A reflection of your business, developing a unique brand voice can be the difference between making it and breaking it when it comes to starting out and connecting with your audience. Let’s face it: there’s no room for a wishy-washy, sort-of-there brand personality. You’re either clear from the beginning, or you might struggle to find the right clients who will purchase your products in the first place.
Much like establishing your brand’s mission statement and creating the ideal buyer persona, developing your brand voice should be at the top of your priority list before your launch date. Otherwise, you might be left confused, lost, and with a lot of wasted energy.
Looking for a little inspiration from other successful brands? Wondering where you even start when it comes to developing your brand voice? Here are a few tips to help you understand why it’s important to have one, and what you can do to make sure it’s clear to everyone from the start.
What do we mean by “brand voice”?
What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of a brand like Nike? Most people will probably say inspiring and powerful. What about Canva? Let me guess: friendly and playful.
This is all thanks to their brand voice: how they communicate with their audience, the words they use, and the pieces of content that are out there. Companies like Nike, Canva, Apple, Ford – and so on, and so on – have all worked hard to make sure their personality shines through everything they do and say.
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According to SproutSocial, “a brand voice is the distinct personality a brand takes on in its communications”. Basically, you need to think of your brand as a person. If they were a real, skin-and-bones human being, what kind of person would they be?
- Great storytellers?
- Introverted and a little quiet?
- An inspirational go-getter?
- Rough around the edges?
The words and phrases they’d use, their tone, and how they ultimately express themselves all add up to create a “brand voice” that stays consistent throughout all forms of communications: from social media posts to emails, newsletters, big ad campaigns, and so on.
That’s why, while a brand like Burt’s Bees might ask you to “treat yourself gently” and choose natural in everything they do, others like Jeep constantly encourage you to “throw yourself into an adventure” and choose the dirt road.
Why does developing a unique brand voice matter?
Developing a unique brand voice is important because if it’s not clear what you’re all about, you’ll struggle to get your message across to the right people. A strong brand voice is extremely important when it comes to brand recognition – something you definitely want to have if you want your company to stand out (especially online).
If your brand voice and personality are constantly changing with each new product launch, new campaign, or just “because”, it’ll be harder for your audience to really connect with you, trust you, and ultimately buy from you. And that’s not what you’re about, right?
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However, we’re not necessarily saying all your messaging needs to stay the same. That’d be boring and uneventful. While your brand personality should remain consistent throughout your messaging, it’s all about relevance and emotion.
That’s where tone comes in.
Brand voice vs. Tone
Think of brand voice and tone as two sides of the same coin. There can’t be one without the other, and they’re all about complementing each other to help whatever message be a little punchier.
So, what’s the difference?
- Brand voice: the underlying personality of your brand. It’s unchanging.
- Tone: the emotion you attach to a specific piece of content. It changes with context.
Let’s take holiday messaging, for example. A social media post made on Valentine’s Day should be more “flirty” than a post made on Halloween, and a piece of content released for Christmas will have a different vibe to one released for, let’s say…Superbowl Sunday.
This also applies to the content of the post itself, outside of seasonal messaging. While celebrating wins will have a cheerful tone, communicating losses will take on a more somber tone.
You know what they say: read the room.
Some examples of companies who have nailed their brand voice
Although it might seem like a lot, there are many brands out there who have nailed their brand voice and have managed to win the hearts and minds of customers with their messaging, content, and social media presence.
Let’s take a look at a few brands you can check out for inspiration:
You’ve seen the ads, you’ve met the characters, the tagline hits where it should: “Smell like a man, man.” Old Spice has made it their thing to turn basic deodorant commercials on their head and make them more surreal, funny, and absurd. Unlike brands like Speed Stick, they don’t just stick to the scientific facts and make it more about the story behind their products: smell great wherever, whenever.
During the past few years, Dove has been a champion working for women’s equality and empowerment. Their campaigns and communications have been more about breaking stereotypes and embracing womanhood in all of its forms. Pushing aside society’s conventional beauty standards, they’ve made it their mission to help women feel beautiful, strong, and comfortable in their own skin. And, although it’s fair to say they’ve made their mistakes in the past, there’s no way to deny their brand voice has been consistent all through their ups and downs.
