Create a Brand Voice People Actually Want to Listen to
Finding your voice in a noisy market
It’s fair to say that, as consumers, we’re constantly flooded with different products and services. And if you’re new to the game, claiming a position in the market can be a challenging prospect. That’s where branding comes into play, particularly your tone of voice.
Tone of voice is the way your business communicates with its customers. It’s targeted to your intended audience and should represent your brand’s mission and values.
One of the most vital elements of building a solid brand is cultivating a unique voice that is instantly recognizable and undeniably yours. Establishing a tone of voice should be an integral part of your content plan that not only promotes your product, but represents your company’s vision and values. If done correctly, your tone of voice can help your brand stand out from the crowd and create long-term brand value with your customer base. In this blog, we’ll cover all that and more.
What’s the difference between tone of voice and brand voice?
Tone of voice is a unique element of your brand’s communication with customers. And in many cases, a company’s voice is the reason you recognize certain products, services, and campaigns. Your brand’s voice is how you talk to your customers in all your communications. A helpful way to think about it is by comparing brand voice to brand tone: Brand voice is what you say, and brand tone is how you say it.
Ideally, when you see content online or in person, you should know what the brand is before seeing the logo. That’s why all the content you create for your brand must be consistent with your tone of voice because it establishes reliability, trust, and recognition with your intended audience.
Why does tone of voice matter?
Tone of voice is crucial to a brand because it establishes the core elements that define the quality of writing across all contact points with your brand. It’s designed to bring together all written text for every department and location. That consistency is what makes your brand recognizable anywhere and everywhere.
Here are a few more reasons why it’s essential to define your brand’s tone of voice:
🦄 Sets you apart from the competition - Say you’re in the grocery store looking at two different brands of the same ice cream. The one on your left is a Ben and Jerry’s classic, “Wake and ‘No Bake’ Cookie Dough Core,” and the one on your right reads “Cookie Dough Ice Cream.” Unless you’re a plain vanilla type of person, Ben & Jerry’s clever copywriting and catchy wordplay creates a sense of excitement. That kind of emotionally-engaging copy speaks to the consumer, and that alone can drive sales in an industry like ice cream (we’ve all been there).
🤝🏿 Builds consumer trust - Your tone of voice brings your brand and audience together. Smallbizgenius.net found that people connect with brands on an emotional level - nearly 60% of customers want to buy from a brand they trust.
One of the best ways to connect with your customer is to stay consistent with your tone of voice. In the long run, your customers will recognize your brand and are then more likely to purchase your products or services over competitors. Take Uber as an example:
Uber describes their tone of voice as bold, direct, and with heart. Written language should make the customer feel safe, understood, and comfortable using the service (because getting in a stranger's car can be a little freaky). Uber’s tone of voice is applied to all touchpoints to help create this feeling of trust, predictability, and reliability, which in turn encourages people to use Uber over other companies or taxi services.
🧑🤝🧑 Makes your brand ‘human’ - Humans like to interact with other humans (or dogs, but that’s not the point). People like brands that have a personality or something relatable about them. For example, the BVG advertisements might come to mind if you're a Berliner. For those of you located elsewhere, the public transportation service in Berlin, Germany, constantly makes fun of its delayed trains and rude workers as a marketing tactic. And it works.
Finding the right tone of voice that fits your audience makes your brand not only more recognizable but, more importantly, memorable.
How to find your brand voice
Okay, now the hard part: establishing your unique voice. Understanding your company values and your target audience is the best place to start. Once you’ve nailed that, you can move on to audit your content and communication and solidify your brand’s tone of voice.
1. Identify your brand values and mission statement
The first step is to define your brand values and mission statement. It’s a way to establish transparency with your customer base. If your company already has these values, this part will be easy peasy. Just make sure they’re crystal clear.
If you still need to define your core values, these questions will help guide you through the process:
- Why was your company initially established?
- What makes your company unique?
- What do you stand for?
- What values do you share with your audience?
Companies aren’t required to publish their values, but if you decide to, your customer is more likely to see you as a trustworthy company, leading to long-term brand value.
2. Become best friends with your audience
Understanding your audience is a great way to find your brand voice. If you know who’s interested in your product or service, you can use language that targets them. For instance, if you’re marketing to younger people, using more casual and colloquial language makes sense because it resonates with them.
As you figure out who your target audience is, list out traits and vocabulary that pop out to you. For example, if you’re advertising yourself as a California brand, you’ll want to freshen up on your west-coast vernacular and regional slang.
