April 19, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
When most people hear the term “branding,” they automatically think of company colors and logos. But branding goes beyond just what you see. It also focuses on what your audience hears or reads in every company communication. Today, we’re looking at what brand voice is and how to define yours:
Brand voice is your company’s communications personality. It includes all the elements of how your company talks to its audiences, like clients and customers, business partners, or shareholders. Most companies have an entire team of marketing professionals who run their communications and interactions with audiences. Brand voice is a tool those team members use to share the right brand message with the audience, no matter who the person is that’s drafting or sharing the content.
There are four key elements to consider when you’re developing or uncovering your brand voice. They include:
Your brand’s character is the way you represent the company’s voice. A person can have character too, and it’s normally defined by their personality, qualities, and beliefs. To find your brand’s character, think about the people that work for your company. Review your mission statement and core values. What do you stand for? When you understand why your company exists and how it operates, you can get a better understanding of its character.
One of the biggest components of brand voice is language. Because brand voice comes from the way you write and speak, it’s important to know what words you want to use when sharing information. The language you use may shape your brand voice more than anything else. For example, using slang gives you a more relaxed voice while using jargon could narrow your audience appeal.
The purpose of your brand voice is to share your company story and goals with your audience. For many B2C companies, your primary goal may be to sell products. For B2B companies, you may have a wide variety of goals depending on your services and company mission. The purpose helps define how you’re going to meet these goals and expectations through communications with your audience and partners.
Your brand tone is the way you share information about your company in different situations. The things you say to stakeholders may be slightly different than the ones you say to your audience or your internal team members. While your character and purpose don’t change, how you convey your messages can shift with the tone. Tone can affect how you use humor in your content, how you share good and bad news, or how you persuade audiences to do something.
Brand voice and brand tone aren’t the same things, even if people sometimes use the terms interchangeably. Your brand voice is what you say and the tone is how you say it. Just like we listed above, the tone is an element within your larger brand voice. An easy way to understand the differences between the two is to think about your own personal voice and tone.
You likely use certain words every day when you’re communicating with people. You tell your stories with certain inflections and laugh or cry at certain triggers. These things are all part of your personality and make up your personal voice. But you don’t talk to your grandma the same way you talk to your best friend, manager, or first responder. Each of those situations and conversations is slightly different. While your personality doesn’t change, the way you interact with others in different situations might.
For example, if you’re telling your friends a story about something you saw on a reality TV show, you might say: “That was the absolute dumbest thing I ever saw in my life.” But if you were telling the same story to your grandma, you might say: “I didn’t think the way they handled that situation was very smart.” The message you’re sharing stays the same, but the way you share it changes depending on your audience. In business, your brand tone may also change based on your communication channels.
There are many types of brand personalities you can adopt, especially if your company doesn’t have one yet. Here are some examples of potential brand voices you could use:
Marketing landscapes, especially digital marketing landscapes, include a lot of competition. On Twitter alone, users make about 6,000 tweets per minute or about 500,000 tweets per day. That includes content from brands, business professionals, and individual creators. And Twitter is just one channel. Once you add competition on every single communication and publishing platform, your content is up against billions of other pieces trying to capture your audience’s attention.
The goal of creating a distinct brand voice is to help your company’s content stand out from all this other information. You want your audience to read something your brand wrote and recognize where it came from without looking at the account name. When you use a consistent brand voice, you build that awareness with your audience over time. They learn what your company is about and what to expect when they interact with it. That familiarity leads to brand trust and customer loyalty.
Your company uses its brand voice anywhere it speaks or shares information—including traditional and digital marketing channels. It also includes anywhere that your team members or brand representatives interact with leads, clients, business partners, or shareholders. Examples of some places where you use brand voice in your communications include:
Your brand voice might evolve slightly over time, especially if you adopt a relatable or conversational tone. Language trends change. Some words become acceptable or unacceptable to use in certain situations. The invention of new technology or policies may change how all brands reference certain topics. But there is really only one instance where your brand voice may change completely after you’ve established it: during a company rebrand or refresh.
During a rebrand or refresh, your company may overhaul all of its audience signals from visuals, values, and even communication styles. Rebrands may happen to help your company grow with changing social or political landscapes. They may also happen after a decline in business or bad press. In these cases, your team may revisit the brand voice and change it to better align with the company’s new vision.
Here’s a fun fact: Every brand has a voice, even if it’s not distinct or consistent. If you’re communicating with your audiences, then you’re already using a brand voice. But it might not be the right one to get them to stop and pay attention. Here are a few tips to help you uncover and refine your company’s brand voice to make it more effective when communicating with your audiences.
The most important thing about your brand voice is that it should be authentic to your company or organization. Once you really understand what your brand voice is, it should come naturally. You should be able to teach it to new hires on your marketing or communications teams with little effort. If you have to force your brand voice in any communications, it’s likely not authentic.
Listen to how your company leadership and team members talk about the organization when they’re not trying to communicate with the public. This trick may help you find a more authentic brand voice for your organization.
Another way to uncover and understand the right brand voice for your company is to look at its values. What does your company stand for? What does it try to provide for its audience, clients, and customers? Your mission statement, goals, and beliefs can help you determine the right way to communicate with your audience. For example, if your brand is environmentally conscious, it would make sense to incorporate words like “sustainability” and “eco-friendly” into your company’s dictionary.
