The best brands are those that have a distinctive and recognisable voice. Brands that are able to convey what they are all about through their copy and adverts tend to be the ones you remember, rather than the dreary characterless competitors.
But creating a voice for a brand can be tricky. While we can accept that a zany voice like Supercell’s works more effectively than any copy from companies peddling a “GENERIC ROYALTY BASED STRATEGY GAME”, crafting the perfect tone, style and delivery necessary for a great voice takes time and effort.
So to speed things up for you, here are five of our top tips for creating an effective voice for a brand from scratch.
1) Find out why brand voices are important
Voices in brands matter for three reasons. The first is boring, but easy to talk to bosses about: a consistent voice for a brand helps an entire company to communicate more effectively.
Think about it. If you’re working in a reasonably large business, you’ll know that people will have interactions with customers, partners or the public at large all the time. By having a distinct voice for a brand that anyone in the business can use – from salespeople to marketers to community support – companies make it much easier to bring in a happy sense of uniformity for interactions.
This leads nicely into the second reason why a branded voice is important, which is that it helps provide consistency for customers or business partners. While they may have individual interactions with members of your company, a consistent approach to messaging means that when they receive branded messages, such as newsletters or social media updates, they still feel like one entity is chatting with them.
This drives the third big benefit of having a great voice: it helps to build meaningful long term relationships. Rather having than having your business feel like BrandBot 3000, a distinct voice humanises your business – helping to drive down cynicism towards your aims and increase the likelihood of engagement in the long term.
2) Research first
Once you’ve agreed with us that brand voices are important (don’t worry, we’re happy to wait until you do), the first thing you need to do before you start creating one is to research what a good voice sounds like.
Again, there are three things that we recommend looking into. Number one is identifying the brand voices you either respect, or the ones you can understand the appeal of, in your personal life.
The way we do this is by looking at the emails we consistently open in our inbox, thinking about the TV adverts that stick in the back of the mind and working out which podcast presenters we listen to when they’re reading out an ad for Squarespace. This is all rather subjective experimentation of course – and different people will like different things – but it provides a starting point for the conversation about what a good voice sounds like and what characteristics go into one.
Second, begin to think practically about how these voices are communicated across the brand. A good example of this can be found in this list of effective funny brand voices from eConsultancy.
Yes, each of the brands listed have clearly found what works for them from a messaging perspective. But it’s only when you look at how committed Paddy Power or Innocent are to including that messaging everywhere they possibly can that you realise how deeply it needs to penetrate the business to prove effective.
Lastly, take a look at what your rivals are doing and see how effectively (or otherwise) they’re communicating what they are about. Determining what works or what doesn’t will differ from sector to sector, but some general criteria – such as consistency of voice, fit with perception of brand and commitment to the voice – can be used to work out whether they’re on the right track or not.
3) Identify your voice
After you’ve completed your research into a brand voice, the next phase is to create a first idealised version of the voice that you can begin to test in the market.
To do so, start by thinking about what your company does and what it needs to communicate. For example, a game developer creating hardcore strategy games for PC will necessarily need a different voice to a casual mobile gaming publisher. The differences in user demographics, market dynamics and the expectations of the communities will shape what voices work, so don’t skimp on the research now and feel left out later.
Once that’s complete, start talking to other people in the company you work for about what the brand means to them and what they think it should sound like. This will obviously differ from person to person but if you can find a middle ground in criteria – such as expected personality, tone of voice and how people would expect the brand to talk – from people across the company, you will be better placed to create a tone that everyone in the business is committed to.
Finally, you’ll need to actually go and create an ideal version of what your voice sounds like. At this stage, we don’t mean you should be creating a set of disciplinarian rules to begin smacking people down with.
Instead, find a way to convert your research into a manifestation of what you think your brand should sound like. This means getting a bit playful. Do write down how you think your brand should sound on paper, but add colour. Think of the TV shows your brand would like, the bands it’d hate, the clothes it wears, how it’d want to be seen in public and other ephemeral qualities such as that.
It might seem silly, but creating a voice for a brand is like creating a voice for a fictional character. It might be an artifice, but it’s constructed from characteristics of a business that operates in the real world. This means it’s smart to do anything possible to flesh the voice out, to give it the depth necessary to be compelling.
4) Craft the rules for using the tone of voice
After you’ve identified the voice and gotten it signed off by the right people (probably after a few round of negotiations), the next thing to do is to bring the voice to life across the business.
The starting point for this is to create a style guide that the whole business can use. We’ll explore how to do this precisely in a later post, but for now the key things you’ll need to think about are:
- The characteristics of the brand voice, such as whether it is professional and proper, fun and goofy or something else entirely.
- What the brand would/wouldn’t say in terms of specific words (e.g. Americanised/Americanized)
- How the brand would say things (e.g. punchy sentences versus floral exposition).
- Where in particular these rules apply. For example, the style guide must be used in blogs and newsletters relentlessly. But it can be dialled down in emails from sales people to other business partners.
Then, once that’s done, the next thing to do is to make sure that the style guide is used as widely as possible across the business.
How this is done depends on your personal style, but in general the best advice is to coax and convince others of the value of it – rather than waving the big stick of discipline.
Simple things like explaining the value of it, being as passionate as you reasonably can be about its use and making it easily accessible to everyone helps make the voice feel like a team effort.
This makes it more likely that people will stick to it, rather than feeling like sticking it to you because some bossy marketer has told them they’ve put a ‘z’ in the wrong place.
Still, it is worth a friendly nudge to remind people to use the voice everywhere. If the social media team, the marketing team and the product team are all using the same voice at the same time, it will have an impact. So don’t be bossy, but equally don’t forget to remind people of the voice’s value.
5) Let your voice run wild and free
After crossing all those hurdles, you’re thinking the last thing you’ll need to do is simply start using the voice and you’re done right? Well, kind of.
Actually, using the newly created brand voice is merely the start of a much larger process. Although the first time you use it will feel like the end of the project, the most successful brand voices are sustained and organically evolved over time.
To make your brand voice a true success, make sure you put in place the tools and structure necessary to help you refine it.
First, make sure that you have a proper analytical framework to identify the effectiveness of the brand voice over a period of time. Rather than looking at a single piece of copy and assessing its performance, try to analyse like for like performance in Google Analytics or Mailchimp between your new voice and copy written under the previous regime. This will help you discover whether it’s bringing about performance improvements.
Second, once you’ve worked out your analytical approach, use that information to try to bring about improvements. You might discover that shorter punchier copy converts better for your voice. Or you might realise that some voices – such as those for companies offering business intelligence or executive services – work better with slightly longer copy.
Whatever you discover make sure you, third and finally for this piece, iterate on your voice as a result of this.
In the same way that we all get better at elucidating ourselves, better at understanding our market or simply get a bit more experienced in understanding when it’s time to send the right message, so do the best brand voices.
This means that guarding and evolving the voice is your responsibility and it is one you need to take seriously over an extended period of time.
Brand voices are actually not that difficult to create. We can all think about what qualities a brand has and we can all begin to write copy that reflects its salient features.
But creating a brand voice that is truly authentic requires research, careful attention and a consistent desire to improve upon what has gone before. That’s where the hard work is really done and where you can make the biggest difference to a brand in the long term.
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