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How To Position Your Voice Over
Biz To Develop A Credible 'Brand'


By Cliff Zellman
Voice Over Director / Producer

In all the marketing discussions about the importance of creating a brand for your voice over services, what I rarely hear is anything about positioning.

Why? Maybe it's not as sexy as branding.
 
Branding! Wow that's a cool word, so instant and so final at the same time. It sounds so powerful. This is mine!
 
THE FINAL ELEMENT
 
So, what is a brand? A brand is the final element of the mix.
 
A brand is not something decided over a good Merlot and proper lighting. We all know what a real brand is.
 
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as "a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers."
 
Distinct seems to be the key word. Different. Unique.
 
WE ARE ALL UNIQUE
 
But does this really translate to voice over, considering that each VO artist is by definition different and unique?
 
No two voices are identical.

If you give a short script to 10 different artists, each will in turn, give you 10 different reads.
 
NO FITS-FOR-ALL ANSWER

For example, I hear all the time, "What is the best microphone for voice over?"
 
There is no correct answer because every voice is different.
 
Using this logic, we need to take a look at what would work for you when it comes to branding.
 
Branding can only exist with a history - a history of a real product, one that has a reputation for quality, consistency, longevity, and reproducibility.
 
IMPORTANCE OF HISTORY
 
A brand without a solid history is a scam. You know it and I know it.
 
In my day they were called "fly by nights."
 
I strongly believe that a newcomer to this, or any highly competitive industry, must position themselves before even considering the B word.
 
EXAMINE YOUR POSITIONING
 
Let's dissect the word positioning.

It means to put yourself in a place of advantage, in the right place at the right time, but I think most importantly, to be ready when called upon, like a runner in a relay race is poised, trained, and trusted to firmly grab their teammate's baton and move ahead to win the race.
 
Positioning takes years of planning in terms of education, training, practice, technical skills far beyond those called upon just a few years ago, the unquenchable desire to do voice over and even more practice and training.
 
THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS
 
Voice over is not a hobby or a whim or a way to make a few extra bucks.
 
Imagine hearing someone say, "Maybe I could be a doctor. They make a lot of money."
 
If that's what you're thinking, quit now and go get a job at Wendy's. You'll be much more successful.
 
Every day more and more people are inquiring about "getting into voice over."
 
INUNDATED BY COMPETITION
 
The competition is already incredible, thanks in part to the Internet, Guitar Center, pay-to-play sites, and often other-than-sincere industry people offering to "get you ready to go in no time."
 
They will tell you to create a website, a logo, a catch phrase, and business cards, and to attend a national mixer, do a blog, post endless self-promoting blather on Facebook and Twitter, get your picture taken with a famous VO personality and most importantly, do a demo now.
 
Wrong!
 
I am not saying that these tools are not important. Quite the contrary, they are essential.
 
FIRST THINGS FIRST
 
But only when you have accomplished the aforementioned requirements. 
 
Here's a horse and here's a cart: The cart is you, and the horse is your branding. Which comes first?
 
The cart is your history, your talent, your abilities, your extensive education, professionalism, code of ethics, passion and experience.
 
The horse is your ability to move forward.
 
BE A GOOD HORSEMAN
 
Without a well-trained equestrian, the horse, no matter how well groomed, will remain motionless, much like the VO artist who relies more on their brand than their abilities.
 
So again, how do you brand yourself? 
 
You don't. You let time brand you. You let the industry brand you.
 
Self-assigned nicknames rarely stick and are often more phony than their creator.
 
GROW  BUSINESS NATURALLY
 
Your brand will become obvious as you augment your skills and abilities. You will find your niche, naturally.
 
Your specialties will become apparent over time. If you are as good as you say you are, we'll know it.
 
And if you are not, we'll know that as well, no matter how creative and well groomed your branding may be.
 
And I'm sure you do not want to build your career around what comes out of the back end of the horse.
 
A WORD FROM THE WISE

"Branding resides in the realm of Outside Perception - how people outside your organization perceive it. Branding is what you present to the world and your prospects.  If you're posting on FB or blogging or anything else public - like it or not - that's part of your branding and people will judge you based on it. If your demo is great but you canít deliver in the booth, people will judge you based on that. Everything adds or detracts from your reputation." - Gene Vann

In conclusion, practice, train, record at home, hone your audio skills, join a meet-up group, build professional relationships, read and practice and train continuously.
 