3. Document, document, document
You probably have multiple people from your team managing communications and marketing in most cases. So keeping tabs on all your content touchpoints is key to a solid brand voice. When deciding on your voice, look back on your documented content to better understand what’s going well and what needs to be worked on.
Here’s a helpful hint: create a document with your brand voice guidelines so everyone knows how company content should sound. We’ll talk more about this later in this blog, so stay tuned!
4. Know your current voice
Look through your content and try to piece together your current brand personality. You might find that your voice is inconsistent, maybe from various writers or phases of your company history. If that’s the case, note how your audience interacts with you and how they speak on your highest-performing pieces. From here, you can detect which direction you want to take your voice.
5. Define your tone
With the information you’ve collected, from the company values to audience analysis, you should get a better feeling of your brand tone. If you need to do further research (totally okay!), here are some questions to help guide you:
- Who is your target audience?
- Where or how do they communicate with each other?
- Are you selling something?
- Are you teaching something?
- What are your company values?
- What do you stand for?
- How would you like customers to perceive you?
- How do you want to make the customer feel?
If you need more help, our brand guidelines template will help you work through everything you need to know:
Choose the dimension of voice
If you search “tone of voice words,” you’ll probably end up with a list of thousands of words, some of which are so obscure they’re probably only helpful to English graduate students. The Nielsen Norman Group identified four primary dimensions or categories to define the ‘feel’ of brand language, creating a tone of voice that relates more to a company’s online presence. There are pros and cons to each category, and sometimes you can even have a combination of a few. Here they are presented in an infographic:
Apply your tone of voice to your brand communication
Now it’s time to put your tone to the test. But first, set clear brand guidelines that are available to your whole team. Not sure where to start? Let’s break it down:
🎤 Create a brand voice guideline - When you’ve decided on your voice, it’s important to write everything down so that you can refer to it later. Collato's free brand voice guidelines template can help you . Additionally, you should write down the elements that support your brand voice, such as:
- Grammar and punctuation rules - Oxford comma? Exclamation points?
- Slang and swearing - Does it work with your voice? If so, which words do specifically? Which words don’t?
- Technical language - Does your product or service have any special terms? Do you have specific ways of speaking about things?
- Pronouns - Who are you speaking to? Do you use second person when speaking to your audience? How will you refer to yourself? In first person or as ‘we’?
These are just some of the most important elements to consider when creating your voice guidelines. You can of course add anything that pertains to your company specifically.
👍 Ensure that your guidelines are accessible - Working hard on voice guidelines to only have them hidden away in floods of other documents would be such a waste. You want to make sure that all your information is available to your coworkers, even the ones in different departments. Every person, from marketing to engineering, is going to come into contact with the company voice at some point. Keeping your voice guidelines accessible ensures that your voice remains consistent everywhere.
👮 Make the rules and stick to them - Okay, so you’ve found your voice and brand tone, you’ve created the guidelines, and you’ve shared everything with your team. Now what?
It’s critical that you stick (and sometimes enforce) the guidelines set in place. Of course, voice guidelines can be flexible, but your aim is consistency. If you have multiple content writers, social media creators, and copywriters, make sure that they all understand what your brand voice sounds like and roll with it. That way, you’ll create a recognizable and memorable brand.
Tone of voice examples to spark inspiration
We’ve compiled three examples of brands that mastered tone of voice. Looking at other examples can help solidify the concepts we discussed earlier and inspire a voice of your own.
1. Nike: Powerful and motivating
No one does brand voice like Nike. Their inspirational tone of voice paired with their iconic slogan “Just do it” motivates athletes to pursue their fitness goals with fortitude.
2. Slack: Sweet and helpful
Slack is a workspace messaging app that focuses on productivity and collaboration. It’s the better version of emails. They have a friendly tone of voice that’s displayed in various spots throughout the app - with helpful guides, resources, questions, and suggestions.
The language is straightforward and understandable. When there is text, the tone is neutral and encourages a larger audience group. It also aids Slack’s “no-nonsense” platform that is clearly for workplace communication.
3. Old Spice: Humorous and masculine
You probably know of the hilarious commercials for Old Spice deodorant. Actually, this brand has been around for a while, but it didn’t have its current tone of voice until more recently when Axe became a competition. (People also associated the smell with grandpas, so that didn’t help either).
In 2010, they changed their voice to be more humorous in advertisements and social media, making fun of masculinity just enough for the concept to be well received. Because of this change, Old Spice continues to be a beloved deodorant brand.
Your brand voice is a vital part of developing a content strategy that holds true to your vision and values. Now you have everything you need to perfect a brand voice that aligns with your company.