How to find your brand voice
The most successful brands are arguably the ones that have nailed their brand voice. Perfecting this integral part of your startup can be a particularly delicate operation to get right, but once you have spent time developing it properly it will be worth everything to the business. Having a consistent marketing voice across your social channels and your website will ensure a better experience for your customer, as they will recognise the brand and see the humanity behind the product. When it comes to customer service there can be a huge difference in consumer reaction when confronted with a response that sounds like a robot compared with something that sounds like a person genuinely concerned about the issue at hand. Nowadays authenticity counts for a lot, which is reflected in the rise in emphasis that consumers place on peer reviews online and via word of mouth. This article in The Guardian states that as much as ‘70% of consumers place peer recommendations above professionally written copy’. While you can’t be their actual friend or family member telling them about your product, you can go to some lengths to seem as though you are on their level, rather than a corporation invested in making money above all else.
To begin thinking about your brand voice, you need to differentiate between voice and tone as it can be easy to become confused. In simple terms, voice is the overarching way that you speak. Voice does not change – you are your voice and your voice is you. Tone, on the other hand, does change – all the time in fact. You alter your tone depending on who you are talking to and what the situation is – whether you are chatting to friends in a bar or presenting to a client in a meeting.
To discover and refine your brand voice, you will need do some work towards pinpointing your customer. Take the time to sit down with the rest of your company and come up with a few words to describe your business as if it were a person. Describe their personality in a few broad terms, for example quirky, trustworthy or authoritative, and then break down each trait into smaller chunks to broaden your definition. Once you have these points you can begin to think about how that type of person would come across when communicating. Write a few phrases that you imagine would be in their lexicon and see if they fit with the characteristics that you began with. If you are having trouble with settling on your key descriptors then don’t be afraid to host a focus group made up of friends and family and get their views on how they perceive your company.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on what your company is NOT as well. Mail Chimp has a thorough guide on their brand voice which gives examples of what Mail Chimp is not alongside what it is. For example, if your brand is cheeky you might also want to be clear that it is never insulting, or if it is authoritative then never stuffy. During this phase of your branding process you should also decide on whether you include humour in your brand voice and what mannerisms or phrases should be associated with your business – for example, the smoothie brand Innocent employs simplistic language full of colloquialisms evocative of an excited child. On that note, it is worth mentioning that humour is a tricky thing to handle within the confines of a brand voice because it can go disastrously wrong if it hits the wrong notes (but add just the right amount of personality if it is actually funny). The general consensus is usually: if it feels forced then leave it out.
If your business is already fairly established then it can be useful to look at the way that your consumers talk about your brand online. They are the ones that drive your business, so if they are repeating a particular way of speaking then you might want to think about getting on their level. Developing your brand voice is all about communicating with your customers after all.
Once you feel confident with your brand voice and what it should sound like, you will need to set it in concrete by writing up brand voice guidelines. Consistency across platforms will encourage the positive benefits of having a brand voice, because it will increase recognisability for your customers. Be clear and unwavering in your guidelines to make sure that anyone who speaks for your brand is only saying things that hit the right notes. Have a meeting with your team to explain the process that went into refining your brand voice and use existing content that you think hits the mark to demonstrate it in practice. Include examples of your copy in different contexts and applied to different scenarios so that there is no room for doubt about how to communicate. Once this formula is established among your team feel free to let them loose on your customers and watch for the results.