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Sarah Herman on crafting words and shaping brands

Sarah Herman on crafting words and shaping brands
Sarah Herman on crafting words and shaping brands

Sarah Herman is a freelance copywriter and brand strategist with cross-sector experience in brand development, content marketing, and publishing. Collaborating with agencies, she’s created work for global giants, including Netflix and Samsung, as well as Norfolk favourites, like Bread Source and Holkham. She’s also written over 30 books on subjects ranging from LEGO and unsolved crimes to Facebook and feminism. Here she talks about getting under a brand’s skin, developing a brand voice, and her tips for writing engaging copy.

How do you approach the process of understanding a client’s brand and target audience?

Depending on the size and complexity of an organisation, and whether it’s a new brand or an established business, this can vary slightly. But typically, I talk to core stakeholders – from senior leadership to junior team members as well as partners and customers. These conversations take the form of semi-structured interviews so key topics are covered and people can fully express their thoughts and ideas. 

For premises-based businesses, like visitor attractions, shops, or restaurants, I carry out site visits to experience the offering first-hand. I’ll also take a good look at competitors to understand where a business fits in the market. 

My process doesn’t involve any formal audience research, but often businesses will have engaged experts to undertake this already and provide me with their findings. 

How do you adapt your tone of voice to suit the unique characteristics of each industry or audience?

Ideally, I will be involved from the start, helping to define and develop a brand’s personality and voice. It’s useful to focus on a few core personality traits that make a business stand out, for example, ‘outrageous’ or ‘whimsical’, over those that could be said of many brands, like ‘warm’ or ‘friendly’. Your brand’s personality, and the brand voice that stems from it, should be a reflection of your values, so sometimes it helps to align each personality trait with these.

Writing in a brand voice takes practice. The more you work with a brand, the more you understand what is (and what isn’t) something it would say. At first, it can involve a bit of trial and error to find the right balance. Most businesses want their communications to be clear and consistent, but there’s lots of room for variation within that. It’s important to find places where a brand’s voice can shine through – from headlines to UX copy. 

If I’ve been hired strictly as a copywriter or content writer, I always ask for the brand guidelines so I can follow those – but you’d be surprised how many established organisations don’t have these for their brand voice. 

How do you ensure that your copy is engaging and persuasive whilst maintaining a clear and consistent brand voice?

First, putting yourself in your audience’s shoes is essential – just because something floats your boat, it might not make sense to the people who matter most. 

Second, I like to brain dump at the beginning of a piece of writing to shake out all the good (and not so good ideas). This makes the most engaging options much more obvious. 

And third, editing! I started my career in publishing, so I’ve always been very happy to cut things back to the bare minimum and kill my darlings. Taking a break and returning to my work with fresher eyes makes it easier to spot inconsistencies, repetition, unnecessary gumph, and anything that doesn’t sound on-brand. 

What are your favourite resources and tools for staying updated on industry trends and best copywriting practices?

I’m a big fan of Dan Nelken and Vicki Ross, who both create and share loads of useful resources on LinkedIn. I’m also a member of ProCopywriters – the UK’s largest membership organisation for commercial writers. It regularly sends out useful links to members’ blogs, runs webinar training sessions, and hosts an annual conference. More locally, Brandland runs some interesting branding-focused events in Norwich.

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