If your business suddenly lost its logo, how would your audience know how to identify you?
The easy answer is that they wouldn’t, but the right answer is: Through your brand voice!
You might have heard that having a logo is a key part of branding your business, and that it’s important to build a visual identity around that logo. However, most business owners overlook an equally important aspect of branding: Their brand voice (and tone).
Great! Brand voice is important – but what in the world does that actually mean?
A “brand voice” is how your brand’s content sounds in people’s heads. It should embody the brand personality you’ve created for your business, and it’s the tone that seeps into all of your business’s communication, regardless if it’s on social media or through customer service.
Your brand voice should be:
– Distinct. Creating a brand voice shouldn’t be about becoming the next Apple or the new Facebook; it’s about becoming the first you, and bringing a new voice to the table.
– Identifiable. As in, can your audience read a piece of content you wrote and automatically know it came from your brand? The answer should be a definite yes.
– Complementary to the rest of your brand identity. All of the elements that make up your brand identity should be cohesive with one another, so that together, they paint an entire picture of “who” your brand is.
–Consistent. Whether you’re posting an interesting article on your Facebook page or are responding to a customer’s email, your brand voice should be at the front and center of your content.
Sometimes, the easiest way to create something is to look at examples of others who have done it first – and well.
From fashion to personal hygiene, there are so many brands out there that demonstrate exactly why a brand voice is important and how to use one to help bring your brand to life.
Let’s take a look at a few of the greats!
This online fashion retailer has their brand voice down, and it’s part of what draws so many consumers (18 million, to be specific) to interact with them and purchase their products.
Let’s take the product details of this belted shirt dress as an example; the first thing listed is “Worth making plans for”, rather than the standard “made from 20% cotton” information that most shoppers tend to ignore. This is a perfect example of how a brand can take the most ordinary (and, let’s face it, boring) content and use their brand voice to turn it into something clever, catchy and appealing to their audience.
A game company that created a product full of sass and snark, Cards Against Humanity prides themselves on being offensive. But, rather than alienating their customer base, their chutzpah is exactly what attracts people to their brand. People know that they can rely on the brand to consistently toe the line (frequently crossing into the realm of the politically incorrect), promising a good joke in the process.
What’s important to note is that CAH commits to their voice, no matter if they’re running a holiday campaign or putting out a new product. They even played on their brand personality to stage their own form of political protest, rallying people to join their cause through sarcasm and satire.
Who knew razors could also be entertaining? The CEO of Dollar Shave certainly did, and he used humor to create a launch video meant to be as funny as it was advertorial. Not only did this video go viral (with millions of views in the first three months), but it also set the tone for the Dollar Shave Club brand forever on.
Video is a great way to connect with an audience, and Dollar Shave used the language they knew their audience – young, regular men in need of a shave – could relate to. And, since then, all of the shareable digital content the brand creates has remained in that same relatable, funny voice.
On the subject of razor companies, Gillette has a very different take on how to use brand voice to connect with their customers. In fact, they’ve completely rebranded this past year, in a coming-out video aimed at fighting against toxic masculinity (that was met with controversial responses).
They played on their own tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get” – which has been their mantra for the last 30 years – and challenged their audience to instead strive for “The Best a Man Can Be.” To emphasize their commitment to social issues, they created a website and social media channels that all incorporate their new-and-improved, sincere, compassionate and morally-concerned language.
You’ve read about how some of the most successful brands use a crafted tone to speak to their audience, and now it’s time to create one yourself!
Here is a list of steps that will help you come up with a voice that best represents your business.
As with determining any part of your brand identity, you’ll need to keep your original mission statement in mind when creating your brand voice.
Remind yourself: Why did you start your company? What are the values sitting at the core of everything you do?
Your brand voice is going to constantly emphasize and reinforce specific traits about your business in the minds of your audience, so you’ll want to make sure to be proactive about which traits these are. All branding roads should lead back to your values, and your company voice is no exception.
Just because I love them so much, let’s take a look at how ASOS defines their “Corporate Responsibility” on their website:
Note that their entire brand is geared toward giving young people confidence, and these are the values that seep into the voice they use to communicate with the world (as discussed above).
If you’ve already created content for your brand – whether that’s a single ad banner, a slew of posts on social media, or an entire blog – then this is the time to evaluate what you’ve put out into the world.
