When you think of your brand’s voice, do you draw a blank? Do words like innovative yet approachable come to mind? These types of generic descriptors might sound nice, but really don’t tell you much about the brand. After all, they could apply to virtually any organization!
Target is innovative yet approachable. Walmart is innovative yet approachable. Your local grocer or convenience store — you guessed it — are trying to be innovative yet approachable. When defining your brand voice, you need to dive much deeper than that to separate your brand from the pack. Generic is simply white noise, and that won’t stand out in the flurry of marketing that comes at people every day.
Brand voice and man’s best friend
Think about dogs for a moment. Every dog breed has a unique personality. Terriers are feisty and fun. Hounds are inquisitive and independent. Herding breeds are energetic and obedient. Toy breeds are tiny but mighty. The list goes on and on.
It should come as no surprise then that your full-of-character toy Yorkie is very different from your loyal-’til-the-end yellow lab. Both are dogs, but have unique personalities attracting a different type of owner. Walmart and Target are fierce competitors in the same category, selling the consumer many of the same things, but they both are unique in how they position themselves in the marketplace, often attracting a different type of shopper.
So, is your brand more of a pit bull or a poodle?
It can be a valuable exercise to think about brand voice in that manner. Relating how you want to sound in communication to an animal, person or place can help you start to define your unique brand voice. I’ll give you another example: Is your brand more of a Martha Stewart, Gordon Ramsey or Guy Fieri? Three chefs with household names, yet three absolutely unique personalities and voices in their industry.
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Identifying and refining brand voice
Tone of voice is important in all marketing and public relations efforts. Too often people don’t have a well-defined voice or it is inconsistent across channels. Tone of voice embodies the brand’s personality and mission. It separates it from competitors and makes it memorable. It’s a key part of successful storytelling which is essential to your content marketing efforts.
Tone of voice should be distinctive and memorable, applying to all company communication from the website, newsletter, blog and social media to any video and audio elements. Identifying or developing a brand voice is often easier said than done. Even if you recognize you’re no poodle, you may not quite think you’re a pit bull. If you’re tasked with discovering or defining brand voice, there are a few helpful steps to steer you in the right direction:
Collect samples from an array of marketing efforts. The wider the collection of samples, the better. Group samples with a similar feel in tone and voice together. Then ask yourself which ones offer a unique voice that is truly representative of the company. If any feel so generic that they could come from your competitor, put them in the “white noise” category and focus on the stars.
Get a second opinion
You may be the marketing expert, but you also are very close to your work. Getting others from various departments in the company to weigh in on your samples or ideas for brand voice provides you with a valuable second opinion. They don’t live and breathe this stuff every day, so their insight can be enlightening.
Boil it down
Use a whiteboard and write down as many adjectives your team can think of to describe your brand voice. Then discuss and eliminate until you have five or fewer. You can expand the definition of each word to further explain its meaning, but whittling down your voice to this basic level will give you a solid foundation that’s easy for everyone to reference, whether they are on the marketing team or elsewhere.
Review target audience
A critical but often overlooked step is to compare your selected brand voice to your target market. You can’t fit a square peg into a circular hole, and similarly, you can’t connect with your audience if you have a brand voice that doesn’t resonate with them.
Brand voice is a critical part of your brand style guide. Make sure to include a section dedicated to voice, including verbiage that is encouraged and any that is restricted. This will help your company’s content creators remain consistent throughout every piece of content.
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Final step: Put the plan into action
Inform all marketing and PR personnel of any changes. If the updates are significant, consider hosting training sessions to get everyone up to speed. Meanwhile, update existing content to reflect the current guidelines so that voice is consistent across channels.
Don’t forget to revisit brand voice annually to ensure it’s still on target! Voice can evolve over time to reflect a changing company. Even small tweaks and tunes may be necessary to keep your brand voice relevant.