If there’s one phrase that gets thrown around a lot in terms of effective, strategic marketing, it’s ‘brand voice’. You see it in blogs, intensely discussed in conferences, and perhaps mentioned in passing by one of your mentors over dinner. You yourself probably use this a lot, too, at team meetings, along with the big words like brand equity and positioning, as part of improving content marketing efforts.
But what is brand voice exactly? Is it the same as the other big marketing term, brand tone? More importantly, why should you care about it?
Is Brand Voice Similar to Tone or Voice?
Before jumping into what brand voice is, it’s worth taking note of what brand voice is not. Brand voice is different from tone. Tone refers to the kind of communication you use in response to events, say, a Christmas sale or a reputation crisis. Voice, on the other hand, is your company’s personality imprinted on your communications. It covers the words that you choose, the language that you use, even the mental picture you want people to see in your marketing materials. If you look at brand tone examples, you’ll realize that it changes from time to time, depending on specific situations. But voice rarely does, precisely because the latter is anchored on the identity of your brand, which should be solid and intact.
Given that it’s closely associated with your personality, brand voice sets you apart from competitors, making you distinct from the rest in the industry. This, right here, is precisely the reason brand voice is highly important in marketing, especially content strategy.
With so many brands vying for attention and the online community buzzing with so many voices, your unique communication style is the key to standing out.
Here at Propelrr, we can attest to the fact that a strong, intentional brand voice is essential for a successful marketing strategy.
Here’s how to develop your brand's authentic voice for content marketing:
- Align with the Mission-Vision statement
- Check all your content
- Describe your personality
- Listen to your audience
- Connect with your audience
- Fine-tune your guidelines
1. Align with the Mission-Vision statement
It may seem like a piece of ironic advice to keep silent when you’re trying to come up with brand voice, but you need to step away from all the noise, of the busyness of the business and the industry, so you can focus on discovering the core of your brand.
That’s what the silence break is for: finding (or re-exploring) who you are. It sounds cheesy, but the truth really is, a unique communication style only emerges, becomes solid and unchanging, when there’s true, deep understanding of your unique identity. The brand voice guidelines come naturally from there.
So ask yourself the hard questions about brand identity. Why does your company exist? What’s your mission-vision? What’s your personality? Does your label emanate power, authority, and elegance? Or is it more entertaining, fun, and friendly? These mentioned have become great brand voice examples in their respective industries, communicating consistently and cutting through the noise online, simply because they have a strong connection to their core, their mission-vision values, and goals.
2. Check all your content
If you’re finding it hard to pin down what your voice really is, even given the mission-vision purpose, a ‘soundcheck’ perhaps can help. Collect content, which you think can sound like your brand. It can be materials online and offline. Get photos, videos, social media posts, web pages, flyers, etc.
From there, evaluate each content as to whether or not they could come from your competitors. If they do, toss them out. By the end of this activity, you’ll only have a few materials on hand. But there’s a good chance that these are the ones that resonated most to your business.
Your job from thereon is to know why. Why do these pieces of content speak so much about your organization? What did you not like about the content you tossed out, aside from it being competitor-sounding? Look for common patterns or themes among the materials you’re left with. Perhaps, they sound witty to you. They might be funny, but not bordering silly. Or maybe they’re fearless, but not too arrogant. It could be that this is the kind of voice and content messaging you want to put forward.
Do note though that this ‘soundcheck’ isn’t just for the new brands. It’s also very helpful even when you already have an ongoing content strategy marketing campaign. It serves as a form of performance check. You gather pieces of content just the same, only this time your own, and you study two things: how they reinforce your brand identity and how they resonate with your audience.
If they don’t align with your mission-vision goals or don’t do as much impact to your target market as you would like it to be, tweak your strategy, perhaps use other tools for content idea generation or revisit your current brand voice template, to see a difference in the results.
3. Describe your personality
Your observations of shared patterns and themes in your soundcheck won’t matter if you don’t verbalize, or should we say, ‘vocalize’ them. Don’t let those descriptions be mere mental notes. Write them down — it’s best if you can stick to two to three descriptions only. Funny and sarcastic. Straightforward and brutal sometimes. Kind and friendly. With these quick-to-remember keywords guiding you in your content messaging strategy, it’s easier to come up with social media posts, blogs, and other marketing materials later on.
At the same time though, you want to be clear on the definition and scope and limits of your brand voice. ‘Funny’ and ‘friendly’ can mean a lot of things for each individual in your team. If you don’t interpret clearly what that means for your brand, your content will be inconsistent all the same. So for the sake of being on the same page, include a brand voice chart in your writing guidelines.
