Businesses obsess over their visual brands. They spend days debating the typeface selection, but give no thought to the words.
In most cases, a company will assign the first wave of written communication to someone internal who’s “good at writing.” This is usually an English major, who knows a lot about spelling and grammar, but knows nothing about how to bring a brand’s voice to life. This means the company’s first website, press release and product guide are a collage of this poor staffer’s voice, what they think the company is, and arbitrary edits made during the revision process.
Writing using your brand’s voice needs to be done correctly from the very start. Otherwise, it’s impossible to know if your brand is effective. Too often, a company’s brand image is on point, but it’s being dragged down by mindless copy, with no clear voice. This leads the company to assume the whole brand is ineffective, so they throw the whole thing out, and start over. Such a shame.
So how do you get your brand’s voice to resonate from text?
Listen to your customers
Your brand’s voice needs to match your target market.
Branding experts at Larsen recommend that:
Before you write, make sure you listen. How do your customers communicate? Are they formal and precise? Or casual and conversational.
You don’t want to sound like Brahms when your audience is listening to Beck. Paying close attention to your brand voice can help you get it right. Your goal is to build brand affinity by using the diction and sentence structure that’s appealing to your audience and authentic to your offering.
You need to tell your customer what they want to hear, in a way that reaches them. When speaking to your customers:
- use the terms they would use in describing their wants or pain-points;
- write to match their level of education and tech savvy;
- use wit or humor to deal with boring subjects, when appropriate.
- use too many big words or jargon to sound professional (it’s tedious);
- use too much slang to reach a young audience (it’s transparent);
- try to be funny if you’re not funny, or act cool if you’re not cool (it’s desperate).
Define your voice
You know what the brand looks like. But what does it sound like?
Figuring out your tone isn’t easy and even once you have it, the work isn’t over. You still have to determine how your new tone of voice gets translated into your writing style — Dr. Andrew Bredenkamp, Content Strategist.
He added, it’s important to decide how your brand’s voice would use the following elements.
- Word length
- Sentence length
- Obscure words
- Mistakes and rule-breaking
Personify your brand
Imagine your brand as a person—more specifically, as a celebrity. When a customer reads your web copy or brochure, whose voice do you want them to hear?
Look what Apple did in their “Hi, I’m a Mac” ads. They chose Justin Long to personify their brand. He was young, handsome in a nebbish kind of way, and smart, yet simple. At the same time, they chose how they wanted you to see their competitor with the PC guy (John Hodgman). He was older, geek minus the chic, and constantly looking absurd while trying to copy the Mac guy. They gave themselves the perfect voice, and gave their competition an unflattering one.
So ask yourself, if my brand were a celebrity, who would it be? When you read the copy, whose voice do you want to hear in your head? Who’s voice do you want the customer to hear.
Here are some examples of celebrity voices and what they personify.
- Patrick Stewart or Judi Dench: portrays age, wisdom and experience. A good fit for a law firm, or financial institution.
- Jon Stewart or Tina Fey: funny, witty, and smarter than you. Perfect for any tech start-up that wants to come off as clever and cool.
- Dennis Haysbert; he’s already the voice of Allstate. Portrays a no-nonsense type of strength and reliability, so insurance is a perfect fit. This would also work for a data security center.
- Catherine Zeta-Jones: portrays beauty and sophistication. A strong voice for any spa or beauty line.
Of course, you don’t have the budget to get these celebrities to voice your commercials. But you can still render their characteristics in the way you write.
Differentiate from competitors
Your voice needs to stand out from the competition. You may be saying many of the same things, but you need to find a better way to say them.
When you write like everyone else and sound like everyone else and act like everyone else, you’re saying, ‘Our products are like everyone else’s, too.’ Or think of it this way: Would you go to a dinner party and just repeat what the person to the right of you is saying all night long, would that be interesting to anybody? So why are so many businesses saying the same things at the biggest party on the planet—the marketplace? — Jason Fried, Co-founder of 37signals
Under Armor didn’t gained ground on Nike by saying, “Just do it.” Their tagline is “Protect This House.” They’re not deifying athletes like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. They’re humanizing Jordan Spieth and Steph Curry by showing them sweating and practicing. Their marketing is completely different and they use a different voice.
None of these things are easy to do. If they were, everyone would be doing it perfectly. But you need to always stay mindful of your brand’s voice in your writing.
As you measure how your marketing materials are performing, you need consistency in your voice. The same way you use the same typeface and colors in everything.
It’s the only way to really learn what’s working, and what you can improve on.
Featured image, brand voice image via Shutterstock.