It’s time to talk to the people.
A brand voice is one of those nebulous concepts often discussed at marketing meetings, but rarely understood by the public. As the process of expressing a brand’s personality through consistent messages and coordinated marketing content, a strong brand voice can complement and build upon logos, advertising and social media. It’s a key contributor to customer perceptions and a major differentiator in today’s congested marketplace, implying that every part of the customer experience will be equally satisfactory and dependable.
Creating a strong brand voice requires a number of steps. Some of these should be undertaken as brainstorming sessions with other people, while others require one person to make executive decisions and stick by their conclusions:
- Examine current or historic materials. While this clearly doesn’t apply to new brands, most companies will have stockpiles of web content, sales literature and adverts. If these have been written by different people, to different briefs, the lack of coordination will seem obvious. One of the best ways to build a cohesive identity is by learning from past mistakes and identifying inconsistencies in communication.
- Undertake market research. It’s vital to establish what customers think of existing or proposed materials. Is the company website too wordy or flowery? Should brochures be more technically descriptive? Are terms and conditions clear enough? Even the harshest customer/public feedback can be valuable for making improvements.
- Consider the brand’s key messages. Volkswagen has always majored on a perception of quality, whereas Coca-Cola promotes the joy of sharing and Tetley emphasizes its Yorkshire heritage. What distinguishes a particular brand from its competitors, and what are the most important aspects of the products or services being offered?
- Imagine the brand as a person. Identify key messages and then shortlist attributes to focus on. A company providing one-to-one service needs to have an intimate and reassuring brand voice, whereas a manufacturer of precision items should sound authoritative and scientific. Firms targeting children need to avoid complex language or jargon, while trendy startups can get away with occasional slang and abbreviations.
- Compile a ‘dos and don’ts’ list. Companies that provide support or assistance should address clients in reassuring first-person terms (“we know how difficult it can be…”) whereas a flat second-person approach (“what you need to do in this situation is…”) could discourage requests for assistance. This dos and don’ts list may steer the brand voice in certain directions, and away from misguided approaches.
- Allocate one person to handle corporate communications. This should ideally be either a professional copywriter or someone who knows the brand inside out, and who also has the ability to write well. Audiences are surprisingly attuned to different writing styles (from average sentence length to the use of brackets), and a dependable brand should have a consistent tone-of-voice everywhere from blogs to buying guides.
- Avoid unnecessary jargon, colloquialisms and clichés. Few people have time to read confusing or lazily written text, so consider whether these terms really suit the brand. Even if they do, avoid words that don’t convey essential information.
- Undertake regular brand voice reviews. Companies evolve gradually, adding new services and becoming established as trusted brands. A yearly review of corporate activities might identify areas where the brand voice could be refined, since the most appropriate tone of voice may subtly shift over time.