Brand voice, branding, voice, how to find your brand voice, company voice, how to find your company voice, what is brand voice, brand versus voice, marketing, content marketing, digital marketing, social media, authentic brand voice, brand voice exercises, exercises to find voice, actionable tips to find brand voice, activities to find your brand voice
‘Voice’ is one of those concepts that might bring back memories of your old English classroom. It’s frequently used in the world of literature to refer to the way an author comes across in their writing. It represents something unique about the feel of their words, the tone, personality, and effect they have on you as you read.
It can also be a marketer’s secret weapon.
Businesses will often pay a great deal of attention to things like logos, colour schemes, website layout, signage and other branding elements in order to stand out from their competitors. But if you were to cover up the name and logo on your website, would your audience still be able to differentiate you from the cacophony of other brands pushing content at them every day? Having an individual and authentic voice can be the real key to leaving a memorable impression on your audience.
Compare hair care brands John Frieda and Aussie, for example. Here’s the text from the ‘Our story’ page of the John Frieda website:
An excerpt from the same page of Aussie’s site, however, reads like this:
The John Frieda story is well-written and does its job just fine, but there’s nothing particularly distinguishing about it from most other hair care companies. If someone read their story out to me, I’d have a hard time guessing which brand it’s attributable to.
The Aussie story, on the other hand, has a distinct style that I could easily recognise if I saw it again elsewhere. If this one was read out to me, I could definitely imagine the speaker accidentally slipping into an Australian accent as they say it - because it perfectly conveys the laid-back, fun-loving tone of the brand. It also tells me everything I need to know about its values, purpose, and target audience.
So, brand voices are important. Before you can craft that blog post, write that tweet or develop that content for your website - you have to know what it is. So how do you find it?
Step 1: Know who you’re talking to
You probably wouldn’t talk to your grandmother in the same way you’d talk to your old university flatmate. The same thing goes for business audiences.
Knowing who you’re actually talking to is vital in determining what kind of tone and vocabulary your brand will use, so research ought to be your first step. Online analytics, focus groups, surveys - gather as much information as you can about the real people on the other side of your messaging and find out what they respond to in a brand voice.
When SproutSocial surveyed their customers in 2017, for example, they found that their audience valued honesty, friendliness and helpfulness above things like being funny, trendy, and politically correct.
For other audiences, other qualities might come to the surface. When we created a video for football news outlet, Football.London, for example, we found that a personalised approach incorporating the friendly rivalries that football inspires resonated most with viewers.
You might find it helpful to create some audience personas to give you a better picture of who you’re talking to. Another tip is to spend time in the online spaces that your audience inhabits and pay attention to the kind of language they use. Just be wary that your brand voice doesn’t become a mimicry of this, or it might come across as disingenuous.
Step 2: Know where you’re coming from
What are the values at the core of your company? What’s your mission?
Having considered what’s important to your customers, you now need to examine what your company actually has to say. Try to find the point at which what’s true about your business meets what your customers need, and create a really compelling connection there.
It might be helpful to think about your brand story up until this point. What problem in the world prompted the creation of your business - what is it passionate about?
One exercise that can be useful here is to write an unpublished CEO letter. Many businesses release an annual letter from the head of the company, exploring how it is progressing towards its goals. Try writing this letter out, addressed to your customers, colleagues and prospects, talking truthfully about what your brand seeks to achieve and why. You needn’t show anyone the letter and it might need some re-shaping, but what you produce could contain the qualities of your most authentic voice.
Step 3: Know who your inspiration is
Try filling in the blanks:
Having an inspiration in mind can really speed up the process towards finding a voice that fits. Think about adjectives you’d use to describe that brand voice you really like, and whether they might be able to apply to your business too.
Don’t be afraid to get really specific, either. If they’re funny, what kind of funny are they? Laugh-out-loud pop culture references funny, or sarky wink-and-a-nudge funny? If they’re authoritative, what kind of authority does it feel like? Scholarly and academically researched authoritative, or like your cool aunt letting you in on the joke authoritative?
Another helpful exercise is to decide who you would pick to be your brand’s celebrity spokesperson. Their traits probably say a lot about the kind of qualities are important to you and what kind of impression you want to make.
Step 4: Know what works
By this stage, you probably have some idea of how you want your brand to communicate, but it can be difficult to tell what feels right until you take it for a test-drive.
Try writing a typical piece of content in a few different voices that you think might be a good fit. Which one felt the most natural and appropriate to write? Try reading them out loud - do they sound authentic, or a little forced and awkward?
As with all aspects of marketing, audience opinion is also vital. Why not try doing a little A/B testing? Send out a couple of email newsletters with a different voice to a split set of customers, and see which one receives a better response.
Once you’ve found an enduring voice that encourages engagement from your target viewership, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Step 5: Know how to keep it consistent
Establishing your brand’s voice is no good if it wavers from time to time depending on which staff member is writing.
To avoid this, it can be beneficial to write up a style-guide. This doesn’t have to be a hundred pages long detailing every word in the dictionary you do or don’t use - but it can be helpful to have some firm guidelines on things like pronouns, use of jargon or slang, general length, and grammar.
It’s also wise to consider whether your voice is apparent in every communication you have with your customers. The space you’re writing in, after all, can sometimes have an impact on how you present yourself, but you want your customers to have the same experience of your voice no matter where they find you. What does your voice sound like in a tweet, versus in a LinkedIn post? Is your voice present not only on your website’s ‘about’ page but also on your ‘contact’ page or ‘thank you for placing an order’ page?
Developing a strong voice can take time and patience, but it’s worth doing in an ever more crowded marketplace. And once you’ve found it?
Well, now you’re talking.