All the pet lovers out there, you might be familiar with BarkBox: a subscription-based program that delivers goodies for your pet every month. They’re not afraid to be cheeky and punny with their communications, and they’re the first to make fun of themselves (and their products). They’ve made their product so unique that almost all of the copy on their website is directed at your pet – not even at the actual person reading it. Now that’s special.
All the way across the spectrum there’s Harley Davidson: a devil-may-care, hold-nothing-back, tough-guy attitude. They know their customers don’t take that well to flowery, cute copy, so they’ve made it their thing to be as direct as possible. They’re aggressive (using words like “badass”, “screw”, and “wannabe”) and challenging, basically asking the reader if they’re “tough enough” to handle one of their bikes.
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Developing a brand voice: “Where do I even start?!”
While this might seem like a lot to take on, businesses that are just starting out – and accomplished businesses too – should have all the tools necessary to decide on a brand voice. Things like this don’t just materialize out of nowhere, there’s always a strong foundation to hold it in place.
Here’s where you can start:
01. Take a look at your brand’s mission statement
Your personality and brand voice are a reflection of your company’s values. They’re the manifestation of each of these, and that’s why taking a look at your mission statement is a great place to start.
Design your mission statement, and decide how you wish to communicate this to everyone who might come into contact with your brand.
02. Describe your brand in 3 words
Once you’ve looked over your mission statement, it’s time to actually start developing your brand voice. Choose 3 words – yes, just three – that resonate with the true essence of your brand and use them as a guide to measure your content against. Can you see these three words reflected in what you’re sharing? If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track. If the answer is no, you might need a little rewriting to do.
Let’s say you’re all about helping small business owners create beautiful graphics (*cough* Canva). If this is the case, your brand voice can be playful, approachable, and friendly. Or, let’s say you run a company that wants people to care about the environment. You can focus your attention on being informative, inspiring, and even a little direct.
If you’re having a hard time finding these three words, it could be that your mission statement isn’t clear enough, or that you don’t understand your brand well enough. Go back to the drawing board and have a hard think to make sure you’re clear with your intentions.
03. Create a “brand voice” chart
A brand voice chart is a great way to make sure everyone on your team is on the same page. These are usually divided into four columns that outline:
- A characteristic (one of the 3 words you chose)
- A description of what that word means to your brand
- A do column that outlines what your brand can do to transmit the message
- And a don’t column that outlines what it will stay away from
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It also helps to work on a “We’re ______________, but we’re not ________________” exercise. Knowing what you’re not is a fun way to know what you are, and vice-versa. Try it yourself and see where it takes you!
04. Research your audience
After all, it’s them you’re talking to. Getting to know your audience is a fundamental part of deciding on your brand voice. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who ultimately decide what your brand is about. Whether you do this through a survey, read online reviews, or listen-in on other types of conversations, learning what your audience thinks of you will make it easier to learn how to communicate with them.
05. Audit your existing content
Once you’ve gathered all of this information, you can sit back and audit any existing content to make sure it fits in with what you’ve discovered. Are there pieces of content that stray too far from your brand voice? Get rid of them quickly and either re-write them or lose them for good.
And, in order to avoid any future confusion, make sure you enforce consistency within your team. That way you’ll be able to maintain a clearly developed brand voice all throughout your communications. Plus, your audience will have it much easier when it comes to connecting with you and your business.
For the TL;DR crowd…
Developing a brand voice is one of the most important things you can do when starting or growing a business. It helps you connect with your audience, get your message across, and stand out from the noise.
A brand voice should stay consistent all throughout your messaging, but also give you the chance to play around with different tones in order to get a specific message across. Basically, a brand voice is the “what”, meanwhile the tone refers to the “how”.
Lastly, when it comes to developing your brand voice, here are five steps you can take:
01. Understand your mission statement
02. Describe your brand in 3 words
03. Create a brand voice chart
04. Research your audience
05. Audit existing content
All in all, developing a brand voice will make a difference between a business that people can connect with – and one they’re willing to shop from – or one that people instantly forget or find untrustworthy. Which side would you rather be on?
Have you nailed your brand voice? What are some of the actions you took to make sure you were clear with how you wanted your brand to be perceived?
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