Your company’s messaging creates a particular response in your target audience when they read or hear it. Are you making them excited? Curious? Or are you confusing them? A brand voice is like a person who remains consistent in the way they perceive, behave, and speak. When you develop a successful brand voice for your organization you will find it makes a big difference as shown in several important measures.
Here’s how to develop a successful brand voice
The following 7 steps will enable you to understand and implement the essentials for developing a successful brand voice that resonates with the people who are important to your brand.
1. Review your mission statement and brand promise
Your mission statement is how you have organized your company’s core perspective to attract and motivate employees, and your brand promise is how you’ve positioned the face of the company to deliver quality services and goods to your clients and customers. Although seemingly on opposite sides of the spectrum, these two statements work together to deliver cohesive messaging that motivates all members of the organization to represent the company well and feed its positive reputation.
Look for correlations across these perspectives and identify their measurable qualities. For example, FedEx started with a very simple, direct, and easily measurable brand promise: “We will get your package to you by 10:30AM the next day.” There is no room for error in understanding their promise and their mission statement also reflects their inherent goal of serving customer requirements in the “highest quality manner” along with developing “mutually rewarding relationships with its team members, partners and suppliers.
2. Include your brand’s tone of voice
Your brand’s tone of voice is how the character of your business comes through in the words you write and speak. It’s not about what you say, but the way you say it — and the impression it makes on everyone who reads or hears you. This is how high-profile marketing expert, Ann Handley, defines tone of voice. Consistency in a brand voice is important because it defines your company culture, speaks directly to your ideal clients and customers, and becomes a memorable representation of all your organization has to offer.
Why you should care about tone of voice
Here are some of the benefits created from developing an effective tone of voice:
- It conveys your humanity. People like a brand that projects warmth and approachability.
- It helps you cut through. You sound different from your competitors.
- It effectively replaces face-to-face communication. When people can’t deal with you in person, they still like to feel they can trust you from the tone of voice you create.
- It builds authority. Astute positioning of your tone of voice leads to authority and trust from stakeholders like customers. It also shows you are confident in your message.
- It gives you focus. This can help you analyze your organization’s identity so you can get to the core of what you offer to customers.
- It makes you different. Many brands haven’t taken a perceptive approach to the way they use brand language.
3. Audit all your content
Gather all your marketing content to review your current branding. From your website copy to your newsletters and printed materials, audit the content with your team and welcome any positive critiques. Could any of the content pass as something disseminated by competitors in your industry? Which of the content pieces stand out, representing the mission, promise, and standards of your unique value proposition?
Save those pieces and make them the core examples for rewriting all other content and for any future content that is to be shared across your networks and in your advertising materials. Monitoring competitor brands will help you to develop a successful brand voice.
4. Conduct market research
When directing content to your target audience, you use a specific voice. Review and update your market research — who are you selling to and what are their pesky pain points? How old are they and what kind of language do they use? Young adults speak differently than women in the market for pregnancy products, for instance. In fact, Generation Z is known to seek out social media before making online purchases, looking at apps like Snapchat and Instagram to help them decide where their spending dollars go.
Dig deeper. What does your audience like to do in their free time? Develop a profile for your target audience, get into their minds, and refine your brand voice in a way that speaks directly to them.
Don’t forget your employees. They would have deep insights and feelings about your brand. They are customers as well, and you need their input so you can develop a successful brand voice.
Check what your competitors are doing. How do they position themselves? What key messages do they use? What sort of language do they use?
Image, above: William Iven-gcsNOsPESfs-Unsplash.
5. Ask for feedback
Without feedback, you’re only hearing your own echo. This makes for a house of mirrors filled with blind spots. Survey your audience and check in with your employees to be sure what you think your brand messaging is matches what they feel is being relayed. If the feedback displays discrepancies, you know where you should be focusing. If the feedback matches up with your intended brand voice, then you have confirmation you’re on the right track.
Forget this myth
One of the most damaging myths in the business world is the belief that branding is solely a marketing and marketing communication function. All your colleagues—from the assembly line to the C-suite—should be participating in communicating your own brand. But your brand community doesn’t stop there. Your business partners and shareholders, and ultimately your customers, are part of the equation too. When all stakeholders are included in feedback and brand development, they can have a powerful impact on the company’s brand value.
Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,” but the truth is, effective branding means there are no vague “other people” in the process of brand communication – they are all participants. If your branding is rooted in authenticity, and everyone who interacts with your company’s products or services has an experience that reinforces the positive brand message, the rewards of effective branding can be reaped, says branding expert William Arruda in a 2016 Forbes article.
6. List your brand values and define personality
Brand value questions:
Review your brand values from your inside perspective. Use the five questions below to prompt your answers to gain valuable insights into what to do to develop a successful brand voice.
Image: “Watch your tone.”
Then list your values — for example, you may choose values like friendliness, kindness, reliability, timeliness, etc. Next, define the personality that exemplifies your values. Is this person humorous, authoritative, bold, or formal?
