We were lucky enough to get 30 minutes of Hillary Weiss’ crazy busy schedule to ask her about her tips and tricks for helping small and medium-sized brands stand out online. Soak up these wise words from Hillary right now – and follow her on Twitter for thoughts and musings. Because that whole “finding a voice” thing is easier said than done.

Before we get started ““ let’s hear a little bit about how you got your start in the world of branding.

I started my business when I was 22. I wanted to be a journalist, and I interned at my community newspaper. And then I discovered the world of PR, where I met one of my first mentors, Alexandra Franzen. My first gig with Alexandra was transcribing strategy sessions with her clients ““ so I got to learn the ropes fast.

Tell me a bit about the businesses you work with today.

I work with a wide range of businesses ““ but my sweet spot is personality-driven brands that strive to do things differently. I often help them identify what makes them unique, and show them how to tell their one-of-a-kind story to their audience. I also work with many people in the creative and coaching spheres as well.

Let’s jump into the good stuff. What makes a good brand voice a great brand voice?

This boils down to one word that I am always repeating to my clients: clarity! It’s clarity in three parts: offer, message, and differentiation. Simply put ““ people want to know what you’re selling, why it’s great, and why you’re better than the competition. If you want to see clarity done well, browse the content of Warby Parker, Glossier, and Susie Carder. They know what it takes to connect with the right people.

The brands you mention are backed by a ton of talent and resources. What’s the first step businesses doing it on their own or working with a marketing partner should take when they want to hit their stride?

Let’s use the example of a sock company. It’s important that you sit down with your co-owners and ask:

  1. What makes our brand truly different? Is it the quality of the socks, or the fact that you give out free socks to the homeless? Is it the aesthetic?
  2. Who are the clients that we don’t want? How can we communicate in a way that discourages them, and encourages our target buyer?
  3. What are we for and against in our industry? Do you want to talk about social and political issues?

It might seem strange to put an emphasis on the clients you don’t want buying your product or service — but brands who do this are the most memorable. You achieve this by taking a clear stance on issues far beyond what you’re selling. The result? You start building an engaged audience. Having 200 evangelists is so, so much more effective than 10,000 people who only tune in to what you’re saying sometimes, at best. Too often, the branding process becomes about mass appeal ““ which ends up resulting in muddled, unclear, and generic messages.

When it comes to producing content, building a blog and creating content for social media channels might seem out of reach for many businesses. What’s your recommended process for newbies?

The first order of business is to create an editorial calendar. This is essentially a schedule of when you can post content, and it’s fine to start small. For the actual content ““ keep in mind that written blogs are excellent for SEO, so try to get a couple of evergreen pieces on your site. You can always outsource this production to a local freelancer or work with a marketing partner if you don’t have a resident word nerd. Videos are also easy to produce, and they can be posted on your blog with bullet-point summaries. In the age of Instagram Live, videos don’t have to be super polished and professional ““ appearing authentic is an asset! The most important factor that should guide what you create is value: make sure you’re always giving your audience useful information.

During our Growth Lab events in cities across the U.S. ““ we talk about the concept of “Thinking Like an App” — which encourages local businesses to apply principles that big brands use to connect with consumers. What’s your go-to “Think Like an App” tactic for your clients?

No matter what you’re going to do, test it before going all in! Don’t revamp your entire brand without taking a few aspects for a spin, first. For example, if you want to mirror the way a business such as Dominos keeps their customers in the loop about their upcoming delivery, instead of building an entirely new technology, opt for a simpler and more cost-effective approach, like live text updates with key pieces of information. No two audiences are the same ““ so taking your genius ideas for a test drive is crucial!

For more of Hillary’s Weiss’ wise words, check out her blog. And listen to her episode of The Growth Lab Show for even more of Hillary.

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