In a world filled to the brim with different products, services, and brands to choose from, it can be difficult for a brand to stand out. Yet, many companies have managed to break out of the masses, sometimes even creating cult followings. So what are they doing right?
A critical element of successful brands is their voice. Take Apple, for example. Its ads, with concise sentences, minimalist presentation, and a strong emphasis on “cool,” set Apple up as having modern, innovative, and must-have products, and the audience eats it right up.
You may not be aspiring to be a tech startup of Apple-like proportions (or maybe you are!), but one thing that is consistent across businesses of all kinds is the need for a strong brand voice. Small businesses, especially, can benefit from how a solid and consistent voice maximizes their marketing efforts.
Brand voice is what a brand says and how it says it; it’s how a brand conveys its personality, attitudes, and values to its audience. Brand voice creates an image for the company that will stick in the consumer’s mind and make them more likely to choose that product or service.
This is how you build brand loyalty—it’s how your audience recognizes you, and an important part of creating a brand that they know, like, and trust.
The most obvious goal of a brand voice is the creation of a personality and image for the brand that will make consumers want to have it in their lives.
For the most part, people don’t like advertising. However, brands like Oreo and Starbucks have millions of followers on Twitter, meaning that people voluntarily opted to see more content from them. How do these brands do it? The answer, of course, is their brand voice.
When someone chooses to follow a brand on social media, it’s probably not for the products. They are getting some value out of interacting with the brand besides simply consuming the product, and this allows the brand to spend more time on their audience’s radar.
For example, Oreo is known for its whimsical, creative posts, including helpful video “snack hacks” and playful takes on common idioms. If someone just wants to eat Oreos, they go and buy them. But if they value the content that Oreo puts out (making them more likely to value Oreo as a brand), that’s when they follow them on Twitter or Facebook.
And this isn’t just for social media. If you can get your audience to recognize your voice in other forms of communication (blog posts, press releases, etc.), those other forms will feel familiar and more trustworthy.
You want your brand on your audience’s mind, and using your brand voice to create a personable, unique image for your brand is a great way to get it there.
Before you can create your voice, you need to decide who you are as a brand. A voice is most effective if it comes from a place of authenticity—customers will be able to tell if you’re forcing the brand to project an image that doesn’t come naturally.
Thinking about your brand’s purpose, values, and personality will help you figure out how to develop a voice that your customers will appreciate and respond to.
Your brand purpose is both the reasons you created your company and an idealistic view of what you want your brand to mean to your audience.
Even if the main purpose of your company is to make money, there is a reason that you’ve chosen the products, services, and methods you did. Besides making an income, what would you like your company to achieve? It can be as simple as really caring about the product or service that you provide and believing that it will be a positive force in the lives and communities that it impacts.
Putting your purpose into your brand voice is a way to demonstrate your brand values and attract like-minded customers. Customers will value a brand more if they feel that they are supporting a purpose that they believe in or at least engaging with a company that they feel something of a connection with.
In the words of the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
This is why it’s so important that your voice demonstrates to your customers what your brand stands for—their loyalty may depend on it.
Values help to create an emotional connection with the audience, which is what keeps them coming back to your product. A famous example is the ongoing Coke versus Pepsi debate. Since studies have shown that the difference in taste between the two drinks is all in our heads, why is it that people are so loyal to one or the other?
The answer lies in the way that the brands market themselves. While Coke values happiness, Pepsi values youthfulness and athleticism, and the beverage that you prefer likely has a lot to do with which of those you value most.
By choosing what your brand values are and projecting that through your voice, you’ll attract loyal customers that share the same values as your company.
How would you describe Disney or Nike? Do words like “playful” and “determined” come to mind?
This is the brand’s personality, and it is a major part of any brand’s voice. Defining your brand’s personality is how you can decide the type of image that you want your brand voice to create for your company, and it should reflect the values that you have chosen.
Start by choosing three adjectives to describe your brand. Is it creative? Rebellious? Caring? Or is it one of those brands whose thing is being really sassy on Twitter? (Getting specific about your brand’s behavior can nail down your brand’s voice, too.)
Once you’ve picked the main traits of your brand’s personality, you’ll have to come up with ways to project those traits. What words and phrases can you use to showcase these characteristics? If your brand were a person with the same personality traits, what kinds of things would your brand say and talk about?
Picturing your brand as a person with the same personality is a big help toward deciding what kinds of things you want your brand to be saying.
Even if you have your brand purpose, values, core creative idea, and personality all figured out, it can be tricky to know how to turn that into content that projects exactly the message you are going for. A good place to start is by making sure that your voice is consistent, regardless of the medium you are using.
Brand voice should be applied across all channels. If the voice is not consistent, it will not be convincing or effective.
The brand voice must be transmitted through every aspect of the business and marketing, not just on social media or in blog posts. It must be reinforced by everything that you create for and about your company: Whether you’re posting on Instagram or making a formal press release, it all needs to feel like it was created by the same person.
And if it’s not actually the same person writing everything, you’ll have to make sure that everyone who creates content for your company is well-versed in how to implement the brand’s voice.
To write consistently in your brand’s voice and to make sure that your employees are able to do the same, it’s important to be crystal clear about what goes into your brand voice. A company style guide is a great tool for this.
Know what words and phrases are acceptable and encouraged and what wouldn’t fit the image that you’re going for. For example, how family-friendly does your content need to be? Are a few cliched sentences okay, or do you avoid them like the plague?
It’s also helpful to get really specific about punctuation and grammar. Pick a side (and stick to it) on the Oxford comma debate, and figure out how you want to deal with things like dashes and lists. Nothing is too nitpicky—seemingly small things like sentence length and comma placement can make a difference in the way that your voice is interpreted.
It’s also important to offer examples of what your voice should sound like in different contexts, such as blog posts, emails, and social media posts. Something that doesn’t seem right in your brand’s voice can make your company seem phony, which could result in fewer followers and less trust in your brand.
To make sure that your voice is really solid, it can be useful to write something—a slogan, a tweet, a few sentences of a blog post—in the style of your voice every day, even if you have no immediate use for it. This will keep you in practice and prevent you from slipping away from the right tone.
Defining and implementing your brand voice is a major part of marketing your brand well and keeping your customers interested and engaged. If you want your target audience to recognize, like, and be loyal to your brand, implementing a strong voice is essential.
Your brand voice is one of the strongest tools that you have for reaching consumers, so make sure that you’re using it to its full potential.
As someone whose childhood was spent having books pried away from her at the dinner table, a future working with words was almost inevitable. Giselle has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Calgary, and has worked as a writer/copyeditor for a newspaper, freelance proofreader/editor/writer, and piano teacher. She splits her time between Mexico City and Calgary, Alberta and always has her eye out for adventure, whether that be backpacking in the Rocky Mountains or picking up a new instrument. Giselle is a content editor for Craft Your Content.