In branding work, people often think about how a brand looks visually, from fonts to colors to design styles. What is sometimes overlooked is brand voice. With the inclusion of social media in marketing efforts, brand voice has become more important than ever as a way to stand out from the crowd of digital chatter.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the term, you have likely experienced it. The company who sells surf gear takes on the vocabulary and attitude of a surfer. The tween clothing company loosens up its language and uses common slang to connect to their target audience. While you can get away without having a distinctive brand voice, you can take your marketing much further once you’ve established one.
Let’s go further into the details on what brand voice is and how you can develop one of your own.
What is brand voice?
Brand voice is the distinct personality a brand takes on in its communications. Imagine you went to a dinner party and you’re chatting with all the guests. One person stands out because they’re great at storytelling in a distinctive, unique way. The flow of their words, the language they used and their personality all combined to make for a memorable experience. In fact, when you’re retelling that story, you immediately think of that person.
Now extrapolate that dinner guest into a brand voice. Who is your brand online? If your brand was a person, what personality traits would they take on and what would they actively avoid? What phrases and stylistic choices does your brand use on a consistent basis?
All of the above combine to create your brand voice. This personality is applied to everywhere your brand speaks, including newsletters, social media posts, internal official communications like company announcements and advertising.
Why does brand voice matter?
Why should you care about your brand voice? Why not just write whatever you want in whichever style you feel like that day?
The digital landscape is crowded. It’s filled with chatter from brands and individuals alike. You can only stand out so much on the basis of your visual content, logo or product features alone. Your written content needs that same attention and consistency you give to the other elements of your brand presence.
Brand voice helps you stand out from the crowd. In the Sprout Social Index, the consumers surveyed had reasons why some brands stood out more than others. Forty percent said memorable content, 33% said distinct personality and 32% said compelling storytelling. In all three of these aspects, brand voice plays a significant role. You can’t have a distinct personality without a distinct brand voice.
Content is not just about photos or videos. It includes words and graphics. How you present yourself is important to consumers. The same Index researched why consumers unfollow brands on social media. Forty-five percent of consumers cited irrelevant content. Posting content that doesn’t match your brand’s perceived style is one way of getting your account unfollowed.
Lastly, brand voice matters because you want your brand to be consistent and recognizable. Brand awareness succeeds when you can identify a brand only by their content before you even see who posted it.
5 Tips for developing your brand voice
So now that the importance of brand voice has been established, how the heck do you even develop a distinctive one? Use the below five tips to get started on figuring out what your brand voice is.
1. Document everything & be consistent
Just like your visual brand guide and your social strategy, your brand voice needs documentation, too. Unless you have one person managing all communications and marketing, a brand voice document will be helpful for multiple departments. It exists as a reference for anyone who writes in the brand’s voice. It keeps social media posts and marketing copy in check and consistent.
The document should begin with your company’s core values and mission statement. You should be able to pull some defining personality traits from these statements.
Other components of the document include the personality traits, common vocabulary, brand phrases and most importantly, examples. You want to write out plenty of examples that demonstrate both how to write within your intended brand personality and what types of choices fall too far outside of your defined style.
2. Audit your current voice
Need some inspiration on what your brand personality should be? Take a look at your current communications. Make sure you grab examples from all communications so you get a good overview of what the voice is like currently.
You may find that your voice is inconsistent because of different writers or uses of certain words over others. Note how your target audience interacts with you and how they speak. What voice traits do your top-performing posts and newsletter issues have in common?
From here, you’ll be able to note what your brand’s personality currently is and then begin the process of brainstorming more traits that you want to emulate.
3. Identify your audience and personas
Another way of formulating your brand voice is by seeing who your audience and marketing personas are. If your target audience is younger, you’ll want to use language that resonates with them. Using language familiar to an older generation will only serve to alienate your younger audience.
As you work through your audience and personas, list out traits and common vocabulary you want to take on as a brand. A West-coast brand with a West-coast target audience will take on regional slang.
A piece of advice: don’t stray too far away from your brand’s current operations. You want to present your voice authentically and not robotically or give the appearance of just chasing trends.
4. Know your tone
Brand voice is what you say and brand tone is how you say it. Your tone may vary between audiences, so it’s a good idea to document when to use certain tones in certain situations.
The excited way you announce a new product won’t be the same tone you take on when responding to a customer complaint. Identify common scenarios you come across as a brand and categorize them into the different tones you would take on.
For example, at Sprout, we’ve developed our own style guidelines to fine-tune brand voice for varying scenarios, such as the difference between more formal media statements and casual social responses.
5. Review & adapt
Developing a brand voice is not a one-time effort. It should be reviewed and refined at designated times, such as once a year or during major branding overhauls, and during major events that significantly alter your company’s marketing strategy. Language evolves and the words you used five years ago might not be en vogue today. Without a consistent check in on your brand voice, you risk sounding out of date or out of touch with current events.
For example, GIF usage in social media wasn’t as mainstream today as it was five years ago. But they’ve evolved into common acceptance and are now easily accessible on most of the major social media platforms.
Examples of distinctive brand voice
It’s one thing to say your brand should have a unique personality, but it’s another challenge to successfully implement it in a way that feels organic and authentic. To help inspire your efforts to define or refine a brand voice, here are three companies with distinctive brand voices.
Apple’s advertisements are easily identifiable from their minimalist visuals, but their written content is just as unique. The words paired with their visuals are carefully chosen and short. On their website, their brand voice is apparent through language choices that are simple, direct and open.
On their small business page, Apple uses language that is commonly used among small business owners. They get straight to the point on their benefits in a casual and inviting way.
The company wants people to use their products. Going in-depth on technical aspects of their products as their first interaction with a customer wouldn’t go over well unless they knew that customer was already familiar with that vocabulary. The copy about the solutions they offer is direct and easily digestible, and even these language choices help address audience pain points like time crunch or the intimidation factor of technical solutions while retaining an identifiable personality.
More than half a decade ago, Mailchimp made their voice guide publicly available for everyone else to see. The detail it went into, including punctuation and spelling notes, served as an excellent voice guide example. Anyone reading the guide, whether or not they were at the company, could write in Mailchimp’s voice or emulate their approach to documenting brand style and tone.
Mailchimp’s fun and casual voice can be seen across their social media posts and blog posts. The blog post above demonstrates how they write to their audience. The words are direct and informative but still casual and conversational, which fits the brand voice set out in their guidelines.
Oatly’s branding work is a combination of its fun illustrations and quirky copy. You’ll find the brand voice present in everything from their packaging to their social media captions.
The Facebook caption demonstrates their fun attitude, conversational speech and a little randomness thrown in. You never really know where their writing will go, which hooks the reader into wanting more.
Now that you’re armed with more information about brand voice, it’s time for you to go create your own. For further brand voice guide inspiration, visit Voice, Tone & Content Guides for even more ideas from brands. No personality is too much as long as it’s unique and fitting to your brand and audience. And remember that your company’s priorities might shift with changing times, so that brand voice document is always a work in progress.