Defining your brand voice
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MB: Hi Everyone, welcome to Formulations, my name is Marisa Boevers. I am the Director of Marketing here at ThoughtForm. ThoughtForm is a communication design consultancy located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Today on Formulations, I am going to talk to my colleague Maeve Ruggieri. Maeve is a content strategist and overall branding expert here at ThoughtForm, and we are going to talk a little bit today about brand voice.
What is brand voice?
Alright Maeve, what is brand voice? Is there a standard definition? Do you have your own definition? Tell me. I’ve never heard of this before, what is this?
MR: Well brand voice is kind of like content strategy, there are a million different definitions, but the way I like to think of brand voice is what you say, and how you say it. Some brand voice definitions will just focus on the how you say it portion, things like style and tone, and whether or not you use serial commas. But, I think just as important is the “what you say”: your point of view on certain topics, etc. Having a strategy around all of that leads to a cohesive brand voice. It’s another way to mimic your brand’s culture. It’s important to note that this is both spoken, how your sales people talk and how you talk to eachother, but also traditionally how you write.
MB: And we should say, brand voice is a component of your overall brand strategy, so just as you have a logo or a tagline, you would have a brand voice documented as part of your guidelines.
The most common mistakes
MB: What do you think is the most common mistake you see brands making with their brand voice?
MR: I would say setting and forgetting their brand voice. Language is a living, breathing thing as you see with new slang terms that come in.
MB: They add new words to the dictionary every year. Dumpster fire just happened last week.
MR: Language is always evolving. And in that same way, the way that you speak about yourself, your brand, should evolve as well. Your brand is always evolving, you’re growing with new products, new leadership, etc. Things are changing, the market is changing, so kind of setting it in stone and not revisiting it is a big mistake in my book.
Language is always evolving. And in that same way, the way that you speak about yourself, your brand, should evolve as well.
MB: What do you think the bounds of that with consistency is, should I revisit it annually? Not weekly right?
MR: Well, not weekly. Let me be clear, I am definitely a proponent of rules. Rules have their place for sure so that brand voice can be enforceable. It shouldn’t be this kind of ephemeral thing that people don’t really know how to execute. But annually, taking a look annually isn’t a bad thing. Every two years or so having a nice sort of scrub—a refresh, is always a good idea.
MB: I like to see people do quarterly audits. To not necessarily revise the rules, but to see how we’re doing, are people actually following the rules that we’ve set, or are they breaking them all over the place?
MR: Even small things make a consistency difference in the long run. For example, do we use “health-care” as one word or two words? Building consistency with your brand can keep things from getting away from you. So building that quarterly audit and getting things on your radar is a good approach.
Brand Voice Tips
MB: So for all our listeners out there today, do you have one concrete tip that you can give brand managers today to start improving their brand voice? Whether they have one documented or they are just starting out, is there something you think that everyone can take a look at?
Learn from your team
MR: I think if you have one in particular, or if you are just sort of starting out as well, giving power to your people is a really good way to both get out the kinks as well as do some user testing. So don’t be afraid to get feedback from your teams. Again, I like some rules, I think they have a place. But, if something is not working, be willing to get feedback from your team to understand why, and what part of your voice doesn’t seem to jive with them. Learn from your team—and by team I mean the broad swaths of communicators in your organization—what’s working and what isn’t. Give your guidelines to everyone to work with, to test. Don’t be so focused on “here’s our final product, now do it.” Be willing to test it, give it to your people, take feedback. That’s helpful.
The future of brand voice
MB: I feel like we’ve seen an explosion of focus on brand voice. Not a phrase you’ve heard as much maybe ten years ago, but with the rise of content marketing, with the rise of social media, people are creating a lot more content with this focus on brand voice. What do you see on the horizon? Do you think brand voice is going to continue to be important, or do you think it’s going to go, what sort of trends are we going to see?
MR: I think it’s going to continue to be important. A big trend that I don’t see going away is consumers being really focused on authenticity. That focus is having to play out in brands’ voices and their interactions with consumers. When I say authenticity, on one hand, the vision comes up of people in a coffee shop, and you know “What does that mean?” It’s kind of a—
MB: A buzzword.
MR: A buzzword. To me that means knowing who you are, but also knowing who you’re not. So don’t try and overcommit yourself with your voice. Don’t try to be too cool, too stiff… Your voice should emulate your mission, your vision, your values, your culture. If it’s not, and there’s a disconnect there, then that’s what you need to figure out. You want to be authentic in who you are and who you’re not. And consumers are really responding to that.
Don’t try and overcommit yourself with your voice.
MB: So continuing to get in touch with who your company—who your brand really is, and finding ways to represent that.
MR: Yeah, and you might find that right now there’s a big disconnect between your voice and who your company is, and that’s a change management plan to get them to meet. You don’t want to overnight have your voice completely change and jar your consumers and the people that interact with you. Your voice should permeate not just through your written materials, but also your spoken interactions with consumers. How your salespeople talk to central customers, how your executives talk to your other employees… they should be practicing that brand voice as well.
A positive example
MB: Last question. Do you have a favorite brand voice? Someone you just really love who’s speaking great language, or who you think is really nailing brand voice in the market today?
MR: I really love Airbnb. I think their mission and vision is really about creating community. That for me is every single part of what they do through their brand voice. Both in the words they pick, but also in the content that they push out. Whether it’s resources to help hosts be better hosts, or design resources for people who aren’t even hosts, people like you or me, to create more accessible materials things like that. They are really focused on community, and everything they do pushes that forward. They do a great job with that.
MB: Well I want to thank you so much for joining me today, it’s such a pleasure to get to chat a little bit about brand voice with you, and I want to thank all of you for tuning in. You can join us again next month, when we are going to talk about communication strategy management and how to use design, visualizations and communication skills to improve innovation in your company.
Thanks again, and we will see you next month.