Three values is a good number of single-word values to use to reflect your brand voice. Any more or fewer are not as effective.
Guidelines for selecting values
- Be prepared to use unanticipated words, but not so unusual that they don’t resonate with your audience.
- Don’t use clichéd words like “friendly”, “honest” or “reliable.” They don’t create a distinctive tone.
- Avoid abstract words if you can. For instance, “creative” or “inspired” or “artistic” aren’t a concept customers can relate to.
Tone of voice components
You can use these guiding thoughts for a writing style capturing your tone of voice:
- Use short words where possible. Keep them simple and direct.
- Shorter sentences are clearer to readers. Aim for 8-14 words per sentence.
- Even though shorter sentences are desirable, try to vary their length to keep reader interest.
- Pronouns are used instead of the names of people or things. There are three pronouns, either singular or plural.
- First person singular pronoun is “I”.
- Second person singular pronoun is “you”.
- Third person singular pronoun is “he, she or it.”
- First person plural pronoun is “we”.
- Second person plural pronoun is “you”.
- Third person plural pronoun is “they”.
When writing about your organization, you can use the first person plural (“we”) or the third person plural (“Delta Industrial Equipment”). The first person gives a more immediate positioning with the reader while the third person is more distant.
When writing to potential customers etc, you can use the second person singular (“you”) to make it more personal, or third person plural (“customers” or “shareholders”).
7 elements of tone
These recommendations below will help you to achieve a clear and positive tone-of-voice in your writing:
- Stay concise. The fewer words you use to convey an idea, the more concise you are. Minimize unnecessary adjectives.
- Avoid jargon. Jargon comprises special words or expressions, used mainly in business, which are difficult for others to understand. Jargon frustrates readers.
- Avoid buzzwords. These are simple words and phrases that sound fancy and important, but don’t actually hold as much value as they should. Common buzzwords and phrases include “viral” and “I’m reaching out to you to…” Eventually a buzzword becomes a cliché and outdated.
- Avoid clichés like the plague! Clichés are words and phrases that have become overused and betray lack of original thought. For instance, saying “avoid them like the plague” is a cliché. They make your writing sound stale and dull.
- Contractions are useful. A contraction is a combination of two or more words that creates a shorter new word by omitting some letters and sounds. Contractions typically appear in everyday conversation and informal writing, eg “they’re” and “you’ve.” People do this most of the time when talking. Using contractions makes your tone informal, relaxed, and accessible, and gives readers a strong sense of conversation.
- Colloquialisms are often in casual speech. These are words and expressions that become commonplace within a specific language, geographic region, or historical era. Writers use colloquialisms to give personality and authenticity to their characters. This may involve slang and contractions to make the writing seem more like a casual conversation between friends. Use this carefully, obviously because not all people are familiar with all colloquialisms. On the other hand, colloquialisms would be useful in local marketing or in a fairly defined geographic area like a State, county or even a country.
- Breaking grammar rules. Some grammar rules can be bent or broken. For example, starting a sentence with “and” or “but,” or ending one with a preposition like “on,” may not be strictly correct, but most people do it when they talk. So you might want to do the same if you want to achieve a casual or colloquial tone.
7. Prepare and circulate guidelines
Document guidelines to ensure consistency. As you move through the above phases of developing your brand voice and tone, keep a strong and detailed set of notes for reference. Next, create brand voice guidelines that outline best practices for explaining company values and maintaining consistency across digital and printed content. This is particularly important if you’re working with a content writing service which has writers who aren’t as familiar with your brand’s materials as much as an in-house writer. Also, marketing agencies and PR firms can refer to a tone-of-voice guide they can when they write.
Image, above: by Scott Graham-OQMZwNd3ThU-Unsplash.
Example of a tone-of-voice guide
Suggested sections for a tone-of-voice guide include:
- Positioning statement. Report on why you’ve decided to start managing your tone of voice, and how this guide can help people in their writing on behalf of your brand.
- Brand values. A summary of the brand values you’ve identified.
- Tone of voice. How your brand values translate into writing style.
- Key phrases. Words that express something crucial about your brand or your values. These could be public content like ad slogans or corporate taglines, or just frequent sayings within your business.
- Sample texts showing how your tone of voice works in different situations. You may also want to include examples of what not to do (eg, how not to respond to complaints).
- Tips and suggestions. Ways to help people remember the tone of voice guidelines, or suggestions to help them integrate your tone of voice into their day-to-day writing.
Setting up clear standards allows you and your team to have a robust style guide to measure up against new content. Make this information available to all employees, especially those involved in marketing and creative projects to ignite your messaging and keep it moving like wildfire throughout every aspect of your organization.
When enough effort is focused on cementing the guidelines created, your brand voice becomes an integral part of your company’s culture, like a personality that gets injected into the consciousness of the entire organization. When this is achieved you can look back and say you have developed a successful brand voice.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.