MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023

Ann Handley on the Challenges of Brand Voice

Ann Handley gets writing. The struggles, the joys, the missteps, the wins.

After all, she wrote the book on it: Everybody Writes.

And then she re-wrote the book—Everybody Writes: Your New-and-Improved Go-To Guide For Creating Ridiculously Good Content—because even Ann knows, everything can be improved with a re-write.

Ann celebrated the release of her second edition at B2B Forum 2022, where she gave the opening address on the challenges we face when writing with Brand Voice.

Watch the video here, or read the transcript below.


Join Ann Handley in Boston for B2B Forum, Oct 4-6, 2023. She’ll be joined by 600 of your closest B2B marketing friends for inspiration, education, networking, and shenanigans. Get your two-day ticket or workshop-included All-Access Pass now!


I believe ‘brand voice’ does not get enough attention. Especially in B2B marketing.

Yet I believe that a recognizable, identifiable voice can make or break your marketing.

What is voice, really? It’s how you sound when someone reads your writing, right? That’s what voice is. It’s how you sound when someone reads your writing. It’s how you sound in their head.

And brand voice is exactly the same thing.

It’s just that it also carries your personality in your brand. And it conveys who you are as a company… and what you are like to deal with to your prospects and to your customers.

Now, I think that brand voice matters more than ever, and we need to pay more attention to it. 

But the thing is, voice is so hard in B2B. It is just, it’s tough, right? The brand voices that are celebrated, the ones that we read about when you hear about brand voice as being like an incredible leader for a company, it’s most often those B2C brands. It’s those B2C brands. The funny, snarky, in-your-face B2C brand, like Wendy’s, for example, they troll McDonald’s all the time. Or, like Steak-umms on Twitter, they troll themselves in a completely ironic way. And what’s more than that, they don’t even use uppercase letters or punctuation because that’s how edgy the voice of frozen beef sheets are.

This is brand voice. They’re killing it.

Or Duolingo, language-learning app, their TikTok is so unhinged that I don’t even understand it. I follow them, and I love it, and I don’t know why.

Where do we start as B2B marketers who want to embrace more tone of voice?

I have three thoughts for you.

Number one, defy the conventions of your own category, even a teensy bit. A teensy bit can make a big difference. You don’t have to blow the entire website up or blow all your product sheets up. You don’t have to blow up every single landing page or your social channels, none of it. Just think about it a little bit at a time.

The second thing is to help your voice reflect your culture. We are fun people. We work for incredible companies who do amazing things. So let’s bring some of that into our voice.

And finally, embrace what I call ‘clams’—but that the rest of the world calls Easter eggs. A clam means that there’s a special little something inside. The special little something that maybe only some people know.

So is voice harder in B2B? Is it?

Heck, no.

Published 3/29/23

B2B Forum is packed with marketing insights, strategies, and tactics taken from the real world experience of over forty industry experts, packaged into context you can actually put to use.

Join us in Boston for B2B Forum 2024 this coming November 12-14, 2024. Early buyers get B2B Forum tickets at their lowest rate, and discounted hotel rooms are available while they last.


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