The words on your website? Brand voice.
The types of memes you share? Brand voice.
The way you respond to customer service requests? Brand voice.
404 page copy? Brand voice.
Instructions on your packaging? Brand voice.
We’re constantly surrounded by this mysterious and often misunderstood marketing tool, many times without even recognizing it. And it may seem small, but a brand’s voice can be what makes people fall in love – or loathe – with a brand.
This post covers what brand voice is and why it matters, plus a few example questions to help you:
So what is brand voice exactly? I’ll be honest, it isn’t easy to pin down a single definition. But you can think of brand voice as the “personality” you take on in brand communications. Think of it as a feeling you want people to have when interacting with your brand. How you want to sound and how you want to be perceived.
In practice, this can encompass everything from the words, punctuation, and formatting you use, to tone of voice and more.
One of my favorite brand voice examples is from Slack. I love how they’ve found ways to infuse brand voice even in unlikely places:
Let’s face it, a lot of brand copy is pretty boring, especially in B2B and tech (love ya’, sorry).
But these caring words that sound like they came from a friend help establish Slack as sort of a likable, modern anti-corporation, with a human side. Brand voice is powerful stuff, I’m telling you.
You might think brand voice guidelines are a standard part of doing business. In fact, they are. Or at least, they should be.
However, in my experience working with dozens of B2B and B2C companies over the past several years, this aspect of branding is often overlooked. Companies of all sizes and industries either 1. don’t have any distinct voice, 2. have zero idea how to define their brand voice – or 3. both.
This key piece of your marketing mix often gets put on the backburner (especially in the B2B world) for multiple reasons:
And the number one reason for putting brand voice on the back burner: there’s just so much other stuff going on. Brand voice guidelines feel abstract, and attribution-loving execs can’t see the benefit of such a document. So it gets passed over for other, seemingly more pressing items.
Well, I’m here to tell you, brand voice is worth the effort to get it right. And while it may seem like it can wait, it’s actually incredibly important to your brand and overall business-building activities. In fact it might be THE most important thing. Hear me out…
Here are X reasons why defining your brand voice should be seen as a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
At the end of the day, whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, you’re selling to people.
People want to buy from people (and brands) they know, like, and trust. Brand voice lets you express your company’s unique qualities, culture, and values. Seemingly small touchpoints like a submission confirmation form or in-store signage can actually have a huge impact.
The internet is a busy place. Without a strong, consistent brand voice, you’re likely to blend right in with all the other players in your niche. *cough* B2B service providers *cough*
A strongly defined brand voice helps you show up consistently on your company website, social media, blog content and all other platforms. That, in turn, makes your brand instantly identifiable across all platforms.
Your brand voice helps you connect – not just with anyone – but with your specific target audience. With the exact people who need your product or services. Or for B2B, the people in the roles and industries that you (or your product) serve.
Brand voice shows your audience that you ‘get’ them by reflecting their values in the words, tone, and style you use and in the pain points you choose to address.
They say in comedy, delivery is everything. It’s the same with brand marketing. How you say what you say impacts the end user’s experience, and ultimately how they’ll remember your company.
The more connected someone is to your brand, the more likely your messages are to be welcomed and happily received. And putting a funny or positive spin can even make a negative experience feel less crummy.
As I mentioned, the fear of sounding unprofessional holds brands back from developing a strong brand voice. This fear is unfounded, though. Developing and defining a distinct brand voice helps employees and external partners represent your brand properly in written and visual communications.
Especially if you work with outside contractors like freelance writers and designers, brand voice guidelines help them understand what to say (and what not to say). In the end, you look more professional and in control.
When asked to describe their company’s own brand voice, Every Small Business Owner Ever replies with some version of “professional yet friendly”. That’s a good start, but it isn’t good enough.
If you’re looking to understand brand voice (or help your clients understand brand voice), here are five questions that will help. These questions will challenge you to think about how you want your brand to be perceived, how you want to sound and look on the page, and more.
For each question, take a few minutes to think and write down your answers. At the end, you should have plenty of juicy brand voice adjectives – aka words that describe your brand personality and tone of voice.
Every brand has an emotional aftertaste. What do you want yours to be? Do you want them to feel relaxed and relieved? Understood and taken care of? Luxurious and important? In on the joke?
When someone stumbles across your brand’s social media profile, your website or advertising, how do you hope they’ll describe you?
In other words, what do you hope will be people’s first impression? It might be ‘cool and different’ (like apple) or ‘classic and sophisticated’ (like Tiffany & Co.).
Have fun with this one! Who might be your brand muse? Don’t worry, you’re not going to use this person as your mascot or anything. But try to drill down to what it is you admire about them.
This is a classic case of when knowing what you don’t want helps you figure out what you do want. It might be a specific brand or person you want to avoid resembling.
Or it could be something more general, such as “we don’t want to sound like stuffy bankers”.
As a big music fan, this is definitely my favorite question. Taste in music says a lot about your personality, after all. Try to imagine the types of songs and artists that might fit your company.
After answering these questions you should have plenty of brand voice adjectives to consider. And hopefully, you’ll be off to a great start in creating your own brand voice guidelines.
Once you understand what brand voice is, why it matters, and you’ve answered the example questions to help you start defining it, the next step is to document it.
Often called a Brand Communications Guide or a Copy Style Guide, the document (pdf, PowerPoint, whatever you like, my friend) is a tool that you can give to designers, writers, and internal teams to help bolster your brand’s presence and voice across all platforms.
A Copy Style Guide keeps your digital presence on point and on-brand, every time.
Creating a Copy Style Guide helps others understand how to present your brand in written communications. The copy style guide and brand voice guidelines are often part of a larger documentation project that includes brand communications, brand visuals, brand messaging, and more.
You’ll want to do some more brainstorming. But starting with the brand voice adjectives and other insights you gained from the example questions above, you can create your very own brand voice guidelines today – ta da!
Want to dive even deeper? This free template includes examples of what to include in your Copy Style Guide. Download it now and get started!