A good brand voice should be tied to two things: your brand’s target audience and its promise.
What is Brand Voice?
Brand voice is the manner of communicating that a person who represents the authentic personality of your brand would use. Brand voice is the way you communicate with your target audience on social media and in marketing materials. Your brand voice gives your audience an idea of who you are and what you value. Choosing a brand voice is one of the most important choices a brand will make. The voice they choose must embody the values central to the brand’s purpose.
Read also: “How to use personas to develop your brand voice”
For example, a company that makes drugs that treat people with Stage IV melanoma should probably have the brand voice of a trusted doctor or scientist. A company that makes portable grills for tailgate parties should have a different voice.
Melanoma Drug Company
When choices matter, you want to know you have a medicine that’s effective, safe, and the number-one doctor-recommended treatment.
Portable Grill Company
When choices matter—and you know they do!—go for the grill that delivers!
With one product, you have a calm, knowledgeable, reassuring voice. With the other, you have the voice of a person who shares your passion for outdoor fun. Imagine if these brand voices were switched. Would you be eager to use either product?
Melanoma Drug Company
Yeah, things look tough, but with the right medicine, you may be able to kick cancer’s a&#!
Portable Grill Company
Our grills perform well and meet all safety standards. Many chefs recommend our grills.
In what voice is ThoughtForm communicating with you right now? The voice we’re using suggests we are experts in brand communications—smart and seasoned, but eager to help. Our voice helps you decide whether this post is meant for you and whether you can trust the information we’re providing. If ThoughtForm was a person, our voice would help you decide if you wanted to invite us over for dinner or cross us off your invitation list. The voice a brand uses helps that consumer decide if they want to use that brand or ignore it.
What Should Your Brand Voice Be?
A good brand voice should be tied to two things: your brand’s target audience and its promise. For Kate Spade, the women’s handbag, clothing, and accessory company, their target is clear: women. But it’s not just any women, and that’s where the brand promise plays an important part. Kate Spade’s brand promise is to inspire women to lead a more interesting life. According to Mary Beech, the company’s chief marketing officer, their target audience is a woman who is “culturally curious, stands out in a crowd, lives life to its fullest, and takes chances.” If you know Kate Spade products, which tend to be attention-getting and even tongue-in-cheek, I think you’ll agree that the brand promise they’ve chosen captures the spirit of what makes their brand special.
Kate Spade talks to its target audience as if they are a friend—another member of the target audience. For certain brands, like our portable grill, that will work well. For a melanoma drug brand, choosing to use the voice of a member of the target audience might work, but the brand will have a harder time establishing its expertise and trustworthiness, which are important qualities in the skin cancer drug market. But there are certainly examples of “serious” brands using a less serious brand voice successfully. Aflac was a little known insurance underwriting company before it took a lighthearted approach to its communications and put a duck at the center of its advertising.
Do You Already Have a Brand Voice?
If you’ve been communicating with your consumers, your brand already has a brand voice, whether you realize it or not. But don’t cheer yet. A brand voice should be a purposeful choice. And it’s possible your brand already has more than one brand voice, and that’s not good either. One exercise we do with clients is to gather all of the communication pieces they’ve sent out in the last year and walk through them together to understand the brand voice they use.
Sometimes we’ll find half a dozen brand voices at work. If so, we’ll identify each separate voice and ask our clients to identify which one truly represents their brand. If they have a target audience and brand promise, this is relatively straightforward. If they don’t, we may have to step back and sort out those pieces first.
How Many Brand Voices Should You Have?
The answer is no more than two. The brand voice that resonates with your target audience is the most important voice. But there is occasionally a place for a second, neutral voice. Imagine the safety information that appears on a portable grill. Should it read “Keep this grill and the cannister of propane away from an open flame” or “Hey, buddy, fires and grilling do not mix. Like, KA-BOOM.” When you need to relate information where clarity is of high importance, a neutral voice will serve you better than the voice you use when you’re trying to connect with your audience on an emotional level. As engaging as their fun, duck-centric brand voice is, Aflac uses a neutral voice when they communicate premium changes to policyholders.
How Do I Choose a Brand Voice?
Once you have your target audience and brand purpose in hand, a good exercise is to come up with adjectives that would describe your brand if your brand were a person. Be as descriptive as possible—for example, don’t just say your brand is fun. Say your brand is the person who throws the parties no one ever wants to leave. Say your brand is the person who always has a mischievous sparkle in her eye at family dinners.
Once you have a list of adjectives, narrow them to the three that best capture your brand’s spirit. These will make up the foundation of your brand’s “persona.”
For Tory Burch, another women’s lifestyle brand, the persona of their brand started as the persona of Tory Burch, the founder, herself. Burch is one of those rare corporate leaders who personally represents her company on social media. A social media team supplements Burch’s posts and tweets, of course, but all communications are in the persona of Burch herself and use her brand voice. Not every entrepreneur embodies the personality of his or her brand, though, and the voice you chose for your brand must resonate with your audience.
How Do I Activate a Brand Voice?
An activated brand voice is one that is understood and agreed to by internal stakeholders, that appears in communications with your target audience, and that is able to be duplicated by any reasonably qualified communicator. The best way to begin to activate a brand voice is to create examples for each persona trait you’ve chosen that illustrate what that trait looks like when translated into communication and what it doesn’t. You can use the examples to gain the agreement of internal stakeholders and to help communicators who are expected to use the brand voice better understand the parameters they must operate within.
Here’s an example for one persona trait for an imaginary history podcast.
Persona Trait: Intelligent
Explanation: Went to grad school to study history even though that’s not necessarily the work he does for a living. Not pedantic or a show-off. Likes to share his knowledge because that means his friends can enjoy the nuances of a topic as much as he does.
On-Brand Example: Greg Knight shares the most interesting parts of history with you. You’ll learn the real reason Rome fell and how George Washington was nearly made a king. Our episodes come in easy-to-digest 15-minute segments—perfect for your commute or work-out.
Off-Brand Example: For more than 40 years, Professor Knight has inspired the minds that inspired the world. Listen as his short weekly lectures illuminate the far reaches of history, bringing new critical understanding to your perception of the past.
Harnessing a consistent brand voice can be challenging, but it is also one of the most effective ways to build a strong emotional connection to your audience.