To really engage with people, you need to connect with them emotionally. And people are more likely to connect with your company if they feel that you have a distinct identity and that there’s something instantly recognisable and unique about your brand.
According to the Sprout Social Index, 33% of consumers say a distinct personality helps a brand to stand out. So, in order to distinguish yourself from competitors, you need to articulate this distinct personality. You need to determine a brand tone of voice.
What’s more, this tone of voice needs to be coherent and consistent across all channels, from your website to emails. This is easier said than done. As companies grow, and more and more people get involved in content creation, it’s easy for brand tone of voice to get lost—especially if it’s not clear exactly what you’re aiming for.
This can damage your brand identity. Imagine a blog post that is chatty and fun but then a website landing page that’s all no-nonsense hard-headed business-speak. People will be confused. It will seem like you’re having some kind of identity crisis. They won’t understand what you stand for—and, worse still, you won’t be at all memorable.
This is why developing a clear brand voice is essential to your content creation.
Note: brand tone of voice is not quite the same as brand voice although they are often used interchangeably. Voice is essentially like your brand’s personality, while tone of voice is more about the mood or feeling of a certain piece of content. Tone may change according to the situation, while voice stays the same. For example, if you’re sending an email of apology, you won’t use the same tone as you would in a Tweet.
However, in general, your tone and voice will stay the same across all your content. So, here’s how to decide on and maintain your brand’s tone of voice:
Determine Your Brand’s Persona
If your brand was a person, what words would you use to describe them? What’s your brand’s personality?
Use these questions to identify the spirit of your brand:
- What are your values? What do you stand for? Are you all about creativity and collaboration? Pushing boundaries? Empowering people and inspiring them? Or being authentic and honest?
- What is your brand culture? What atmosphere do you aim for in the office? How do people interact and behave?
- Who is your audience? Characterizing your audience will help you characterize your brand. Your voice should be similar to theirs.
- How do you want to make people feel when they read your content? Should they feel motivated? Reassured? Curious?
- What’s your company’s history? Could it help define who you are? For example, the rags-to-riches tale of an entrepreneur? Or a story of trial-and-error and never giving up?
- Imagine you’re a novelist or scriptwriter and you’re creating a character. What kind of character is your company? A dashing hero? A maverick or renegade? A leader and ruler? An everyman or Average Joe?
You can also try and describe your competitors while you’re at it. Or consider what your company isn’t as well as what it is. This will help you work out what makes you distinct.
And, if you’re still struggling, you could consider running a focus group or interviewing customers to ask them to describe your brand in a few words or phrases.
Create a Vocabulary List
To get the creative juices flowing and help people get to grips with what exactly your brand voice means, make a list of the kind of words that capture the atmosphere you want to evoke. This can encourage people to think of other similar words and phrases to use.
A biscuit company, for example, that targets under-20s might include words such as cool, yum, or awesome, as well as colloquialisms and slang. A wine company targeting affluent consumers interested in the luxury lifestyle might use words such as classic, upscale, and glamorous, and the tone might be flirty and romantic.
A B2B communication software company will want to evoke a sense of indispensability and cutting-edge technology, using words such as essential and dynamic. If their customers are well-informed about the topic, they might also be able to use technically specific language as consumers appreciate being spoken to as equals rather than being patronised. That said, using simple words is usually preferable to jargon.
The best way to come up with your vocabulary list is to brainstorm lots of words. Use a thesaurus or idioms guide. Get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Often this comes down to intuition rather than to any rational explanation. Go with your gut. If it feels good, keep it. If it’s dissonant, ditch it.
Pick Out Content That Sums Up Your Voice Perfectly
Examine all your content and pick out those pieces that best demonstrate the voice you want. Choose content for each platform and channel. Find your favourite email newsletter and the best page on your website. Pick out a blog article that sums up the essence of who your brand is and what it stands for. Ensure all content creators have access to these examples.
You can also look for examples that ‘miss’ the tone of voice. What was wrong? How did it miss the mark? How could it be improved? Having a list of pieces of content that don’t fit your brand voice is just as important as having examples that do fit.
Along with your vocabulary list, these examples can go into a style guide to be used by everyone to ensure that they stick to your defined brand voice.
Decide On ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’
What works and what doesn’t when it comes to your brand voice? What content and language feel right and what feels incongruous?
