby. You’re on to something big here, GF.


Abby Kerr March 6, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Thanks, Tanya. Excited to feature your voice in the sequel post.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Ooh, thanks, Tanya. Excited to feature your voice in the sequel post, too. :)


randibuckley March 6, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I have read personality/psychology dossiers by psychiatrists and clinicians that don’t come close to the accuracy of your analysis.  While I don’t know of all of these people, those I do have been gently and accurately examined, reflected and portrayed.  Nice work, Abby.


Abby Kerr March 6, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Wow. Thank you, Randi. That’s hella cool — and whoa.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Thank you so much for sharing that, Randi. Wow. I love seeing, hearing, and translating people — it’s my seventh sense. ;) I totally appreciate you witnessing it!


Laura Calandrella March 6, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Hot damn, Abby. Powerful showing of what you do best: zero in on the nuance, the gift and the absolute power of others. *THIS* is what’s missing from the tactic-based, one-strategy laden online space. You get to what’s authentic, real, and diamond-in-the-rough about the people that you work with. Voice development, phraseologie here you come.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Thank you, Laura. You’ve hit it: voice is aaaaallllll about nuance. I think the nuances are what turn us onto and off of people, resonance-wise.


Alison Gresik March 7, 2012 at 2:52 am

Aaaand, that’s what I’m talking about. So happy to see you showing off your genius for all the world to see, Abby! I can attest to the deliciousness and value of getting a voice-reading from you.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm

 Thanks so much, Ali — and for encouraging me to come out with this way back when. It’s been a good while since we’re worked together as creative pro & client, but I’m happy to hear that the work we did on shaping *your* voice still resonates. :)


Charlie Gilkey March 7, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Very, very well done, Abby. I’m so glad you put this out there and the case studies illuminate *your* voice and fu.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Hey, thanks, Charlie! And — this word fu. I’m so intrigued. Elaborate on what that is? {I can also Google it.}


Ameena Falchetto March 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Spot on – LOVE the breakdown … thanks for making me think about my own brand and how I appear to others (and how I want to be perceived) …

As a marketer who’s all about visuals and the brand I found this to be nothing short of awesome. 


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Thanks so much, Ameena!


Corrina GordonBarnes March 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm

This post gives such a great taste of your seventh sense, Abby – thank you! Do you do visual brand magic too, or are words your passion? 


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Thanks, Corrina! Appreciate you reading and commenting.

I sometimes fill clients in on my impression of what their visual brand identity could be, but I refer out to a host of talented graphic and web designers to create and deliver that aspect. I myself don’t do any design work. :)


Nathalie Lussier March 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I love this Abby, and I love the examples you picked because they’re different and unique in their own ways. Some of them do overalp in terms of what they teach, but their “how” or personality definitely stands on its own.


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Thank you! I agree, Nathalie: in ‘our’ industry, so many of us have similar teachings or methodology to share, but it’s connection to a voice that pulls one client to one creative pro over another. {I’m convinced of it.} ;)


MonicaStrobel March 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Abby — Thanks for these insights. As someone who easily writes businessy stuff, it’s been hard for me to find my voice with my blog and social media. So much harder than I thought! Yet I know how powerfully it resonates with your peeps once you really have it going. I’ll keep tuned in for more!


Abby Kerr March 7, 2012 at 11:38 pm

So glad you found some inspiration here, Monica. I agree with you that switching from a business-y convo to even a slightly more personal one can be a challenge.


Laura Simms March 7, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Abby, this is so cool! This is the best I’ve understood what you do and how you help people. Looking forward to more. And you could totally make a mini-service out of doing write-ups like this for people.


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Thanks, Laura! I’m glad to hear this post helped you to see what I do. Appreciate you letting me know that.

And I’ve got a service on the way that *does* just this — but without the copywriting including in PHRASEOLOGIE LUXE. Great idea to offer a mini-by-email service, too! Hmm. Maybe I shall! :)


Brenda Bagwell March 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

I have never heard of ANY of these people but now I want to! I am going to “visit” all of them (if I can figure out how) but the very 1st one I want to web-meet is Havi Brooks.


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Oh, so cool to know that Havi piqued your interest, Brenda. She is wonderful. :)


Anne Hubben March 8, 2012 at 9:09 am

Wow, what an insightful and helpful post, Abby!  Thank you for sharing this. 


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm

 Thanks, Anne! Glad it was helpful.


Robyn Mather March 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Abby, You take my breath away! I follow Danielle, Laura and Justine and your interpretation of their voices are nothing short of “Divine Creative Mastery”. It is exactly what I’ve experience from each of them. It’s time to kick it up a notch in my own business and nail my own brand voice! Can’t wait to read more about your new service.


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Thank you so very much, Robyn! :) What a gorgeous compliment.

I’m so happy you’re feeling inspired and look forward to getting to know more about you and your brand.


Bahieh March 8, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Brilliant post Abby, I follow some of these and really appreciate your putting words on what I experienced their brand voice to be.

Also, I love how it shows that there is not one right way to reach our right people. 

Glad I came across this post. 


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Hey, Bahieh! Thank you so much for being here & commenting.

This is my favorite part of your comment:

“I love how it shows that there is not one right way to reach our right people.”

That is SO what I believe about voice — & really, about everything related to online entrepreneurship. We distinguish ourselves through leaning more into the purest essence of us. It’s of course hard to approach, sometimes, but as we can see from these incredibly powerful voices, the end result is so very worth the process!


Chris Guillebeau March 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Thanks for analyzing me in the context of other great people. 

I have no Birkenstocks or Vibrams, but everything else sounds good. :)


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Thank you for coming by & commenting, Chris — & for being so gracious! :)

Here’s to whatever footwear you do prefer . . .


Cosmopolite Consulting March 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm

This piece is a masterpiece in itself!  So happy to have stumbled here and discovered several new teachers.   Storytelling is at the root of all these wonderful examples, they all have a unique voice but they communicate universal themes that resonate and guide us.   Will re-read and digest this gem slowly, with wonder and gratitude!  


Abby Kerr March 8, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks so much for spending some time here. Glad to have you and happy to hear this piece is inspiring. And yes — I love how we each find ways to tell our own stories. :)


Danielle LaPorte March 9, 2012 at 1:03 am

it’s worth mentioning that i read this to my man. he laughed that kind of ‘you’ve been nailed’ laugh. couldn’t get more affirmation of your analytical prowess than THAT. xo


Monica Lee March 9, 2012 at 8:23 am

Oh! Danielle, that’s funny! I enjoyed this too!


Abby Kerr March 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

If it meets with the partner stamp of approval . . . ;)

Thanks, Danielle!


gennamcwhinnie March 9, 2012 at 3:46 am

Great post Abby and may I just say “Girl, you KNOW your shiz!”


Abby Kerr March 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Thank you, Genna. I love this shiz right here. ;)


Justine Musk March 10, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Awesome, fascinating stuff (and not just because I’m one of the voices being, as Danielle put it in her tweet, ANALYZED…). And thank you for putting me in such incredible company. Gives me a huge warm fuzzy. I hope you do this kind of ANALYZING as a regular feature — it makes for some highly addictive reading and shows what you do and what you’re about. xo.


Abby Kerr March 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Hi, Justine! Thank you. I do know that articulating people’s voices — and helping them to write most effectively for themselves — has been one of my sweet spots, though I’ve kept it mostly hidden except with clients and close peers. Feels good to be more explicit with it. So glad it’s exciting to you!


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