Make sure to look at your:
– Landing pages
– Ad creatives
– Blog posts
– Social media
– In-store signage
Are there common themes in the language, or certain words you notice that keep appearing across posts? Or, do some posts read as serious and heavy, where others seem silly and light? Note where there are similarities and what the discrepancies are.
Then, analyze your content for its language and tone in relationship to its performance. Consider a piece of content as performing “well” if it met your goals for that content at the time you posted it, whether those goals were shares, clicks, likes, comments, or plain old views.
Evaluate which of your posts had the best engagement, and which left a lot to be desired. As you’re wading through content, try to see if there are commonalities between the posts that have resonated with your audience, and vice versa for posts they didn’t receive well.
How do your competitors talk to their (your) audience? Are there parts of their strategy that you think are effective? Where are their weak spots?
Ideally, you won’t be creating a brand voice that’s identical to your competitors’, as this will neither set your brand apart from theirs nor give your brand a unique edge. However, it’s important to get a sense of what’s out there, so you can think about new ways to address your audience (and if nothing else, then for plain old inspiration).
As mentioned above, your brand voice is an important component of your overall brand personality. (If you don’t yet know what that is, stop what you’re doing and create a brand personality.)
Describe your brand’s personality, using concrete adjectives and fleshed-out details. What does your brand sound like when it speaks? What vibe does its design give off?
You may want to talk this out with another person, or write everything down on paper without thinking too much about it. Include details like what your brand would be like at a party, and what it would never, ever do in public.
When you have this all written down, you’re ready to come up with 4 adjectives that describe your brand. Choose words that encompass all of the main traits you think are important to convey your personality. For example: “Kayla’s Closet is trendy, bold, and always full of sass.”
Do you have an audience that knows you already? This would be a good time to get an idea of what they think of you. Like you did in your content audit, it’s important to evaluate the parts of your brand they connect with and the parts of your brand personality they could do without.
The best way to find out? Ask them!
Create a poll on social media, or send one out to your email list. Make sure to ask:
– Describe our brand in three words.
– If our brand were a person, who would it be?
– Do you think our tone fits with our product/service?
You can turn this into a contest, or offer a discount on a product of yours for the first 50 people to respond.
Once you get responses, note how much of what they’ve said about your brand overlaps with what you’ve said about yourself. If you’re both in the same ballpark, then you know your brand voice is already on the right track!
You’ve got your adjectives down; now, try your brand voice on for size.
Write a sample blog post using your new tone, and ask a partner or someone who knows your business well what they think. If you get the green light, try sending out an email to a group of beta readers (i.e. friends and family) to see if they like what you’re putting out or if they immediately tell you to turn the bus around.
Also, evaluate how your brand voice works with other elements of your brand. Is your tone consistent with the rest of your visual identity? What kind of message do your logo and colors send together with your voice? Make sure you’re getting “consistent” rather than “conflicting;” you want your brand to work harmoniously together, not to put people off or confuse them with what you’re trying to say.
When you feel like you’ve got it down, start posting on your social media channels to see how your audience reacts.
Nothing ruins a brand’s voice faster than a lack of consistency. Any content that your brand publishes from here on out needs to be in line with your brand voice, so your audience can come to get to know it, love it, and learn to rely on your brand to deliver what they expect.
So, whether you’re sitting in the solo car on the entrepreneurial train or you’re conducting a whole crew, it’s important to set guidelines that explain how your brand voice is allowed to sound in different context.
Outline what your voice is and what it isn’t, but be much more specific than you were in Step 4. Use concrete examples, such as “We love dad jokes, but we never make puns,” so that any content creators you may bring on board don’t have to wonder what kind of “funny” is acceptable. (Again, let’s circle back to Cards Against Humanity; their version of humor is a far cry from the tame jokes of any other brand in comparison.)
Write out a few example sentences that are appropriate for your brand to say, and examples of what not to say; the more specific you can be, the better. In the long run, these guidelines will help your brand stay on-message regardless of the context or the platform through which you’re communicating.
There are a hundred ways to tell a good story, but your brand voice chooses just one good way and runs with it. Once you develop the right voice for your business, you’ll find it easier to create content that resonates with your audience and keeps them coming back for more.