To get started, decide whether the following are do’s or don’ts. These can become blanket rules that everyone can apply to their content.
- Short and punchy sentences or long sentences – generally, short sentences are better but if you’re aiming for an authoritative voice, you can get away with longer sentences and paragraphs.
- Jokes, sarcasm, and anecdotes – these can build trust and engagement but, if poorly chosen, they can also backfire and make you appear unprofessional.
- Slang, colloquialisms, and abbreviations – for example, flex, woohoo, or As with the above, these should be used cautiously and only if you think your audience will identify with them.
- Pop-culture references – again, this will depend on your audience. If you use them, try to choose evergreen references that will stay relevant for as long as possible.
- Alliteration, onomatopoeia, and assonance – these techniques can be catchy and compelling but should be used in moderation to avoid seeming cheesy. In more formal cases, they shouldn’t be used at all.
- Statistics – more technical industries benefit from statistics to back up claims. However, they probably wouldn’t be appropriate in content by a fast-food company, for example.
- Grammatical errors. Sometimes these can be fun and memorable, such as Apple’s Think Different slogan or Subway’s Eat Fresh. It all depends on your brand image. Does it suit your company to bend the rules in this way?
Don’t Overdo It
You want your brand voice to be distinct, but you don’t want to try too hard. For many companies, a brand voice is best when it’s subtle rather than in-your-face. While some companies manage to pull off weird and wacky, most benefit from a more lowkey and down-to-earth approach to tone of voice.
While being too formal in your language risks making you appear stuffy and boring, if you’re too informal, you might come across as overly chummy and alienate customers. Being too offbeat and quirky can also be confusing. Authenticity is more important than originality.
Similarly, using colloquialisms, slang, or pop-culture references has the danger of dating your copy. What’s ‘cool’ can change quickly. Are you willing to update your content to keep up?
As for swearing, very few companies can get away with it, Brewdog being one of them. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. A good rule of thumb is to consider how you might speak to a customer if you met them in person. What would feel appropriate?
Revise Your Brand Voice Over Time
Brand voice can be very hard to define. After you’ve settled on something that you think will work, set a date for when you will go back and evaluate how it’s working.
Is everyone sticking to the brand voice? Do you have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t? Which pieces of content capture your brand voice best? Which pieces of content aren’t quite as successful?
As your brand evolves or new competitors appear in your industry, you might want to adjust and modify your brand voice to ensure you stay distinct and unique.
Examples of Brands with Unforgettable Voices
To get you inspired, here are three brands that have nailed their unique tone of voice:
Glossier is a cult beauty brand with a devoted following of mostly millennial customers. The success of the brand is partly a consequence of Glossier’s knack for communicating in a direct, casual, and engaging way with consumers. The brand voice is cool, effortless, and fun, with lots of exclamation marks and direct addresses to the reader, such as “Now that you’re here, take a look around.”
“A creamy, dreamy, works-on-all-skin-types mask” reads the description of a moisturizer. It’s playful, evocative, cheerful, and definitely youthful.
The oat milk brand Oatly is a great example of how cheekiness can work if it’s done with enough confidence.
The brand tone of voice is daring and irreverent. “No milk. no soy. No…eh…whatever”, reads the milk carton. It’s fresh, fun, and not too serious. And on the homepage, the products tab reads: “More than you would ever want to know about our products.” It’s self-deprecating, self-aware, unexpected, and definitely gets your attention.
Rolex is a completely different kind of brand to Oatly and Glossier. Their audience is likely to be older, more affluent, and probably more conservative too. The brand has a rich heritage and has played a significant role in the watch-making tradition.
As such, the company voice is one that evokes luxury, power, and status. On their website, you’ll find words such as “prestigious”, “high-precision” and “perfect”. On the brand’s Instagram feed, a photo of the Chromalight watch reads “Piercing the darkness with a blue glow.” It’s dignified and dramatic. Other image captions describe the specs of the watch. This speaks directly to their audience who are most likely horological buffs who want to know all the details.
How to Find Your Brand’s Tone of Voice – Summing Up
Identifying and developing your brand voice is essential to articulating who you are as a company, connecting with customers, and distinguishing yourself from competitors.
By determining exactly who you are, what you stand for, and how you express yourself, you can ensure that all your content efforts are coherent and consistent, unified in conveying exactly what it is that makes you special.