The training guide to brand voice
You’re standing in a bar. A saloon-style place. It’s dark. With oak panelling. And sticky counters (you know because you’re resting an elbow on one). The bartender has a grizzled face, with the kind of craters and gullies you could hide secrets in. Behind you, the swing doors flap and their tired hinges creak. You hear a voice.
It’s low, slow, lazy. A Texan drawl. A real one: tight jaw, flat vowels, loose syllables. Without turning, you know some things about the new arrival. For one, they’re not from Berlin or Ho Chi Minh City or Abuja or Polokwane. For another, you can imagine their outfit (or hear their heel spurs clicking). And you’re making some mighty assumptions.
Those assumptions? They’re brought to you by brand voice, because that’s what brand voice does. Or… what it would do if it were human, smelled of horses and chewing tobacco, and wore a shiny belt buckle bigger than a steering wheel.
Why brand voice matters
Brand voice isn’t the same as good writing or strong messaging. It’s the next level up — it’s about using language to give a specific brand a unique ’sound’.
When we read a company’s content, we understand and engage with it on two levels.
The facts tell the analytical side of our brain what the company does, while the brand voice tells the creative side of our brain what the company is like to engage with.
This is important because, over time, your brand voice becomes what you’re known for. Critically, it gives the market something easy to remember. It infrequently changes. It’s also pretty hard for your competitors to copy in any meaningful or authentic way.
But wait… I promised you a training guide to brand voice. So, here it is.
Where you can use it
Let’s start with where brand voice typically manifests and how you should plan to run with it once it’s been successfully lassoed — whether you’re an in-house company communicator, an agency creative, a freelancer, or an entrepreneur.
In speaking and in writing, in sales conversations and marketing communications, your brand may demonstrate brand voice in the form of:
- Website copy
- Prospect emails
- Content marketing
- Sales or pitch decks
- Company profiles
- Your slogan or tagline
- A 10-second pitch
- A 90-second pitch
- Social media bios
- Heads and subheads
(Of course, there are all the visual elements. But that’s a different article.)
Brand voice also comes through, with the force of a bucking bronco, when your brand is under fire. For example: How do you write when your customers are behind on repayments? How does your client service team handle phone complaints? What do the error messages say when your app isn’t working? That’s the truth of your brand voice, and it provides tangible evidence of your values in action, like it or not.
How you can find it
As with anything worthwhile, there’s a process for identifying your specific brand voice, either your current one or an aspirational future one. You need someone (like… me) to run a brand voice process, and it’s important to complete one or even several character questionnaires (here’s a popular one, from the famous French writer Marcel Proust).
Together, you work to answer:
- Who you are — or what is your central organising thought?
- Who do you serve — or whose problems do you solve?
- How do you stand out — or what do your markets think about you?
- What are your reasons to believe — or what are the functional (what you have) and emotional (how your markets feel) benefits that you offer?
Then, via the questionnaires, one live workshop, some analysis, a short audit and some writing, you get to a shortlist, which sums up the client’s brand voice.
What’s the next step?
Well, if you want everyone within and alongside your organisation to understand what your brand voice means in practice, and how best to apply it, you need to build them a solid bridge between the shortlist and the real-world comms. I’m not going to go into too much detail here but, en route, I tend to think about things that include:
- Whether, how much, and why the brand uses jargon and technical terms
- Whether, how much, and why the brand uses slang or colloquial language
- Whether, how much, and why the brand uses emojis or exclamation marks
- Pronoun choices
- Calls to action
So that’s it. Now you know and you’re hopefully better equipped to corral all those wayward words and phrases into a coherent, distinctive brand voice. Pardner.
PS Go back, reread my original description of the Texan, and check your mighty assumptions. I never actually said it was a cowboy in the bar. Just one of many reasons to clearly define brand voice. Yeeha!