The larger your company gets, the more important the messaging and brand voice becomes.
Here’s how you can define a brand voice that attracts business for your brand and reaches your target market in a more direct way.
What We’ll Cover:
- What it is
- What it is not
- Examples in marketing
- The steps to defining your own
- An outline for uncovering your brand voice
When you first start out, brand voice doesn’t come up all that often. You’ll talk about what you do and how you’re unique, but often without a definitive strategy for how you’ll express yourself in the context of an omnichannel strategy.
As your company grows and begins to develop a following across multiple channels, the more important it is to define your brand’s voice.
That means, from your web page copy to what your employees are saying to your blog to social media, it should all align.
When done right, it becomes a powerful tool for connecting with “your people,” bringing in more business and helping your company build a loyal following. On the flip side, when brands don’t quite get it right, their voice can cost them serious business.
What is a Brand Voice?
Brand voice refers to your brand’s personality and use of emotions across all communications, as well as how those communications align with your core values.
Voice comes through primarily through writing style, tone, and word choice, and successful brands keep these factors consistent across all channels.
You might try defining your brand strategy by using a chart like this one below, which can help you break down who you are and who you’re not.
It is just one part of your brand’s personality, but it’s an important one. Customers will also experience your brand through your logo and your digital presence online, but it’s your voice that comes through across all of these elements.
What a Brand Voice is NOT
It has nothing to do with grammar or spelling. Nor is it defined by your preference for AP style over Chicago.
It also should not be confused with “tone of voice.” It is consistent across channels and situations, whereas your tone shifts based on who you’re talking to, the channel, and the emotional landscape.
Things like whether or not you use slang, abbreviations, or off-book punctuation can impact how it is perceived, but ultimately, doesn’t define it.
For instance, a brand voice that’s targeting millennials may not be as concerned with traditional grammar rules as one that’s targeting an older demographic. It’s up to you to decide what yours isn’t, and that will largely depend upon the demographic you’re targeting.
Check out this ad for Forever 21.
Notice the language? It plays directly into the brand. “Best prices since like… Forever”
When a younger audience reads something like this, they identify with the style and voice and it attracts them, equaling sales.
Here are a few different examples that you may have seen. Keep in mind the style that each of these brands uses and the emotions they evoke with their communications.
DiGiorno pizza: humorous, subversive, and at times is extremely clever.
During a live telecast of “The Sound of Music” back in 2013, DiGiorno filled their Twitter feed with tweets like this:
Notice how they’re clearly targeting millennials with these tweets because they’re adopting the nomenclature of that age group with “smh” (shaking my head)
Their tweets are funny and timely, and they obviously know their target audience quite well. Think, who buys take-home pizza? I tell you who, I did! But that is when I was back in college at UC Santa Cruz. Not today. Although it does sound good right now.
Everyone knows Nike for its brand slogan “Just Do It,” which has become a staple of American culture.
Nike’s is inspirational, it’s almost pushy, and it forces you to want to improve yourself (motivation, I love it! Makes me want some new Nike shoes to run in). This particular Instagram ad shows a photo that inspires people to want to keep their workouts going. Not coincidentally, Nike advertises its products subtly in the caption.
But the emotions this ad generates in the followers is the real story here. It’s almost impossible to look at this, or any Nike ad for that matter, and not feel compelled to both get off the couch and swap your old sweatpants for some sleek, performance sportswear.
Warby Parker is notable for their sophisticated, almost high-brow brand voice. But they’re also notable for their ability to make their target audience feel like they’re a part of the conversation.
Warby Parker makes you feel like you’re being spoken to directly. They make you feel like, no matter what, your opinion matters to them.
Much of Warby Parker’s social media (especially on Twitter), makes use of polls, open-ended questions, and user submissions in order to get their marketing messages across. The result is a customer-focused brand that uses an inclusionary brand voice to get their point across, without sacrificing any marketing messages. You always know when you’re reading a Warby Parker ad, but it doesn’t feel like an ad.
Sephora caters mostly to millennial women. Their brand strikes an educational, informative tone. Users are given tips, tricks, and educational content that helps reinforce their brand while subtly advertising their products:
How to Define Your Own
Here are all the steps to follow when you define your own brand voice:
1. Identify Your Target Audience—And Learn Everything About Them
By figuring out who it is you’re trying to sell your products to, you can better hone the voice and tone you’re using for your brand.
For instance, if you decide that your audience is mostly professional women in their 50s, using a voice that’s filled with millennial lingo will likely isolate you from your core audience.
