Many a B2B marketer has lamented their own bland copy, placing the blame on their "traditional" (read "boring"), heavily regulated industry. But you can make your B2B brand stand out without being controversial or breaking any laws. You just have to hone your brand voice so you don't sound like everyone else.

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Ahava Leibtag, president and owner of Aha Media Group, specializes in helping healthcare brands distinguish their messaging by refining their brand voice and simplifying their language. But her advice applies equally to every "boring" B2B brand: your voice has the potential to make your messaging unique; gain a competitive advantage by refining your voice and tone.

I invited Ahava to record this special episode of Marketing Smarts live in our MarketingProfs PRO Facebook group two weeks ago. (If you're a PRO member, come join us there for sneak peeks; livestreams with marketing industry stars like Chris Brogan, Jason Falls, and Ann Handley; and other exclusive content!)

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.

To refine your brand voice, pick a celebrity you think embodies your brand, and channel him or her (02:13) "When we teach voice and tone, one of the things we tell brands is 'pick a celebrity that you really think embodies your brand.' A lot of people will pick Tom Hanks or Michelle Obama. So we have to push brands to think beyond more central figures and think about 'are they quirkier, do they have something else to say, do they want to come across in a different way?' And then you always want to sound like that voice.

"Tom Hanks is actually a really good example right now because when he tested positive (for COVID-19), he came out, he talked about it. His wife talked about it. And I think that he tried to be straightforward and comforting at the same time. And for a lot of brands, especially brands that deal in things that are really affecting people's lives like now—like healthcare and financial services and insurance—need to really think about their tone. They may actually need to revisit that 'voice and tone grid' that they have or the do's and don'ts of voice and tone.

"And think through 'how are we going to change the way we're talking in the marketplace?' It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be softer. You want your voice to be amplified, but in a sensitive way. There's a lot of empathy that comes along with having to talk with people about the horrible things that have happened."

Marketers can take some lessons from the CDC's pandemic playbook (04:17) "The Center for Disease Control has an entire group of people...that do field epidemiology and they have an entire playbook for how to handle an outbreak, an epidemic, and a pandemic. Because it starts with an outbreak and then it moves into what we're experiencing now. They have an entire chapter devoted to communications, and the things that they talk about—marketers can use.

"Pick a spokesperson. Make that person a scientist (not a political figure). So the CEO of your company or somebody within the company who's a trusted name should be communicating. Filter through that person. Be empathetic, but also be very straightforward. And don't overpromise. Because nobody can."

Look to crisis communications for guidance (10:00) "If somebody does a study [after the pandemic's over] of the brands that were successful, they're brands that had a crisis in the last 10 or 15 years, moved through it, and had some lessons learned. So what do you do if you're a brand that's never dealt with anything like [a pandemic] before?

"Take a step back and ask yourself the same three questions you always ask yourself: Who's our audience right now, what's going to help our business the most, and how can we communicate exactly those two things?' That's content strategy. How do we help our users accomplish their tasks and how do we help the business grow or function? Those three questions always need to be in alignment.

"And then you need to ask yourself, 'OK, so now that we know the answer to the audiences, we know what we need to do for the business, we need to know how we're going to combine those two things and give those people what they need. It's all about tactics. Where are those people hanging out? What do they need to know?"

To learn more, visit, and be sure to follow Ahava on Twitter at @AhavaL.

Ahava and I talked about much more, including how to select the right brand spokesperson, so be sure and listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

"Marketing Smarts" theme music composed by Juanito Pascual of Signature Tones.

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