Q. I work for a nonprofit helping kids who are at risk. My boss has asked me to rewrite our marketing and outreach materials to give them “a stronger voice.” What does she mean?
A. In writing and speaking, voice is what gives your words attitude and personality. It makes your writing distinctively your own. For a business or nonprofit organization, it is an extension of your brand, expressing your values, how you perceive yourself and how you wish to be perceived.
Voice is a state of mind, rather than a specific style. It is a combination of word choices, sentence structure and tone, which taken together convey who you are and your point of view.
Every famous writer has a voice that is easy to recognize. Ernest Hemingway’s voice is far different from that of Jane Austen, and J.D. Salinger’s writing will never be confused with Alice Walker’s.
The same is true of famous speakers. If you follow politics, you know that Donald Trump has a very different voice from Hillary Clinton.
Clinton and Trump are classic examples of using voice to extend a brand. In each of their voices – the attitude, not the sound or volume – the audience hears a strong personal brand expressing how they see themselves and how they want others to see them.
No one voice is “right.”
The voice you use when writing or speaking for a business or nonprofit should express the authentic brand personality that attracted your current customers and made them receptive to your message.
A law firm, for example, may want a serious and authoritative voice. A family-focused organization may seek to sound warm and accessible. A nonprofit helping at-risk kids may want to express urgency and passion for its cause.
At Hollister Creative, we pay attention to voice in our monthly newsletter. We like to have fun, so we share our knowledge in a light-hearted voice. We think of our readers as Friends of Hollister, so our voice is friendly. We want our voice to convey who and what we are.