Rain Cockburn

Create a Winning Brand Voice in Five Steps

Imagine you get chatting to a sexy stranger over the punch bowl at a party. Later that night, you run into each other in the queue for the bathroom. Your stranger still looks hot in the brighter light (yes!) but for some reason, the way they talk has changed. The endless poetic digressions you found so charming have been replaced with dull remarks about the weather. No amount of punch will make you give this shifty character your number.

(In case it’s not clear, your brand is your customer’s sexy stranger. The consistency and authenticity of your brand voice is essential for conversion and customer retention!)

What is a Brand Voice?

Your brand voice is the personality that comes across whenever a representative of your business speaks to your audience. Whether you’re crafting sales copy, handling a customer query, or @ing an influencer on Instagram, your stylistic choices communicate, for better or worse, who you are as a company.

Does my Brand Need a Voice?

Your brand already has a voice. If you’re a solo-proneur simultaneously banging out emails and tweeting up a storm, your brand voice is probably your voice. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If your voice is friendly and professional and puts your customer at ease, then you’re doing fine. Every business could benefit from a perfectly calibrated brand voice but if you can’t invest right now, that’s okay. At the very least, you have consistency. But the moment you start to delegate any part of your communication to a new team member, your precious brand risks developing multiple personalities. An inconsistent brand voice undermines trust in your business—something to bear in mind before you outsource your customer service or hire a freelance social media manager.

How do I Create a Brand Voice?

Creating a brand voice needn’t be complicated, and you don’t have to hire a professional copywriter. And even if you do bring in a branding agency, remember that you are indispensable to the creative process and should play an integral role. (If the experts you’ve hired suggest that you sit back and let them work their magic, alarm bells should start ringing.)

Here’s a simple five step process you can follow to create an authentic brand voice for your company:

Step One: Know Your Mission and Values

A successful brand voice is authentic and consistent. You won’t achieve either of these with an off-the-shelf voice that doesn’t express the way you really feel about what you’re trying to achieve as a business. The mission that drives your team and the values underlying your relationship with your customers will ultimately come out in your communication, so you can save yourself time by refining your understanding of what those values are and using them as a starting point.

If you think you know your values but have never formaised them, you may be surprised by what you learn when you start putting pen to paper.

Here are two pitfalls to avoid when you’re working out your values:

Vague statements

Remember that your success in this exercise will depend on your ability to distil and articulate your values as simply and clearly as possible. If you’re unsure whether your sentence is vague or not, try making it shorter and more specific. Repeat.

Too Much Competitor Research Too Soon

If you’re trying to get to the bottom of what motivates you as a business, peering into the crystal ball of other companies’ values comes with the risk of losing sight of what makes you unique. It’s smart to read your competitors’ mission statements but be mindful if you feel intimidated by their polished style and are tempted to imitate that. Focus for the moment on clarity of expression and style will follow.

Step Two: Know Your Unique Selling Point

A successful brand voice is authentic and consistent. Knowing your mission and values will take care of that. But a memorable brand voice has a third element: it is distinctive.

Name three brands off the top of your head. Most likely, you would recognise their copy even without the logo alongside. This distinctiveness of tone, style or register functions most effectively when it’s a natural expression of something truly memorable about the experience a company offers their customers. If your business is thriving, you’ve probably already worked out what makes your product or service unique. Let that secret sauce flavour your brand voice and you’ll start to sell a lot more hotdogs.

Step Three: Listen to Your Audience

A solid brand voice empowers you to speak to your audience in a way that draws them in, builds trust and deepens the relationship. But don’t let the focus on what you say obscure the importance of listening. Pay attention to your customers’ word choices, grammar and tone so you can mirror them. That’s not to say that you should speak exactly like your customer (e.g. no tween wants to hear a grownup quoting Billie Eilish) but a close analysis of your customers’ communication style will give you clues to the types of language choices that will resonate with them. If you can identify other brands that speak directly to your audience, it’s worth noting how they craft their copy.

Step Four: Translate Your Values & USP into Brand Voice Guidelines

By this point you’ve done most of the hard work but now comes the tricky bit. Your next task is to consider each of your brand values and work out how they would be expressed stylistically. For example, if ‘transparency’ is a value you’ve chosen, what would this sound like? And what would it not sound like?

Here are three tips to help you start building out your brand voice:

Granular Competitor Studies

Now is a good time to get inspired by other companies. Reverse-engineering a brand voice you admire can give you some good pointers. Identify companies whose values overlap with yours—extra points if they’re in your space—and obtain samples of their writing in various contexts. Sign up to their email list. Follow them on social media. Read their website. Now, with a particular brand value in mind, analyse their text to identify exactly how they are communicating this value to their customers. For example, you might notice that they use short sentences and stick to a simple vocabulary. Maybe they include positive, emotive language. Maybe they’ve adopted a modern, unfussy approach to grammar. In each instance, make sure you’re clear on how this stylistic choice communicates a particular value at the heart of the company’s messaging.

Create Word Clouds

Write down as many relevant words as you can think of that resonate with your mission and values. For example, if you value the deep heritage of your family restaurant, you might write words like ‘tradition’, ‘generations’, ‘legacy’ and ‘continuity.’ But you probably wouldn’t pick those words if you want to foreground your enthusiasm for adopting the latest food trends. Creating word clouds to draw on can help you infuse your communication with your brand voice without having to channel your inner poet at 4:30pm on a Friday.

Consider Geography

If your business primarily serves the local community, inflecting your brand voice with regional quirks can foster connection and loyalty. But if you’re appealing to a wider audience, particularly if you’re crossing international borders, be mindful of word choices that could be alienating or confusing. If you’re local now but plan to go global in the future, consider whether radically changing your brand voice midway through your journey could hurt your growing brand. If that’s the case, you might enjoy the intention-setting potential of launching with a voice that will carry you all the way.

Write Your Guidelines

Your brand voice guidelines should be comprehensive and user friendly enough to equip a new employee to sit down and write an email or social media post. You’ll want to provide broad statements like ‘write simply and clearly’ but it can be useful to zoom in on specifics like how to sign off an email, or which emojis are acceptable in live chat. If relevant, note distinctions between different forms of communication and audiences that your company might address in a range of contexts. For example, a job listing and a new product launch might need to be approached differently. There are lots of ways to structure your document and you’ll need to choose an approach that makes sense for your business. If you’d find it useful to see a complete example from a successful brand, check out Mailchimp’s brand voice guidelines, which they’ve made public.

Step Five: Workshop Your Guidelines

Once you’ve produced your brand guidelines, it could be wise to put them to the test before rolling them out across your organisation. Consider holding a workshop with your team in which you write mock emails and other communications following the guidelines as closely as possible. Pretty soon you’ll get a read on how authentic your voice is to your team, and where tweaks may be needed. Giving your team the opportunity to co-create the brand voice will give them a sense of ownership and increase the likelihood that it will be implemented.

Should I Hire a Branding Agency?

We hope this article has shown you that creating an authentic brand voice is something you can do in-house if you’re willing to spend the time and nail down your company values. But if you’re in a position to invest more, hiring a specialist to guide the process and create the final document is likely to get you better results. You’re the expert on your business. Copywriters are experts on the business of writing. Ergo the dream team is you plus a copywriter who can bring your vision to life.

Speak to us about our branding services.

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– We are very flexible and are happy to provide you with as much transparency as you like but this is not done as a standard operating procedure.

– Just let us know if you want more insights and then maybe a 30-minute weekly call is a better way to discuss strategies and plans than lengthy emails.

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