Brand voice plays an incredibly important role in virtually every aspect of a company’s marketing efforts.
How’s that, you ask?
Well, just think of the role that your own voice plays in your everyday life. Your voice:
- Helps you stand out from the crowd
- Lets you effectively communicate with those around you
- Helps your friend and family recognize you for you
- Speaks to who you are as a person, offering insight into your personality
Brand voice is used for precisely the same roles, only for your business instead of for yourself. Your brand voice helps your company stand out from the competition, offers insight into your company culture, and makes it easier for your existing and prospective buyers to recognize your business.
Download our Free Brand Voice Worksheet
For step-by-step instructions on how you can identify your company’s brand voice.
But how should companies actually go about identifying their brand voice and ensuring that it captures all of the qualities that you want your buyer to associate with you?
Below, we walk you step by step through a process of settling your brand voice, and what you should do afterwards to make sure that it permeates throughout all of the content your team creates.
1. Paint a picture of your ideal buyer.
If your brand voice is going to be effective in attracting your ideal buyer, you will of course need to have a clear sense of who that buyer is.
Hopefully you already have a clear picture of who your buyer is in the form of a buyer persona, but if you for some reason don’t yet have buyer personas created, you should create a customer profile before diving into the specifics of your brand voice.
This customer profile should speak to your customer in 3 key areas:
- Demographics: What is the age, race, location, education level, and job title of your customer?
- Pains/Desires: What is the problem or pain that your buyer is trying to solve? What are their desires?
- How do they consume information?: Where do your buyers typically turn for information? Do they engage with social media, with particular print or online publications, with academic papers? Similarly, what tone do they prefer? Informal, formal, academic, technical, etc.?
Not sure where to turn to get these insights? Your Google Analytics data is a great place to start, especially to find the demographic information. But also consider speaking to your sales team or customer service team members to learn more insight about what makes your customers tick.
Why is your customer profile so important in identifying your company’s brand voice? For a couple of reasons. First is the fact that different people prefer to be spoken to in different ways.
For example, a surfer would likely tolerate (and indeed may even seek out) companies that are more informal in tone and voice. They may even shy away from companies who communicate more formally because they sound “too corporate.” On the other end of the extreme: A CEO of a finance company may expect highly formal communication from any partner, and immediately tune out companies who are more informal.
When settling your brand voice, it’s important that you know who your ideal customer is so that you can tailor that voice to their expectations.
Beyond this, demographic information like geography, age, and education level can all help you land on the language (the actual words) that you use in your communications. If your target customer is from the southern US for example, you’re likely to use different colloquialisms than if you are targeting those in the northeast.
2. Describe your company culture.
In addition to helping you appeal to your ideal buyer, your brand voice also plays the important role of giving your business a human face and feel. The importance of this really can’t be understated: By offering your buyers a glimpse of your authentic self, you help to build a relationship and establish trust that you’ll need to inevitably make a sale.
The best way for your brand voice to be authentic? Make sure that your voice incorporates the characteristics of the actual human beings working at your company—especially the key founder/cofounders. Company culture boils down into all aspects of a business, and that should include your brand voice and marketing.
Brainstorm 10 to 12 qualities that you think best describe your business, employees, and culture.
3. Map your attributes back to your customer profile.
Now that you understand who your ideal buyer is and who you are, as a company, you need to tie your current qualities back to your customer. Of the 10 to 12 adjectives that you brainstormed in #2, what are the top 4 that you think would MOST appeal to your customer?
If you’ve found obvious fits, that’s great. These qualities will come in handy, because you’ll lean into them to keep your customer happy while figuring out your aspirations (#4 below).
If on the other hand you are struggling to find a fit between your qualities and what your buyer expects, then you may have a misalignment in terms of company and customer.
4. Identify your aspirations.
Once you know the characteristics that your company currently embodies, and you know which of these traits most appeals to you ideal customer, you can lean into those traits while you work to transform your company (and brand voice) into what you want it to be.
We think about this in terms of “aspirational qualities.” Regardless of how your brand is portrayed now, what are the qualities or characteristics that you most want your buyer to associate with you and your brands?
Keep this list short—no more than three to five adjectives.
5. Understand your competitor’s voice.
One of the most important roles that brand voice plays is helping you stand out from the competition.
If your product or service is very similar to your competition, you’ve got a bit of a problem on your hands. Without a differentiator, customers will have difficulty telling your product apart, or understanding why they should be buying from you vs. your competitor. In cases like this, so long as your brand voice is different from your competitors, that can become the differentiator that customers need.
So, create a list of your top competitors. Keep the list to no more than three or four so that you can remain focused.
Then, read some of the content that they’ve produced; at least three different pieces of content. Now try to characterize their brand voice by brainstorming a list of five to eight adjectives describing it.
What themes do you find between your competitors? Are all of their voices very stiff and corporate? Do they all fall into a trap of heavily using jargon that makes their content dry and boring? Is there some other similarity?
If you can identify the similarities, by going in a different direction you can craft your own brand voice in a way that helps your company stand out.
If all of your competitors are corporate stiffs, for example, what are the alternatives you can go down? Maybe an irreverent tone can set your company apart in a way that makes your brand more recognizable to you customers.
6. Settle your tone.
Your tone—how formal your writing is—should be based in equal parts off of your buyer profile and your company culture.
Your buyer profile because, well, you need to appeal to your ideal buyer, and a part of that means speaking to them in the way that they want to and expect to be spoken to. And your company culture because it’s really hard trying to sound like something you’re not.
The easiest way to do this is to establish a spectrum from 1 to 10. On one end of the spectrum, imagine the tone and formality of a publication like The New York Times, and on the other end think of someone like Buzzfeed. In the middle you might find someone like Pepperland.
Now, where along this spectrum would you like your tone to fall?
7. Find examples that match your desired brand voice and tone.
Once you’ve settled on your desired tone, find three or four samples of content that you believe best matches your desired brand voice, and explain what it is you like about them and why you want to emulate them in your own brand.
Also remember that voice doesn’t just mean “words.” Your voice is also portrayed through the visual aspects of your brand like you images, fonts, color scheme, and more (as Larsen helps to show in their article on the topic). These examples should include a mix of both text and visual elements.
8. Incorporate this feedback into your editorial guidelines, and all content.
Now that you have a clear sense of the voice that you want to portray to your buyers, you need to make sure that everyone creating content for your company is on the same page. All blog posts, advertisements, web copy, emails, etc., should follow the same set of brand principles.
The best way to do this? Use the insights that you have gathered above to create a set of editorial guidelines, written in your desired brand voice, which you should then share with your entire team. After all, it’s always better to lead by example!
You could also create a brand voice chart that outlines the different characteristics of your brand voice, along with some dos and don’ts for your writers to follow. The clearer you can get in helping your team understand and implement your brand voice, the better.
While it’s obvious that your brand voice will impact your blog/web content, including both text and images, it’s important that your brand voice meshes across all channels and all formats. Some often overlooked areas include your calls-to-action, email, and company bios. But especially important is your social media channels: They are, by definition, the public face of your brand. You need to make sure that they match with your brand voice!
The Power of Voice
In today’s crowded market where consumers have more choice and more power than ever before, every business needs an edge that helps them attract customers. Figuring out your brand’s voice might give you just the edge you need, allowing you to speak to your customer the way that they want to be spoken to, leveraging your company culture, and setting you apart from the competition.