What do all great brands have, that every business wants to have, but almost nobody knows exactly how to get?

A unique and effective brand voice.

A brand voice is the company's personality: Down-to-earth or sophisticated? Vintage or futuristic? Goofy or formal?

One way to think of your own brand voice is to ask, "If my business were a person, what would he or she be like?"

When some people hear "brand voice," they think of a company's logos and the tone of its communications. But a brand voice goes beyond all that. It's the totality of how a business communicates.

It's both form and substance. Yes, it's the tone, style, and personality of everything you put out. And it's also your language, messaging, and choice of media.

Even without these definitions, we know when a brand has a good voice. Brands like Coke, Nike, Apple, Old Spice, Mailchimp, and Shinola come to mind.

But a brand voice is not just about how your company appears to the public.

Does Your Business Really Need a Brand Voice?

"It's the soul of your brand, articulated onto and within your content," writes Melissa Lafsky Wall, founder of Brick Wall Media, "What that soul is, and what it has to say, is up to you--but if it doesn't say something, you'll never separate your brand and your content from the noisey (sic), crowded digital dinner party."

As a business owner, you want an effective brand voice, too. It distinguishes you from competitors. It makes you memorable to your potential and existing customers. It can even get you more money from investors.

Most of all, your brand voice makes people comfortable talking to you. For example, Oprah has a very different voice from Dr. Phil, but their distinct styles make their specific audiences feel comfortable with them.

How Not to Develop Your Brand Voice

The worst way you can go about developing your brand voice is by locking yourself in a cabin in the woods and concocting a brand personality you think will resonate best with your target customers.

A much more effective approach is to first find the people who are a good fit for your offer, and then determine the messaging, language, and presentation that will make them comfortable to approach you.

It comes down to listening.

Listen to what your ideal buyers are saying, empathize with them, and respect their challenges and struggles. Add your intuition to hear what they're really looking for and what they need to hear from you.

There's no magic bullet to make this easy. It's part of the journey you have to go on to truly connect with your market and serve them.

Some people mistakenly believe they can take their expertise or product online and simply begin selling to strangers and make a ton of money. They think they can build a sustainable business without ever having to talk to people in their market.

The reality is, it never ever works that way. I don't know anyone who has been successful without first having conversations with people and using their feedback to develop a product--and brand voice--that sells.

So, begin with the circles you already circulate in. Reach out to your friends, family, and contacts. Sit down with them, share your ideas, and listen. If you already have a few customers, contact them and find out what about your brand resonated with them.

Long after you've conceived your brand voice, started articulating it consistently, and been attracting customers, you need to keep listening. Markets evolve, your business will evolve, and your brand voice must adapt to stay relevant. Listening will help you accomplish this.