Though brand voice and brand tone aren’t the same things, they work together to get your brand messages across to the audience. Every communication must have a balance between sounding like your brand and resonating with the people reading your messages. Look at your audience segments and personas to understand who your brand talks to. Some things to consider when reviewing your audience to understand how they talk include:
We’ve all seen brand communications online that are on point. They hit just right, evoke the right emotions, and share exactly the information we want to see. These are the brands you’ll read about below in the examples section. But these brands likely didn’t start with that perfect, distinct brand voice from the first day. Like brands, authors and writers also have their own unique voices. They use certain words or sentence structures in their writing that differ from others.
When writers learn the craft, their teachers tell them it’s okay to adopt a temporary voice while they’re learning. By that, writing teachers mean you should find an author or journalist’s work that you like and try to write like them. Imitate their style for a bit while you learn the basics and structure of writing. Once you’re more comfortable with the craft, you can adapt and change the temporary tone to fit your own writing style. Brands can do the same thing.
If you’re trying to develop your brand voice but you don’t know where to start, look for example communications from other brands whose voices you admire. Then discover why you like the way they talk. Is it the words they choose Is it how they respond to audience messages? Maybe it’s the way they structure their sentences or paragraphs in long-form content. Try to write some sample communications in another brand’s voice. Then infuse elements of your company and audiences into them as you learn more about who and what your brand really is.
If you’re still not sure how to find your brand voice, using a template may help. Brand voice templates like the one from HubSpot help you look at the basic characteristics of brand voice and vocalize how you want to use them at your company. A simple template lists the voice characteristics and the descriptions of each one. It also gives “do and don’t” sections where you can give examples or additional instructions for the best and worst ways to use that characteristic in your communications.
Using a template helps you narrow in on the characteristics you think are most important to your brand and solidify how you want to use them in your content.
Once you work through what your brand voice is, it’s time to document it. Adding all the important information about your brand voice into your style guide makes it easier for all your marketing and communications team members to follow it. You can get as detailed as you want with your voice guidelines, but at minimum, make sure you cover the top four elements of character, language, purpose, and tone.
Free eBook: Why Should You Have a Style Guide?
If you’re looking for examples of brands that really shine when developing distinctive voices, look no further. Here are some companies that have nailed brand voice in their communications:
All of Apple’s branding is distinctive, and that includes its brand voice. The company uses simple and direct language to introduce all of its products.
It also has separate areas on its website for businesses, educators, healthcare, and government agencies. Each of these pages stays true to the minimalist and direct brand voice while adapting the tone for the right audience.
Mailchimp not only has a distinct brand voice, but the company actually makes its style guide available to the public online. The organization defines its brand voice as:
Essentially, what these words mean together is that Mailchimp’s voice tries to stay authentic to its audience: small businesses and individuals looking to navigate the sometimes complicated world of B2B and B2C email marketing on their own. You can see examples of Mailchimp’s plain and educational voice across its website and content.
Skittles got its reputation as a quirky and strange company after it released its first “Taste the Rainbow” campaign in 1994. The brand embraces these quirks, especially on social media. It often tweets unhinged content written in the first person. The brand also calls out other uses and companies in its content.
As a motorcycle company, Harley Davidson has adopted a slightly rebellious, outlaw, and traveler persona for its brand. It uses the language and the to-the-point dictation style of most of its audience. You can find examples of the Harley Davidson brand voice across its advertising campaigns, social media feeds, and website.
Image via Creativepool
Spotify isn’t your parents’ way to listen to music. And the company knows it. Its brand voice targets millennials using slightly dramatic and sarcastic humor. Spotify also follows social media trends in its communications while still staying true to its brand voice.
Fenty Beauty is one of Rihanna’s business ventures. Its values focus on providing fun and diverse beauty products that work for people with all skin tones and types. The company adopted elements of the voice of its founder, using language that she does in her own social media posts and content. You can find examples of Fenty Beauty’s brand voice across its website and digital channels.
Tiffany & Co. has been an upscale brand staple in New York City and around the world since 1837. The company plays into that history with its brand voice by focusing on the hallmarks that have kept it in business for so long: quality and timelessness. The brand uses words and phrases that evoke these qualities on its website and social media pages to keep its image consistent across all channels.
Since they became mainstream popular in the 1990s, coffee shops have had a distinctive vibe. They’re a haven for writers, work-from-home-ers, and musicians. Most coffee shops have a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere that makes you want to sit down and stay a while. Starbucks uses all of these stereotypes to craft its brand voice. It uses clear, simple copy that has a creative twist, such as the poems the brand shares on Twitter:
Cards Against Humanity is a word-based card game, so it’s no wonder the parent company has a very distinct brand voice in all its communications. The game is irreverent and a little offensive, and the company adopted the same tone and style for its brand voice. You can find examples of the blunt, “we don’t care” attitude across the company’s website and social channels.
Brand voice is just one element of company branding you can use to separate your organization from the competition. Your company visuals also help aid your audience in brand recognition and recall. The more ways you can get your audience to remember your company, the easier it is to get them to pay attention to and relate to your messaging. Overcoming these hurdles makes it easier to move people through the stages of the marketing funnel to become paying clients and customers.
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