These are the steps to branding. These are the steps to long-term success.
 
This is honest and this is ethical.

ABOUT CLIFF ...

Cliff Zellman is a director and producer with over 30 years in the industry, and is also the founder and organizer of the Dallas Voice Acting Meet Up Group.

Meet Up Group Web: www.meetup.com/voiceover
Email: cliff@dallasvo.com

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Comments (10)
Michael King Jr
11/25/2011 at 1:13 PM
Nice article. I will keep practicing & networking and let my experiences develop my brand.
Judy Fossum
11/23/2011 at 6:19 PM
Cliff,

I am so grateful for this article, thank you. I've been stressing about branding and my niche and the like, trying to figure out what the heck it really is.

Even with taking classes (performance and business) and now delving into auditions I am still not sure what my brand is, but to quote you, "Your brand will become obvious as you augment your skills and abilities. You will find your niche, naturally." My plan is to just keep working at what I love to do, to keep learning, adding skills, upgrading equipment, networking and auditioning.

Thank you for taking the time to write and to share this article.

Thank you,
Judy Fossum
Cheyenne, WY
Jay Lloyd
11/18/2011 at 5:05 PM
I'm conflicted on this and I'm sure to draw the ire of some. Cliff has nailed the status of the VO industry, i.e. "swamped" with wannabe's just clogging the job acquisition process and lowering pay rates. And they're encouraged by VO veterans trying to "help" them with tidbits of advice that will likely only cost them money for a sure-to-fail career.

There are so many elements to the VO biz, not the least of which is NATURAL TALENT, initial training and then practice, practice, practice!

In L.A., I witnessed the modeling schools taking money and convincing short, fat girls they can be runway stars if only they spend enough on training. Ditto half-baked acting classes. And don't get me started on writer-groups where unpublished scribes are encouraged to critique each other's writing! Want to guarantee failure? Join one of those friendly groups!

As for P2P, that's a mixed bag. The sheer volume of membership waters down the quality of auditions and probably... probably gives false hope to those who really should take up another career. Jennifer Vaughn, a VERY successful voicer, wrote an excellent article, right here, detailing her financial success with P2P; she doesn't dismiss it, but isn't a big fan either.

Kudos to Cliff for saying it like it is. Simply put, just get on with your craft and don't worry about "branding." Others will "brand" you...whether you like it or not.
Jim Conlan
11/18/2011 at 10:17 AM
Cliff, I'm a writer, producer and director, and I don't think I've ever heard a more complete and cogent explanation of branding and positioning. I also agree with Paul's response. I can add only one thing: your brand doesn't merely improve your chances of being hired - but of being hired again.
Roy Wells
11/18/2011 at 9:12 AM
Really good and sincere article, Cliff. I've often wondered how a director/producer feels wading thru the hundred or so auditions that come in for a job. Given the internet and the P2P sites, each job offering is a world-wide endeavor and you've got to figure that there will always be more talentless auditions for a job than those who have really applied themselves to our vo art.
Alan Sklar
11/18/2011 at 9:05 AM
Thank you, Cliff for a very informative and insightful article. I shall forward it to many VO friends.
Alan Sklar
Paul Strikwerda
11/18/2011 at 8:48 AM
I think the biggest mistake brands make these days, is believing that they can impose their image of how they should be perceived by the market. That's a relic from the old command-control culture. The masses can't be manipulated that easily.

No matter what we come up with in terms of preferred positioning or branding, it doesn't matter what we think or try to accomplish. What matters is how we are perceived by our clients.

In order to find out, we need to start listening first, before we open our mouths. Of course that's rather counter-intuitive for most voice-over professional!

Maxine Lennon
11/18/2011 at 6:19 AM
This was a great article, thank you...
Pam Turlow
11/17/2011 at 10:40 AM
Thank you for posting an article that helps to possibly deter those who are jumping on the v.o. bandwagon for quick profit. Those of us who've been at this for decades know that it does take a lot of work to hone your craft, to become a seasoned pro. Great article!!
Holly Franklin
11/17/2011 at 10:28 AM
Good ole Cliffy is a wise one indeed!
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