Before you tweet your tweet, write your blog, or create content for your website—what’s your brand voice?
Whether you’re starting a new company from the ground up or redefining an already existing brand, you have to make sure you’ve clearly and accurately defined your brand’s voice.
what is brand voice?
Sometimes, the term “brand voice” can be bandied around like the cool new buzzword. It is often misused, which makes it increasingly important to know exactly what brand voice means.
Brand voice is far more than just a buzzword; when talking about your branded content, brand voice is the backbone of all the content you create and push out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post, a tweet, an infographic, or a myriad of other content, your brand voice should distinguish who you are from the rest of the world.
Your brand voice is also a tool for you to externally showcase your brand’s personality, style, character and purpose. Every time your brand “speaks”, it should be drawing information from your brand personality—a set of traits that comprise your brand identity—and be consistent every time you interact with customers.
Imagine texting your family asking what they want for dinner. One person replies with “tacos”, another person responds with “Chinese food” but a third family member responds with “I decree this evening’s nourishment shall be victuals of the Indian variety.”
Their response doesn’t fit the channel and it doesn’t fit their normal tone of voice. It sounds weird, it feels forced, and it’s kind of a turn off when you feel like you need a dictionary just to understand what someone is telling you. This overly complicated way of communicating has us scratching our heads and rolling our eyes.
But brands do this all the time. They release statements with flowery language and jam-packed with jargon, but then try to be the “cool kid” on social media. It feels fake and can leave customers feeling confused. When you make it a priority to have a consistent brand voice, you’re helping to establish trust and familiarity for your brand. It can also help set you apart from your competition.
So where should you begin?
Your brand voice is an expression of your values and purpose. You can’t just make it up and hope for the best or create it entirely on a whim based on a trend. Your brand voice will grow from your company’s values and way of thinking, a refleciton of who you are as a company right now.
Start by finding what your company stands for. You have to pin down your values before you can start writing– the what you’re writing should always come before the how. When you’re looking for your values, ask yourself a few questions.
Why was the company set up in the first place? Beyond profits and income, there was an initial spark of excitement that lead you to building a company– get back to that. Find the drive that’s behind everything.
Heist, a tights manufacturer, clearly uses their values to define their brand voice. Established in an old Spitfire factory in London, Heist wanted to “reimagine tights” and “celebrate strength and femininity”. The brand now works with inspiring women to design their tights and present innovative ways of presenting the female form.
Since Heist values women, they make website visitors and newsletter subscribers feel as if they’re a part of a sisterhood of supportive and strong women. Their social media celebrates strong women across the globe from past and present as icons of strength and femininity– the exact values of the brand.
When you look at Heist, you can see their brand transcends just selling tights. Their initial spark was female empowerment and what the body can do.
How do you work differently, and what’s you spark?
Every company does business a little bit differently and business operations can reveal your priorities and values in business.
Arguably, Apple and Samsung do very similar work yet with their own unique approach. Apple tries to poise itself as a lifestyle brand. They focus on building emotional connections with their users through a people-driven design and focus on imagination, innovation, passion and aspiration. Because of the brand and the strong emotional connection Apple was able to build, consumers are willing to pay the premium for the “Apple experience”.
On the other hand, Samsung tries to exude the idea of superior technology that is practical. As a massive international conglomerate that manufactures a wide variety of electronics, Samsung’s forte is in innovative and impressive features. Their products aren’t just there to “wow” users but to improve their lives.
One has positioned themselves as a lifestyle, the other has positioned themselves as a quality tool.
After you identify your values, start thinking of your vocabulary. You might enjoy speaking humorously with lots of jokes and sarcasm, but that might not be what your customers want. Or, you might enjoy speaking more poetically while your customers would rather straight-talking technical speech. How can you communicate with them with the language they understand and are accustomed to?
You also need to assess how formal your language needs to be. There are occasions where more formal language is warranted, and there are times where you can be more relaxed in your verbiage; this will need to vary over different platforms and contexts. It’s good to identify a baseline level of vocabulary and then what level is slightly above and slightly below your base so you can change the formality of your interactions.
While a more formal vocabulary can convey a sense of professionalism and authority, it can also come across as stuffy or stuck up at times. On the flip side, more relaxed speech can come across as warm and comfortable, though with the risk of sound flippant.
Company bios are a great place to look for differences in vocabulary. One bio may say:
“Jane is an accomplished attorney with extensive experience in real estate law and environmental issues. Jane is a frequent lecturer at The State University in topics such as environmental law, communication law and property law.”
While another bio may say:
“Joe is one part creative executive, one part writer, one part band nerd and one part video gamer extraordinaire. Too many parts? Well, none of those parts happen to be mathematician.”
The difference is incredible. One is more formal and sticks to the job; the other is incredibly relaxed and talks about the personal life outside of their profession. Is one more correct than the other? Depends on the industry and what you’re trying to convey about you and your employees. Take a long look at your competitors and see if there are any trends in vernacular to find your starting point.
Buzzfeed is dominating the Internet, and many posts from the media company are going viral across social media. With funny quizzes and gif-centric posts intermingled with bite-sized news articles, their sense of humor really shines and attracts audiences looking for a new kind of news.
MailChimp is a great marketing tool that also uses humor to set it apart from other email providers on the user interface side. Their distinctive copy is fun and lively while appearing next to brightly colored cartoons to give it a younger feel.
But is humor right for your brand voice?
Humor has to be well done and completely intentional. Even slapstick comedians use humor purposefully.
