Each day, consumers are bombarded with a cacophony of brands. Taglines and slogans shout from TV, radio and the Internet; they vie for attention on store shelves and billboards. It can be difficult for consumers to make sense of the noise, and it can be even more difficult for brands to be heard.
Brands with strong, consistent voices are able to stand out from competitors and connect with consumers. Your brand's voice is what every consumer should hear whenever and wherever they encounter your product or service. It is the voice that drives all content, from marketing materials to social media and customer service.
Who are you talking to?
One of the first steps to shaping your brand voice is to identify the voice of your audience. If you're like many companies and have more than one core target audience, select an individual within each segment. Create personas for these individuals and "interview" them, asking questions like "Where are you from?" or "How do you get to work?"
Identify a common theme throughout your audiences and ensure that the voice can speak about this theme to all audiences equally. Ultimately, you want to understand exactly what each audience segments thinks about your industry and what they want or expect from your company.
Your audience also differs in regards to their familiarity with your company. A new customer may not appreciate the same level of informality as someone who is a longtime subscriber to your newsletter, so the tone of voice should adjust accordingly.
5 exercises to find your voice
There's no one way to develop your brand voice. With a few exercises, using some imagination and with or without the help of your team, you can hit the right note.
- Personify your brand. With social media allowing brands to speak directly to consumers, it's helpful to think of your brand as an actual person. What would this person look and sound like? Is he or she young, old, serious, or funny?
- Brainstorm adjectives. Ask as many members of your team as possible to think of three adjectives to describe your brand and culture. Compare these adjectives to see if any specific ideas have been repeated, and use those as a jumping off point for the voice.
- Go where your audience is. Search online -- Twitter, Facebook, and online forums -- to see where your target audiences spend time, and examine how they talk to each other. While you can attempt to speak in the same way, take care not to lean too heavily on mimicry or it will sound inauthentic.
- Choose your ideal spokesperson. Celebrity spokespeople are a popular way to quickly give a brand an identifiable voice. Select the celebrity you think would best represent your company, and examine why you chose them: if you choose an esteemed actor, for example, you may desire to sound distinguished. If you chose a comedian, you may want to be your customers' funny friend.
- Read it aloud. When you've written some content, read it out loud to yourself or to an audience. If any part sounds awkward, the voice isn't right for your brand.
Consistency is key
After you've found your brand voice, it's important to keep it consistent in all content production. Create a style guide for your brand voice in which you address a few key points:
Length: Short words can be playful and pithy; long words can be more eloquent and authoritative. Sentence length can also impart a certain tone of voice, as longer sentences of varied construction can be melodic whereas shorter sentences are punchier.
- Vocabulary: Outline a few areas of vocabulary, including jargon, slang, and swear words, and whether you allow their use. The use of slang can help a brand seem younger. Swearing can be used, but it's not often done as it can cause offense.
- Grammar: All content should pay attention to grammar -- and that includes deliberate misuse. Accidental grammar mistakes can make a company look lazy, but intentionally breaking grammar rules allows for a more colloquial tone of voice.
Developing a clear brand voice has become a necessity in such a crowded marketplace. Keep your tone of voice consistent across all media in order for customers to recognize your brand over noisy competitors. And once you've established a strong voice, yours will become a familiar one among thousands.