How important is a brand’s voice? Very! Especially if you’re a content marketer. Your brand voice reflects your core values and communicates your organization’s personality, and is incredibly important when building a relationship with your audience.
In fact, a study by Forbes revealed that 43% of millennials rank authenticity over content when consuming news. They have to trust a brand before they’ll even bother to read the content that they produce. A human, relatable, and authentic brand voice is the key to getting your foot in the door with audiences.
Yet too often, brands fail to develop or define a solid brand voice. Instead of crafting a unique voice, brands often mimic the word choice and tone of their competitors and fail to stand out as true individual and thought leader in their particular industry. Creating a brand voice and making a conscious decision to bring it forward in your content gives you the tools you need to sound more human and relatable, and will ultimately go much further in building relationships with your target personas.
Below we’ve put together a practical guide outlining how to craft a brand voice and how to use it to create content that your readers will read, and more importantly, trust.
Finding your brand voice
The first step to fine-tuning your brand identity is to pin down exactly what kind of voice you want to pair with your organization. Using the same voice across platforms and content creates a unified brand experience. It’s difficult to build a relationship with someone whose personality shifts from day to day. The same logic applies to a brand. Consumers are looking for authenticity, and a shifting brand voice can come across as disingenuous.
Experts recommend taking a series of steps to hone your unique brand voice:
1. Think about how you want to be perceived by your audience. Imagine your brand as a living and breathing person. Do you want to be authoritative? Fun? Straightforward? Reliable? Helpful? Quirky? Relatable? Brainstorm until you build a personality that feels right for your brand. These values will set the foundation and underscore all of your future writing.
2. Pull copies of existing content that hits the mark. For each piece of content, determine what you like about it and why it works. Think about how you can hone that voice through word choice, tone, style, and the format of the content you produce.
3. Narrow down your list to a specific set of qualities (we suggest 3-5) that encompass the voice you’d like to articulate. Create a chart that outlines what kind of content you can create to put this voice into practice – do you need to use more visual content? Develop a mascot? Switch to the active voice?
4. Write it down! Your content and product marketing team can’t start implementing the brand voice if they don’t have a clear and authoritative guide to follow. This is also important when asking freelancers or guest writers to contribute content. Make sure the document has solid examples of how to write (and how not to write) in your brand voice. Content Marketing Institute recommends creating a brand voice chart like the following example:
You might also want to consider writing a guide for individual content types such as blog posts, social media posts, emails, landing pages, or newsletters. This guide would outline how to apply the brand voice to each content type. A guide with sample content can help people get a feel for the voice, learn how to use it, and start creating on-brand content with confidence.
5. Start experimenting with your new brand voice across your channels. Remember voice and tone aren’t the same thing. Your voice will remain consistent, but your tone might change depending on what channel you’re creating content for. MailChimp has a great article on the difference between voice and tone.
6. Review your content every quarter to see if the team is adhering to the brand voice guidelines and to determine whether your voice is working. Are new team members clear on how to use the brand voice guide? Does it need tweaking?
The web’s best style guides.
To get you started on the right path, it’s helpful to look at other brands that have developed a brand voice and used it to create amazing content.
MailChimp has established one of the industry’s best style guides. This guide includes a section on voice and tone, which should be required reading for anyone building a brand voice (or simply as a refresher for those who haven’t thought about it in awhile).
Start by taking a look at their Writing Goals and Principles. This can help you conceptualize how to craft the foundation of your own brand voice guide.
It’s also useful to take a look at their comparative statements, which give the reader a deeper understanding of their chosen qualities.
Finally, read through their Content Types and use their examples of short, medium, and long-form content guides as a jumping off point for your own brand voice content guides.
The Economist is another great example of brand with a clear brand voice guide. The guide begins with some important advice from George Orwell:
Orwell’s six elements keep the Economist’s brand voice original (don’t overuse metaphors), clear (never use jargon or a long word where a short one will do), and authoritative (never use the passive where you can use the active voice).
The Economist has many contributors from around the world. So, instead of listing a set of qualities, the Economist defines their voice through a series of “do not” statements. This allows the publication’s overall voice to remain consistent, while still allowing the journalists’ individual voices to come through in each article.
Finally, 18F (an office inside the General Service Administration in Washington, D.C.) has a thorough Voice, Tone, and Style Guide. Their guide was designed to reduce reader frustration with the sterile and jargon-ridden writing often found on government websites, and create content that is both actionable and understandable. By incorporating user feedback into the creation of their content, 18F hopes to “engender trust by communicating in a consistent manner.”
Their voice guide is simple and to the point:
Their brand voice is consciously designed to feel human and help readers find the information they need without friction.
18F’s voice and style guide also reminds us that “written communication is a conversation.” This gets to the heart of the purpose of a brand voice – to engage the audience and start a dialogue. As content marketers, we’re always looking for ways to start a conversation and develop a relationship with prospects. A solid and human brand voice is the foundation of this process.