Humor needs to tap into a feeling since emotional connections are one of the strongest connections customers can have with a brand. Words can shape how customers feel, and using colloquial, everyday language can be a great way to to forge an emotional connection. High emotion words, or words that are capable of transforming a lukewarm customer to your strongest advocate, are a must-have in your copy.
When you’re selling your services and products, what you’re really doing is evoking desire and making it impossible for them not to take action.
- “Have you heard?”
- Insider’s Scoop
- Left out
- First ever
Words aren’t just strings of alphabets thrown together, they’re cues and triggers that you should take advantage of at every given chance.
For it to be effective, your humor also needs to be humble and poke fun at your brand and not your customers. Very seldom will a customer want to purchase from a brand that’s laughing at them rather than with them. Like MailChimp, self-deprecating humor can be effective in endearing your brand to your readers and suggests a down-to-earth persona. Instead of labeling their standard email structures something mundane like “Classic Campaign”, MailChimp called it a “Regular Ol’ Campaign”. It’s easy, it’s different and you know exactly what you’re getting when you click on it.
Subtlety also goes a long way with humor. Attempting to wedge in jokes at every possible chance can seem clumsy or awkward. This can be off-putting to your customers. Gentler forms of humor can lighten your copy and build meaning.
If you’re adding humor to your brand voice, commit 100 percent and have fun with it. A great place to start is by listing common phrases you use to describe your products or services and reinvent them in new ways.
“Start your day off right with some account stats and recommendations”
“Introducing Instagram Ads”
“We’re rolling out Instagram ads to help you grow your audience and sell more stuff”
“An easy-to-use shave kit”
“Every man worth his salt should master the art of a shave, and this kit is here to help”
“A thick lather to help you get a close shave”
“Hops provide a thick, creamy and (dare we say it?) sumptuous lather, getting you the closest of shaves”
Storytelling is a way to present information about your brand in a way that resonates on an emotional level with your customers. It’s a way to turn a seemingly-chaotic tangle of information into a coherent piece that leads readers from one idea to the next in a logical manner. So, once you have an idea of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, it’s time to add the bigger structural devices, like storytelling, to your brand voice toolkit.
Your brand story doesn’t have to start with “once upon a time” to be memorable. A good story will stick in the minds of the readers if the story’s elements can be boiled down to their simplest parts and exist as a universal concept that anyone can relate to.
A good story must feature a series of challenges and obstacles faced by the protagonist (your customer) and how he or she can overcome them (by using your product or service). Draw out the basic human emotions, like frustration at an obstacle or hope at a solution, and embrace details to really set your brand story apart.
The most obvious place for storytelling is through a video advertisement. It can be fun, it can be quirky, it can be serious– it can be whatever you need.
For example, Crossfit.
No one has ever asked themselves, “Do I know anyone in Crossfit?”
You either do or you don’t. It’s very obvious who does– and does not– do Crossfit from their dozens of t-shirts emblazoned with their gym’s logo to their crazy, almost death-defying workouts. But they tell a great story about their brand with a clearly defined brand voice.
Take their documentary of their 2014 Crossfit Games (warning, it’s an hour long).
After watching that, it’s hard not to want to lift a tire across a football field, do 40 burpees in a row and then run 10 miles. And it’s easy to see why someone would want to join Crossfit. There’s a clear protagonist (every day people looking for an engaging workout), obstacles to overcome (a fitness journey that needs to be tailored to their interests) and a solution (Crossfit).
Stories don’t have to be in video form, and they don’t always have to be directly about the company.
Airbnb is 100 percent about their customers– the customer is their brand. If you’re not familiar with Airbnb and its business model, the company is a home-sharing marketplace where users can offer their property for rent. Travelers then use the site to book their accommodations for generally less than what a hotel would cost with much more privacy and options.
Because Airbnb is incredibly customer reliant, they’re sharing their customers’ stories instead of the company’s. A section of their site is dedicated to “Stories of the Airbnb Community” and you can hear from people all over the world about their traveling experiences. If you navigate to the “Belong Anywhere” section of the site, you can find short films by hosts detailing what a guest might expect a stay with them to be like.
Stories can also be told in the “About Us” section of a website, customer reviews, presentations and so much more.
Ben and Jerry’s creatively tell a story about the everyday challenges of business with their “flavor graveyard” where customers can actually visit and pay homage to the flavors that never were or discontinued favorites. Each tomb speaks of a goal (a new flavor) and the end result (death of the flavor). Plaques on the tomb can provide more detail– and involve humor– and turn the mundane of business into something interesting.
The discontinued Fresh Georgia Peach flavor (RIP 1986-1991) is memorialized with the words, “Fresh-picked peaches, trucked from Georgia, tasted great but couldn’t last, ‘cuz Georgia’s quite-a-ways away & trucks don’t go that fast.”
Once you’ve found your brand voice, it’s time to incorporate it into your brand communication. It’s one thing to just describe your voice; it’s a completely different challenge to get your employees to embrace it in their writing.
Creating a guide can help retrain current team members and serve as a critical tool for training new team members. Your guide can also help your team feel more confident in their outside communications with clearly defined rules and guidelines.
Brand voice is an important part of building your brand. Without it, a company runs the risk of being lost in the minds of their audience and being considered commonplace in the market. A tone of voice can express a unique personality and turn a faceless company into a group of people. It’s only by embracing a brand voice that consistency can be achieved and your brand will find familiarity and trust with an audience.
The most important thing is that your brand voice resonates with the people who will hear it.
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