5 Keys to Expressing a Meaningful Voice for Your Brand
Think about this for a moment: Does all of the content you publish, from online informational articles to print promotional materials, speak to your audience with the same voice?
If you fail to define and manage your brand voice, there won't be any consistency in your content. This means that you won't present a distinct voice to your audience and there's a good chance your branding efforts will fail completely.
"Brand Voice" means the tone and language you use to communicate with your audience. When brand voice is consistent across all communications, it creates a kind of personality for your organization. As a result, your audience knows what to expect and learns to trust you. It is an essential feature of branding which allows you to successfully position yourself in the market.
A brand's unique voice doesn't arise out of luck or accident. Each organization works hard to define its voice and create guidelines for consistency. Here are 5 keys to follow to ensure that you are successfully defining and expressing the voice of your brand.
Creating a meaningful brand voice starts with understanding your audience and learning how to speak in the way they expect you to speak. If you're a company that offers high-ticket investment opportunities, using "lol" or the type of internet slang a teenager might use would be extremely off-putting. On the other hand, if you sell extreme sports gear, you wouldn't want to talk to your audience like a college professor.
Establishing an effective brand voice starts with researching your audience and understanding their expectations. You need to know what resonates with them and what doesn't. Do they respond to a light, whimsical tone that uses humor and irony? Do the brands they love speak to their intelligence or individuality? Or does your audience want a formal tone that's informational, reassuring, and credible?
This is determined in part by the specific industry or niche you're working in. If you sell coffee, quirky food products, clothing items with highly original designs, or high-tech business solutions, you might use a light, humorous tone to speak to your audience. They expect a brand like yours to speak to them as a friend.
However, this would be fatal if you're in the business of offering insurance, healthcare products, IT security for businesses, or investment opportunities. In this case, a humorous and quirky brand voice might sound untrustworthy. Here, you'd adopt a more professional tone.
Each target audience has its own tastes, even within a particular niche or industry. Don't base your ideas on your customers on assumptions. Rather, gather all of the data available and test wherever possible. Base these important decisions on solid, objective data.
- Look at what you already know about your target audience and answer the following questions. Do more research if you can’t answer them at all.
- What are the general demographics of your audience? (geographic, gender, age range, income, education, job, etc.)
- What are your audience’s biggest challenges, fears, and desires?
- What types of brands does your audience gravitate towards?
- How does your audience expect a business like yours to speak to them?
One of the reasons we love a brand is that we share the same values. In order to create the perfect brand voice, you need to understand your audience's values and speak to those values. An ecommerce site that sells organic products must appeal to the social consciousness of its audience. A company offering elderly health care might appeal to values related to family, respect for the elderly, and security. Clothing brands aimed at young people may appeal to the values of individual expression.
Like your audience's expectations, you should discover your audience's values through research and objective data. You may find that your audience has a wide range of values and that you can't possibly speak to them all. In a case like this, you could target one specific value that's highly relevant to your products or services, and that is especially important to your audience. To take the elderly care example above, you might stress that your facility has an atmosphere friendly to visitors.
The best-case scenario is to aim specifically at an individual target customer, but also take into account the values of those on the periphery. If your language really nails it with a very specific type of person and that person comes across your content, they'll instantly feel a strong connection because you're speaking to them. But casting your net wide has the advantage of speaking to a wider range of people.
The key is to find a "sweet spot" that can be both specific and somewhat universal. You can use data to craft a good brand voice that aims to accomplish both, but through trial and error, and carefully monitoring the results of your efforts, you'll be able to hone your message so that it speaks to your audience's values.
In most cases, your brand voice should be the voice of the expert or specialist. This builds trust and drives your message to the heart of your customer. Especially with your online content, don't try to sell. Instead, use your brand voice to share what you know that can help your customers solve their problems.
Keep in mind that your voice doesn't have to be authoritative in order to establish you as an expert. A trusted a friend can be a specialist in something as long as they have valuable information to impart.
Try to gain an understanding of what specialized knowledge you have that can be useful to your audience. You’ll discover this through both your customer research and through examining how you provide unique value to your ideal customer.
Then think about the voice and tone you’ll use to convey that knowledge. What words will resonate most with your customers and engender their trust? What phrases will make them most receptive to your recommendations?
Identify and create stories that are unique to your organization. Choose good stories that express the voice of your brand. Create a "main character" – your company, your product, a customer, etc. – that your customers can understand and relate to. Tell a story that identifies the customer's pain points and offers a solution.
All kinds of stories are useful in marketing and branding. Some examples to give you ideas include:
- The story of your company's founding; why you started it and what kinds of problems you are aiming to solve
- A behind-the-scenes look at your organization and its people, with the emphasis on how they're like your target market
- The story behind a key value that you and your organization embrace (which is also connected to the last point)
- A story or a case study about a customer and how they use your products or services
- How a product came to be, including all of the people who were involved in creating it
Stories don't have to be long and involved. In fact, they generally work better when they're shorter and easier to digest. Many businesses have trouble with storytelling because they overthink it. Look at the websites of some of the brands you like or major brands that are popular. Search for stories and you'll see many examples of how stories can be skillfully told in short-form.
Tell your stories wherever you communicate with your target market and tell them in your brand voice.
- What kind of story will you tell your ideal customer?
- Draft a short brand story and include the following:
- A main character
- Your customer’s pain points
- Your solution
While we’re primarily focusing on words and phrases when talking about brand voice, you don't only communicate your brand voice through text or the spoken word. Everything your brand does uses its voice, and this includes visuals. Your content should have strong visuals and graphics that consistently convey your brand voice. Make your visuals personal and make sure any text, graphics, and images in them use your brand voice.
There are many decisions that go into creating a visual "voice." In fact, all the elements of the overall branding of your business are part of your visual voice. For example, fonts, filters, logos, characters, and images are all part of your visual voice.
One element of your visual voice involves choosing a consistent color palette. If you think for a moment about any brand, a color scheme instantly comes to mind. It may not seem vitally important at first, but a consistent color scheme is essential to creating a brand image.
You should consider which visual elements to include and what they should be, and then test with a real audience if at all possible to see what works and what doesn't. Subtle changes in visuals can make a tremendous difference.
There are no universals when it comes to visuals because each industry is different and each target market within an industry is different. However, as a very general guideline, smiling human faces work very well to give your brand a personal touch.
In addition to choosing visuals that express your brand voice, you should also try for imagery that sets your brand apart. Uniqueness is an important element of brand voice.
- What are the elements you will use consistently in your visuals? Include:
- Color palette
The particular voice that a brand speaks with isn't random. Companies don't leave this up to chance. Rather, it's carefully formulated, defined, and implemented. Even small companies and brands spend time and resources carefully crafting their brand image.
Think for a moment of every brand you love. Consider major brands like Google and Microsoft. What all of these have in common is that they create in image in your mind. This is because they speak to you with a brand voice. By defining and maintaining a consistent brand voice, you can wield the same power in your market.