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What is brand voice and how do you define yours?

Every single person at your organization has their own personality and their own voice. But a brand with hundreds of personalities and voices would create chaos.

If you have one social media manager who writes upbeat, conversational posts and another who writes informative, technical posts, you may create an inconsistent online presence. The same is true across all of your communications channels—a singular, consistent brand voice is a powerful marketing tool.

What is the difference between brand voice and brand tone?

The terms ‘brand voice’ and ‘brand tone’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two:

  • Brand voice is what you say and it should stay fairly consistent, accurately representing what your company does, your values, and your goals. 
  • Brand tone is how you say it and it can vary more depending on the channel, the intended audience, and the type of content.

An organization that sells to other businesses and also to individuals might adopt a different tone depending on which audience they are speaking to, but the points they make about their products or services will be broadly the same. 

Defining your brand voice

Do you have a brand voice that is recognizable, distinct, and true to your business goals and values? Most companies don’t. That’s why their voices get lost in the tsunami of marketing messages consumers see and hear each day.

Use these tips to create brand voice guidelines that help you stand out from the crowd:

1. Know your audience

Before you start defining your brand voice, it’s vital to know your audience. You can do this by creating Buyer Personas. Gather as much information as you can about the people who generally buy your products or services. This can include hard data from your website, social media, and contextual information supplied by your sales team. Start out with basic demographics, and add in their pain points and motivations. Run surveys and hold interviews with your current customers, your prospects, and your wider target audience.

You may come up with a number of personas. Give each of these personas a name and craft your brand voice around your persona’s needs and desires.

2. Know thyself

Of course, as well as knowing your audience, you need to have a strong understanding of your own organization and its goals. Are you clear on your mission, values, and business goals? A company trying to sell sneakers to teenagers will have a very different brand voice to a law firm that represents victims in personal injuries claims. Automotive companies selling expensive luxury cars will have a different brand voice to those selling budget-friendly family cars.

Your brand voice brings your brand’s personality to life. The Content Marketing Institute suggests narrowing your brand voice down to three words. Be prescriptive in your brand voice guidelines. For example:

“We are informative, professional and helpful. We are not casual or playful.”

Or

“We are lighthearted, fun, and positive. We are not pretentious.”

A strong understanding of your business and of your target audience are core to creating a brand voice that cuts through the noise.

3. Get the whole organization onboard

Marketing and PR teams are often directly involved in creating your company’s brand voice guidelines, but they are not the only teams who communicate with the public. For a truly consistent brand voice, the HR team should be using it in recruitment campaigns and internal communication; the finance team should incorporate it into their communications, and the operations team should use it in communicating with any sub-contractors.

It’s important that all teams receive training on brand voice and learning materials they can refer back to. Access to a language analysis platform like VT Writer can help employees monitor and improve their brand voice.

4. Measuring your brand tone

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. How are you measuring your brand tone? If your brand tone is meant to be approachable and engaging, it’s important to avoid an excessive use of the passive voice. No more than 5% of sentences should be phrased this way. Adopt a tone that is readable for a wide audience, ideally those who read at an 8th grade level or better. Don’t burden your readers mentally with long-winded sentences and avoid jargon.

Software can help you identify the readability of your text, giving employees across your company helpful hints on how to improve their writing.

5. Stay up to date

Over time, some companies pivot their direction. This new direction is sometimes led by brand, but it’s often due to a new range of products or services. As the company changes, the target audience will too. This will require a refresh of your brand voice and brand tone.

External factors sometimes lead to a change in brand voice too. This can range from a change in your audience to a wider societal change or shift in cultural context. For example, in September 2020 amid a broad cultural conversation around race in the US, food brand Uncle Ben’s updated its visual branding, its brand name, and its brand voice to avoid perpetuating racial stereotypes.

It’s best practice to conduct an audit on an annual or biannual basis. This will ensure your brand voice remains consistent with your organization’s direction and values.

Impactful brand voice examples

Some companies have a brand voice and aesthetic that is truly distinctive. The moment you see one of their marketing campaigns, you know who they are and what they stand for. This is the goal in creating your brand voice.

Apple

Apple is the world’s largest tech company by revenue, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that they have a well-defined brand voice and brand tone. Apple’s brand voice consistently conveys the premium quality of its brand without weighing down its marketing messaging with the discussion of features.

The company’s brand tone is upbeat, conversational, and confident—it’s powerful, yet playful. Some say the brand tone also conveys a little smugness, ensuring their users feel they are part of an elite club.

Dove

Dove is a brand that sells personal hygiene and beauty products, primarily to women. Many brands in the beauty industry advertise using flawless models and an aspirational brand voice that suggests all women can achieve this by buying their products. Dove takes a different approach, their brand voice is based around authenticity and inclusion. Their mission statement, which is reflected in their brand voice, is “Beauty is for everyone”. The brand tone is uplifting and empowering.

Their distinctive Campaign for Real Beauty ads champion diversity and inclusion. These ads feature women of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities, which is in direct opposition to the traditional beauty campaigns of the past. This approach to brand voice ensures that Dove remains distinct and almost immediately recognizable in the crowded beauty landscape.

Building a style guide

Creating a style guide for your teams is a challenging but important exercise. It gives the whole company something to refer to for clarity. Your marketing team may have a different view on brand voice to your company’s senior management team, so prioritize getting together to thrash it out and reach agreement. 

Once you have a style guide that defines your brand voice and brand tone, it’s time to create some resources for your organization; offer training and support, and consider investing in tools to help your employees improve independently.

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