A brand voice chart is a style guide that outlines the use of your communication style. It typically has four columns. The first one is the voice characteristic (e.g., funny, entertaining, or authoritative). The second one is the description, a brief explanation of what the characteristic means. The third and fourth columns are the dos and don'ts in using the brand voice.
So for example, you have ‘funny’ as your brand voice characteristic. The description may go like, “we intend to make people smile or laugh with our content.” One of the dos may be something like, “we use humor with caution and consideration of specific social and cultural contexts. As for the don’ts, you may include, “we will never make fun of a person, an entity, or something that our target audience deems important.” There are lots of sample charts and brand voice guidelines examples online you can check out to improve your document.
4. Listen to your audience
Your audience offers great insights when it comes to brand voice. In fact, most of the time, even uninitiated, they give it nonetheless. For sure, you’ve had your share of people commenting on your social media posts, throwing clap emojis at your informative, no-nonsense infographics or calling you out for being overly conceited.
It’s fun to find the former in your comments section, but the latter? It’s easy to dismiss it. But if you really want to improve your brand voice, it’s important to pay attention to criticism. Take them into consideration whenever you brainstorm ideas and curate content.
At the same time though, don’t wait for audience feedback. Ask for comments and suggestions. You can use Survey Monkey or Google Forms. Promote the survey in your social media and give tokens to people willing to answer. The survey doesn’t need to be that long and exhaustive (your audience wouldn’t like that, for sure). It just has to be comprehensive and straight to the point. Some sample questions you might want to include are these:
- Does our communication style resonate to you? (You may want to include some social media posts or blogs to illustrate what communication style you’re referring to)
- If you can describe our brand in one word, what would it be?
- If our brand is a person, how do you think would she/he talk? What do you think she’ll/he'll be babbling about?
Such surveys aren’t just helpful in collecting meaningful insights for better strategies, but also in communicating to audiences that their opinion matters to you. That goes beyond having the best brand voice in the industry as it actually makes a direct impression on your target market.
5. Connect with your audience
An effective brand voice isn’t just true to its identity. It also connects with its audience. That’s why it’s not enough to hear your people out when it comes to developing your unique communication style. You have to adopt their lingo and vocabulary, too. You blend your voice with theirs in perfect unison. When your market sees that you get their vibe, they develop a sense of affinity to you, like you’re one of them. Notice the marketing materials of modern local make-up labels today, peppering their social media posts with vocabs like ‘slay’ ‘on fleek’, and ‘snatched’ to connect with their primary target markets, the millennials — literally blending in with the audience.
Now of course, building rapport through brand voice goes beyond talking the talk of your audience. You can talk all day about ‘slaying’ and still get zero response from your target customers. Making your brand voice relevant to your audience’s requires knowing not just their language, but also their lifestyle, needs, interests, pain points, etc.
That said, it pays to ask yourself, how much do you know about your audience? Aside from their gender and age, do you know what they care about? What do they enjoy doing during weekends? What frustrates them? What ticks them off? If customer satisfaction is in your mission-vision statement and you want your voice to really speak to them, you better know. Draft detailed buyer personas to know how to communicate best to customers.
6. Fine-tune your guidelines
If there’s anything constant about business, it’s change. Your brand is dynamic. It goes through a lot of twists and turns, as you delve into new products and services and welcome new customer segments. Sometimes, the overall direction goes on a totally different route, too, as dictated by the change in priorities. As your label evolves, your voice should, too. It’s good to have solid brand voice guidelines, but know that you need to revisit it every now and then, and tweak it according to your specific context.
It’s best if you can do this review quarterly. Sit down with your team and discuss if the brand voice is still aligned to your business reality. Some brands, for instance, commit to a funny, bordering sarcastic voice at first, but find it to be ineffective in making a good impression on the target audience, only garnering hate comments on social media. Or sometimes, the satire usually gets struck down by the people who approve of content. In these instances, a change in the guidelines, specifically in the brand voice chart, needs to happen.
Brand voice is one of those things that can make or break your content marketing strategy. It’s tempting to dive right into making social media posts and flexing your witty gifs, but it pays to take a pause first and come up with a strong, solid communication style.
- Explore good voices and ensure that your efforts will not go to waste and instead resonate with your audience.
- Go back to your core and review your mission-vision statement. This is to secure your brand does not stray away from your real brand voice.
- Review your guidelines as the business evolves. As everything changes, your brand cannot stay the same forever. Keep in mind that even your audiences evolve, too.