Understanding Brand Voice and the 4 steps you need to take to communicate with a consistent personality.
Editor’s note: There is an over-abundance of marketing copy out there with a disturbing lack of personality and absolutely no brand voice. We are fortunate to have Dennis Williams describe his understanding and approach to brand voice. He is both a marketer and a filmmaker; he knows how to inject character and personality into dialogue. – Colin Finkle
When we hear the term brand voice, we immediately think of social media. But there are many pieces of communication outside our social media timelines where a business needs a voice and a feeling of humanity.
Defining your brand’s voice begins with defining your brand’s personality and organization’s purpose, to help consumers identify with your values as an organization. Brand voice, as well as so many other aspects of the brand, stem out of the organization’s personality and purpose.
Brand voice refers to a uniform method of writing all public communications that come from a brand. Consistent choices of words, phrases, and attitudes give the brand a personality in the minds of the consumers.
Let’s take a closer look at why companies develop a brand voice and how your company can develop a powerful voice.
Colin Finkle (BMB's Founder & Editor In Chief) has launched his own brand design agency: Nordeau
Visit nordeau.com if you need help with your logo, brand identity, or brand strategy.
Why is Brand Voice Important?
Brands are like people. Think of someone you know who is an entrepreneur – they may run a business and sell products, but they have interests, opinions, and quirks that make them one-of-a-kind. Their existence isn’t dedicated to the product; their product exists because of their different way of thinking. Like that entrepreneur, brands that connect with people demonstrate a different way of thinking that is attractive.
Creating a solid brand voice will breathe life into your brand and move its perception away from a faceless conglomeration of marketers and into a single life-like personality.
Each word that your brand says and every problem that your brand strives to solve must be carefully crafted to resonate with the needs and preferences of a chosen segment of customers.
In addition to this, a defined brand voice will provide a consistent framework for your general approach to branding. A reliable, consistent brand can increase revenue by up to 24 percent – so taking the initiative to reinforce your brand image will significantly improve on your business’s bottom line.
How Brand Voice Connects to Brand Personality
Brand personality represents one piece of a complete brand voice strategy – and it plays a rather important role, too. Let’s take a closer look at the three components of brand voice:
- Brand personality refers to the human characteristics behind a brand, such as their beliefs or interests.
- Brand positioning describes what a consumer thinks of when they imagine a brand. For instance, “Microsoft” makes people think about “computers” or “technology.”
- Brand image shows how customers perceive a brand based on previous interactions.
Brand voice unifies all these concepts to work harmoniously towards a single, pre-defined direction that aligns with the organization’s marketing strategy.
Most organizations can effectively position their brand and maintain their brand image through a consistent visual language. But organizations struggle with creating and portraying a brand personality.
Meanwhile, consumers have come to expect brands with personality. A brand without a clear voice falls short of what customers expect.
Think of brand personality as the bedrock of your brand voice strategy. If you stray from your personality when you interact with customers, you risk creating unpopular, inauthentic content that will not resonate with consumers. Consequently, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinforce the intended perception of your brand.
How to Define Your Brand’s Voice
Defining your brand’s voice is a four-step process that requires the collaboration of your content and branding team and the key stakeholders in the organization.
Even with the best-laid plans, it can be challenging to project a singular brand voice. In reality, the brand is run by a multitude of people with different attitudes and personalities. Once you achieve organizational alignment regarding the creation of a cohesive brand voice, consider the following steps.
- Evaluate Your Audience
- Audit Your Content
- Describe Your Voice
- Create a Brand Voice Chart
Evaluate Your Target Audience
A voice is designed to be heard by others – so before diving into a brand voice strategy, make sure that you fully understand the needs, behavior, and attributes of your target audience.
Keep in mind that this is your identity; be unique and true. Don’t lift and shift an existing customer persona and use that to create your brand – instead, think of what kind of person your customers like or aspire to be.
Audit Your Content
Assemble a wide range of content that your organization has created in recent years, and evaluate it closely.
Is there a “voice” that stands out? Or could the material have been written for any company?
If the content doesn’t seem to have a defined voice, put it aside for revisions after you define your brand voice.
Look closely at the attitudes and messages that it is putting forward in pieces with a distinguished voice. The attitudes will give your team a starting point when brainstorming the traits behind your brand’s voice.
Describe Your Voice
In three words or less, how would you describe your brand’s tone and attitude?
You could base this description on previous, successful marketing materials, or strive to align with the attitudes of your target audience.
Bring members of the content and branding teams together to brainstorm different ideas, with a “no wrong answers” approach. After a brief brainstorming session, narrow the list down to three traits while keeping your target audience in mind. Then, break down these three traits even further.
Let’s say your business sells outdoor goods for young people, and you decided to describe your voice as “fearless, adventurous, and outgoing.” At this point, the content and branding team should explain what is meant by those three traits with as little ambiguity as possible.
