Companies often work hard to design a logo that will be not only attractive, but deeply memorable. They want something so distinctive that just glancing at it on a sign or in an ad will remind their target market of who they are, and hint at their unique culture.
This is the same thing a “brand voice” accomplishes, except it happens through content like blog posts, email and social media posts. A brand voice establishes a way of talking to customers, no matter the topic, that can be consistent across every channel.
Admittedly, developing and formalizing a brand voice used to be something we once only associated with large companies that had sizeable marketing teams and big agencies to support them. If small or medium-sized businesses had a brand voice, it was more often something that echoed what you might hear from the founder or CEO of the company.
Today, the diversity of digital touchpoints through which customers will connect with a company makes a brand voice essential for firms of all kinds. It’s not just a matter of adapting a brand voice to traditional customer experiences. As devices like smart speakers enter homes and offices, for instance, companies will literally need to determine how they want to “sound” to their customers.
A brand voice is usually documented in a set of guidelines that can be contained on the company intranet or another centralized place where it can be accessed by all the relevant stakeholders. It might also be provided to third parties — just not agencies but freelance writers, the marketing team of a channel partner or a company with which your firm is pursuing some kind of joint venture.
When people look at your brand voice guidelines, they need to be able to translate them into a variety of content formats and ensure your target market sees your firm in the appropriate light. A company whose brand voice is too light-hearted or snarky won’t impress a target customer base of investment bankers, for instance. Similarly, a retailer targeting teenagers won’t want to sound overly stuffy in its marketing.
Don’t worry if you’ve never codified a brand voice before. We’ll talk you through it:
When you were a kid, you might have occasionally imitated your favourite characters from movies or TV, maybe even reaching a point where you sounded uncannily like the actors who played them.
Developing a brand voice is kind of like that, except it’s founded by trying to replicate the way your customer base collectively talks.
Let’s take the example of a typical target persona of many companies in the enterprise software space: the chief information officer or CIO. Those who have marketed and sold to CIOs in the past — or those who did their research by digging through the data in tools like Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud — will know that the best CIOs no longer speak in technical terms that only their peers would understand.
Increasingly, CIOs try to help their CEO, board of directors or fellow members of the executive leadership team understand how technology can support key business objectives. If you’re targeting CIOs, then, your brand voice should echo those sentiments in a way that sounds familiar and reassuring to them.
The same goes whether you’re trying to reach CFOs, marketing leaders or even consumers. This doesn’t mean focusing on jargon or acronyms, but aiming to sound like someone they would feel comfortable talking to in an everyday conversation.
Companies tend to operate in a specific industry or vertical market, but their brand voice is what separates them from the pack.
Let’s say you’re in the healthcare space, and you’re focused on providing peace of mind and comfort to those facing serious illness. What adjectives would you use to describe that tone? “Direct,” “compassionate” and “trustworthy” might all apply.
Another company might also be in the healthcare space but is focused on helping people live more active lives. The adjectives that describe their brand voice might include “heartfelt,” “positive” and even “playful.”
As you brainstorm the right adjectives, think about how you can describe them in more detail. Use them in a sentence, like, “We want to emphasize the positive aspects of living a healthy lifestyle in a heartfelt way.” This will help everyone on your team understand how to begin talking with the appropriate tone.
Now that you’ve spent some time thinking about your target customer, spend at least as much time imagining you’re the one creating the content.
What kind of assumptions might someone writing or speaking on behalf of your brand make about your voice? Are they right?
Be as specific and prescriptive as possible about what’s allowed and what’s not. Maybe one firm is fine with using pop-culture references to help explain complex topics. Others might shy away from it because it might seem the company isn’t taking an important subject seriously.
Similarly, there are firms that want to be deliberately provocative and contrarian to get the attention of their audience or to distance themselves from similar companies. If that works, give some examples in your guidelines and say so. If it’s not, maybe stipulate that you want to sound like you’re cheering on those working in the industry you’re serving. Again, the more examples the better.
Unless you created a brand voice before your company launched, there is a chance you’ll have some pre-existing marketing materials or other content that doesn’t quite align anymore. As your guidelines come together, make sure to review all your assets, especially those that are actively being used in marketing campaigns, and make any necessary revisions.
A brand voice may shift a bit over time, but it probably won’t completely change very often. Instead, the more you continue to refine it and clarify the tone you want to achieve, the entire company will just sound more and more confident, no matter what it needs to say.