How to Develop a Compelling Brand Voice (People Want to Read)
When we talk about branding, we think of colours, logos, and product design. Yet, with content becoming the primary way brands market and communicate with customers, developing a distinct brand voice is critical to standing out from the crowd.
A brand voice, present throughout your social media posts and blog content, is as critical to your reputation as a consistent colour palette. In a few sentences, you can communicate your brand's values, ethos, and personality – locking in captivated customers.
Like any branding – it's easier said than done. Crafting a brand voice, maintaining consistency, and understanding why it matters will transform your business, turning fledgling customers into lifelong fans.
Here's how it's done.
What is a Brand Voice?
Brand voice is the tone and style in which your company speaks, communicating underlying values and personality. It's designed to make a brand feel familiar – like a friend or celebrity, rather than a faceless corporate entity. It's about humanising the inhuman, revealing the creativity and personality behind the logo.
Brand voice is the opposite of corporate messaging. It's human; it's tangible; it's real.
Like a person, a compelling brand voice means choosing some words over others. It's a decision to say something one way rather than another. But it's also fundamentally divisive – deal with it. If you're going to say something, someone will disagree. If you speak to everyone, you'll target no one.
That's not to say every brand voice is pure punk rock. A brand voice should be concordant with a brand's image and ethos. Where a running shoe manufacturer might cultivate an upbeat, active, and inspirational brand voice, a therapy service would be more subdued, caring, and empathetic.
Brand voice vs. brand tone: Huh! There's a difference?
Yep! In a nutshell – brand voice is consistent throughout time. It's the overall personality your company takes on. In contrast, the brand tone is how that voice is expressed depending on the situation.
For example, your overall brand voice might be fun, lively, and intimate; if you're addressing a company tragedy, you might use the intimacy to speak in a sombre tone.
How to Find Your Brand Voice
Developing your brand voice begins by reviewing the core aspects of your business:
Your product or service
Your business size
Who you're speaking to will largely determine how you speak to them. Selling B2B will entail a more professional and informative tone than B2C interactions – the latter is, by definition, more personal than the former. Meanwhile, selling band t-shirts to heavy metal fans means adopting a no-nonsense, active voice.
Your product/service and industry
Your product/service and industry further define your brand voice. We expect certain industries to speak in certain ways. Doctors and lawyers should speak authoritatively; children's toy producers can strike a fun and playful voice; car manufacturers are often passionate yet masculine; and perfume companies, ephemeral and feminine.
That's not to say you're restricted by people's expectations – dare to be different! It can set you apart from your competitors, helping to lure a subsection of the larger market. For example, a stationery company with a mouthy, in-your-face tone will put most people off but could become the go-to company for activists, punks, and anti-authoritarian firebrands. They're never going to capture the broader market, however.
Never forget Jeff Bezos's brand definition:
Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.
Your company size
This brings us to size: we moan about the "corporate image," but corporations try to please everyone by never saying anything. With fingers in so many pies, they can't risk appearing to have any discernible personality traits.
Smaller brands, on the other hand, ooze personality from every pore. They have to – it's how they attract attention. But you can expect any brand voice to become more conservative as the brand develops. It's something to bear in mind – what's your aspiration for your brand?
Brand Voice Examples
MailChimp: Humorous and Genuine
MailChimp uses quirky drawings and straightforward writing to create a humorous and genuine brand – befitting the name "MailChimp." There's no jargon or hyperbolic nonsense. It's clear, precise language informing you about their services.
And it does so with a dry wit uncommon in competing brands. Professional yet informal, it's a masterstroke of copywriting.
Coca-Cola: Positive and Friendly
Coca-Cola is one of the biggest brands on earth: it needs to be everyone's friend. It turns that challenge into a positive – it's a big friendly brand dedicated to taking life easy and enjoying a coke with friends. It's the "aahhhhh" when you take your first sip and the joyous, rosy cheeks of Santa Claus.
Try keeping that up for 130 years – it's phenomenal marketing!
Skittles: Whimsical and Weird
Skittles are a technicolour sweets brand embracing the weird. Log in to their website, and you'll be asked to enter your birthday. Here's how they do it:
Not to be chewsy, but first, we need to know your birthday to make sure you can handle this much fun.
Rather than just asking the question, it's a chance to showcase their brand voice. It's whimsical, weird, and fun – sort of like a sarcastic Willy Wonka.
Practising Your Brand Voice
I've got a few exercises to go through to develop your brand voice. They're short and simple – but they'll help you nail down precisely what you want to say and how you want to say it. So, grab a pen and paper.
Exercise 1: Let's start easy – pick a popular brand (or your favourite) and define it in three words. Here are some brand voice examples:
Apple. Refined. Creative. Bold.
Puma. Active. Sleek. Powerful.
Exercise 2: (You guessed it!) Write out your brand's voice in three words.
Exercise 3: Write a 250-word intro to a blog article in three different styles, e.g., sassy, funny, or smart. Which one suits your brand?
Exercise 4: Create a social media post in the style of your new brand voice.
Exercise 5: Write an abandoned cart email using your new brand voice – be creative!
Create a Brand Voice Style Guide
To codify your brand's voice, it's helpful to create a style guide – especially if multiple people are writing content and copy. It's a roadmap for future employees, freelancers, business partners, and more.
Step 1 Declare your mission statement and brand values
What are your company's purpose and aspirations? Communicate your values and goals in a concise paragraph detailing your shared vision for the brand. It should inform everything else in the style guide.
Step 2 Describe your brand as a character
How do you want your customers to feel? It's hard to decide when we're talking about a company – so think of your brand as a person: who are you?
For example: "We're the kindly old doctor you trust to tell you the honest truth in a frank but understanding way. We want customers to feel trusting, reverent, and supported after engaging with us."
Step 3 Lists the dos and don'ts
It's basic – what do you want to encourage or avoid? It could be "no emojis" or "never use slang." In contrast, you might encourage the use of appropriate slang and, like Skittles, "use high-quality puns to cause someone to smile."
What's included depends wholly on your brand. Ensure you also cover how your brand voice shifts depending on the context: social media posts, blog articles, newsletters, text messages, etc.
Step 4 Consider how your brand should sound
Create two lists: one describing what your brand's voice should sound like and the other what it shouldn't sound like. You should try to be as clear and non-contradictory as possible.
Our brand voice is:
Authoritative, educational, and respectful. We want customers to feel like they're talking to a renowned expert in their field.
Kind and empathetic. We're the pharmacist you always go to because of their discretion and understanding; it's understated.
Our brand voice is not:
Youthful or pop. We're not "down with the kids"; we don't use slang or speak exuberantly.
Not condescending but informative. We're here to help, not lecture. Our knowledge and expertise are freely given without judgement.
Step 5 Hammer out your grammar and formatting rules
Last, decide on the small details: bullet points, punctuation, fonts, spelling rules, date format, currency, dashes, and more.
Start Developing Your Brand Voice
With your brand voice established, it's time to put it into action. Challenges come from adapting your brand voice to numerous settings and contexts. Use tone to shift between the different aspects of your brand voice. More serious when handling a customer complaint and more playful when advertising your latest product.
If in doubt, look at competitor brand voice examples – and get customer feedback. Remember, you can shift your brand's image, but your customers decide it.
Ready to make your brand voice heard? Impeccable Writing can help you create a powerful content strategy that showcases your brand's unique personality and resonates with your audience.
Don't settle for bland content - let us help you develop a brand voice that people can't resist. Schedule a free consultation to talk about brand voice, content marketing, and more.