Instead, you’ll need to have a clear idea of what it is your target market wants, needs, and feels. What kinds of things are they interested in? What are their demographics? How do they communicate online? Where do they spend time online?
Action Item: Create 3 customer personas and use those to model your messaging.
2. Audit Content to Uncover Your Voice
You won’t find your brand voice by focusing only on the mission statement. Look at the full picture—assessing things like your tagline and the image it conveys, the language you use in direct mailers and email campaigns, your social media personality.
Write down some thoughts—do you come off as quirky, subversive, helpful? Do you demonstrate expertise, authority? I also recommend asking colleagues and friends on the outside to do the same, so you can find out if you see your brand the same way that others see it.
From there, you’ll want to dive into your website content and look for the following:
- Is the voice consistent?
- What kind of language comes up?
- Does that language reflect your branding? Your goals? Your core values?
- Which posts and pages perform best?
- What do your top posts have in common?
- Which pages are linked to driving the most conversions?
- Do some pages have a significantly higher or lower bounce rate than average?
The point is, you likely have one hiding in all that content. Assessing what seems to work—or not—can point you in the right direction.
Action Item: Perform a full audit of your top-performing content. What about it sticks out? Write down any adjectives that come to mind when describing it. That will help you uncover the kind of voice your brand has already developed.
3. Look at Social Engagement
After reviewing your website content, the next step is taking your search to the socials. Here, you’ll want to look at posts and paid ads, as well as your engagement metrics and the way people interact with you on social platforms.
Again, check performance stats to see what kinds of content works best with your target audience.
Areas to review:
- Direct messages
It’s also important to make sure you’re responding to incoming inquiries.
According to Oracle, 43% of social media users only interact with brands on social media to quickly get answers to questions or concerns. As such, make sure that your support-related communications are on-brand and be sure to use social help requests to identify the language your audience uses to describe problems or ask questions—there could be an SEO opportunity hiding in plain sight.
Action item: Perform an audit on your social channels. Do your official posts and responses to customer inquiries or posts align in terms of style of voice?
4. Decide What You Want Your Audience to Walk Away with
Consider what you want your audience to get out of your content.
Do you want to make them laugh or help them learn something new? Do you want to promote body positivity or sustainability? Or maybe your thing is that you’re really clued-in to the hottest trends before everyone else. You get the idea.
But, taking it from a vague idea to a consistent communication plan means you need to have a goal.
Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you build a strategy around your personality.
Even if you’re creating content in many different places, a solid understanding will allow you to show the same consistency throughout every aspect of your marketing.
Action Item: Get input from the entire company on who you are. Take that and match it up to your customer pain points. Make sure your voice reflects your defining features. For Ignite, for example, that means creating content that shows relationships, responsiveness and results to how we approach digital marketing.
5. Make Brand Voice Official (and Scalable) with a Style Guide
By taking all of these things into account and compiling your very own brand style guide, you can effectively influence the marketing messages that your team uses in the future.
A style guide exists to help you and your team understand what is and isn’t acceptable for your brand.
Users can reference your style guide to inform their approach with any kind of marketing content that they produce in the future.
Action Item: Create a clear one sheet that has all the dos and don’ts.
- This is our main message
- We always try to reinforce this
- We never say this
Connect Your Brand Voice to Emotions
One of the most powerful ways to use it is to tap into specific emotions that trigger a response with your customer.
In doing so, your brand can generate a feeling which is associated with the value your product or service provides. It’s up to you to figure out what that emotion is depending on your industry and niche, but you can see the power of this effect in an example like Nike.
Nike’s marketing forces you to feel something and the way you feel about those ads compels you to satisfy that urge specifically by purchasing Nike products.
A Great Brand Voice is Informed by its Target Audience
I think the best way to create one that attracts business is to thoroughly understand the target market you’re trying to sell to.
That’s the only way you’re going to be able to create something that works and helps your target market trust you. Without an authentic brand voice, you’re just a website selling products.
Define Your Brand Voice Now
Sit down and write it down on a piece of paper using this outline:
- Create three personas
- What is your core company message?
- What is your company’s mission?
- What are your core products to promote?
- What tone of voice do you use in your communication?
- How do you want to interact with customers?
- How do you not want to interact with customers?
- What things should your company never say (specific words, phrases, promises)?
- List some examples of content that is approved and on-brand
Good luck with creating a brand voice that brings you the success you’re looking for!