- Fearless – Lives “on the edge,” impulsive, risk-taking
- Adventurous – Openness, curiosity, exploring new places
- Outgoing – Meeting new friends, sharing stories, hosting a gathering
However, these brief descriptors are not the finished product. At this point, a dedicated member of the branding team should create a detailed brand voice chart.
Create a Brand Voice Chart
Brand voice charts provide a guide for content creators. These charts describe what a trait means, provides examples of what encompasses that aspect of brand voice, and exclude what does not. Let’s take a look at a chart that features the “fearless” trait from the aforementioned outdoor goods company.
|Fearless||Thrill-seeking behavior that exudes confidence.||Show imagery of daring outdoor behavior (i.e. Cliff jumping) Challenge the viewer Distribute non-conventional marketing material||Rely on safe, tried-and-true messaging Use bland or vanilla language|
If you’d like to make the content creation process as straightforward as possible, then feel free to include additional fields in your brand voice chart. For instance, many brands like to include examples of content that accurately encompasses a given trait. However, keep in mind that too many fields can become intimidating for content creators.
Even if a brand voice chart is complete, it is never truly finished. Your chart will be made better through feedback and evaluation over time.
Take a look at the table from time to time and solicit feedback from content marketers and brand strategists in your organization. If they find the chart to be cumbersome and unclear, make adjustments according to their feedback.
Evaluate whether the chart has a noticeable impact on branding initiatives with brand tracking. If an analysis finds that a specific trait isn’t driving results, it may be worth updating the chart with a different trait.
Maintaining a Consistent Brand Voice
A brand voice chart is crucial to helping your brand maintain a consistent voice. Once you’ve created a finalized chart, implement it into any existing or upcoming style guides. The style guide will help all content creators understand how to communicate the organization’s offerings properly.
However, maintaining a consistent brand voice doesn’t begin and end with the content team. Editors, marketing managers, and upper-level management must acknowledge and accept the brand voice chart as a business strategy to ensure that it appears in all external messaging. Otherwise, these parties could unintentionally use their authority to circumvent existing brand voice guidelines.
Examples of Brands with Excellent Brand Voice Strategy
When it comes to brand voice, some organizations are ahead of the curve. Let’s take a look at three successful businesses with a comprehensive approach towards brand voice:
Nike is a well-known brand with an expansive selection of footwear, apparel, equipment, and accessories. While a fair number of Nike’s target audience are runners and other athletes, many of their customers are simply young adults interested in sports or athleisure fashion.
If you know Nike, you know their tagline, “Just Do It.”
Nike’s tag line succinct and familiar to anyone who regularly pushes the limits in sports or day-to-day life. It strikes the right balance between being general and specific, allowing them to make vast swaths of customers feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from hard work.
Every Nike marketing message follows this same scheme – when you aim high, you often have an intimidating battle to fight – but you will taste victory. It’s no wonder they’re a favorite among those interested in sports and athletics.
There’s one fast-food brand that’s known for their online antics and quirky personality, and that’s Wendy’s.
The burger joint is known for openly humorously criticizing their competitor’s offerings, and will even deliver lighthearted jabs to customers. At first, onlookers wondered if a rogue marketer commandeered their Twitter – but we quickly realized that this approach was deliberate.
The most distinct part of Wendy’s brand voice is their sass.
The brand’s sassy attitude is immediately apparent through their Twitter account – but it’s been a significant portion of their strategy since their “Where’s the Beef?” campaign in 1984. Initially, the commercial was designed to feature a young couple, but they shifted it to three older women picking apart a hamburger because it was funnier that way.
Fostering that unique brand voice always been Wendy’s modus operandi – a little bit of sass that you can’t question since it’s backed up by a superior product.
Fifty years ago, computers were reserved for tech enthusiasts and certain fields of work, then along comes Apple.
In 1976, Apple sought to shake this up with the Apple I. When many computers needed to be assembled by consumers and had an interface solely composed of switches and lights, Apple used a monitor and keyboard.
The same intelligent but straightforward approach to product design also became the root of their brand voice over the decades. Apple’s brand voice beautifully balances simplicity and sophistication.
For instance, consider the iPod commercials that went viral in the late 2000s. It was simple – silhouettes danced against colorful backdrops, with white headphones in their ears. Over a decade later, Apple promotes new products like their new iPad Pro in a simple yet elegant way, with little text or narration.
Conclusion. Brand voice is an investment that pays out in customer loyalty.
A single, cohesive brand voice will help consumers remember your products while encouraging them to self-identify with your brand.
The most successful brands have managed to make their brand voice the soul of their brand, central to how they communicate with customers.
Creating a comprehensive brand voice strategy can take months or even years; it is a worthy investment. By bringing a touch of humanity to your brand, you will stand out from a crowd of competitors and win the favor of consumers.