There’s a lot for budding companies to think about: their target audience, marketing strategy, how best to implement their product or service…
One of the most important things a brand can focus on, however, is their voice.
By “voice,” I don’t mean an actual speaking voice. Brand voice is, in essence, a brand’s personality, shown through written words, images, and other formats.
You’ve probably noticed that, when reading, you get a certain “feeling” that changes depending on the author. Brand voices are similar, except they represent an entire corporation instead of a single individual.
Finding your voice is important because it distinguishes your brand from others. Even if two companies offer the same product or service, you can tell them apart based on how they talk—or, in this case, how they write. Nailing this aspect of your brand can take some time and effort, but it’s well worth it, helping you stand out as unique among a sea of competitors.
Figuring out your unique voice, however, isn’t something that happens instantaneously, and many individuals might like the idea, but don’t know where to start.
Generally speaking, it’s best to begin with the basics. What are you trying to accomplish? What core values do you believe your brand should hold? If, for example, you intend to sell art supplies, you might label your core values as “friendly, creative, and personable.” If you’re running a business blog, you might decide your main values are “honest, logical, and simple.”
Deciding on a brand’s core values and mission is something that should be discussed with all members, both because this is a group effort (and, therefore, the voice will be affected by many individuals) and because getting multiple viewpoints can help create a more accurate, authentic voice.
When considering values, it might help to make a list of everything you want your brand to represent, and then gradually narrow it down.
When you think you’ve decided on the most important beliefs and traits of your brand, you can start developing your voice. To do that, it helps immensely to think about your brand as a person. A voice reflects someone’s personality; therefore, imagining your brand as a living being can help you solidify what words and images will reflect that personality.
Focus on the traits and create the brand as an individual in your mind. What does someone who embodies these values speak like? Think like? How do they look and dress? Try writing some dialogue and see what sounds like it would come from and individual like this.
To help you get a better grasp on the subject, look at other brands and dissect them to understand their voice.
Let’s take LinkedIn as an example. Clicking on LinkedIn’s “About the Company” page leads to some text that reads: “Founded in 2003, LinkedIn connects the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” The page includes a few professional photos and, underneath the blurb, a list of things about their company. Clicking on other pages show simple, inspiring text and statistics presented in an appealing way.
Taking these into account, we might describe LinkedIn as a friendly entrepreneur, the kind you might stereotypically see in a pressed suit with spectacles and a friendly grin, with a straightforward, serious, yet welcoming attitude. This type of individual, of course, would appeal to their core demographic: other entrepreneurs.
Examining video-sharing site Vimeo creates a very different individual. The “About Vimeo” page includes a slideshow and phrases such as, “Like-minded people discovered Vimeo and helped build a supportive community of individuals with a wide range of passions.” Other pages provide some more humorous descriptions; for example, their developer page has phrases such as, “It won’t make your lunch or clean your bathroom but just about anything else is possible with the Vimeo player.”
Taking these into account, Vimeo’s human form would likely be someone in casual business attire with a warm smile and an easy, friendly attitude. They’d likely be someone you’d speak with on a daily basis, friendly with a sense of humor and warmth. For artists (and others who might be sharing their videos), this is exactly the kind of person you’d want to find.
Try looking at a variety of brands and go through however many pages you need. Read their blurbs and study their images and layout, then create the individuals. Once you’ve gotten a feel for how this works, think about your brand’s own “person.”
Need some more help finding your voice? Check out this quiz to give you a starting point.
Once you’ve got a general idea of what your voice should be, it’s time to start implementing it. However, when your voice is still just burgeoning, this can be a bit tricky.
Let’s break this down, bit by bit…
There are quite a few different styles you can choose between when creating your voice—from professional, to casual, to elevated. You’ll want to pick one that best represents your brand’s personality.
Style can largely be dependent on the words and phrases you use. Let’s take a basic company brand statement, for example, and write it a few different ways.
Naturally, you’ll want to think about your target audience and your company’s persona before deciding which style fits you. You probably don’t want to use option three for a site like LinkedIn, for example.
Let’s compare two different styles from existing companies.
Diggs, a site that compiles stories from the internet, has a very casual style: “We’re a small but growing company of normal-ish people who just like building good stuff. Feel free to reach out to any and all of us — we’re generally pretty friendly. Except Joe.” This reflects their personality, as they focus on popular stories that appeal to a wide audience.
Forbes, a more business-minded site, also has a more formal style: “Throughout our 99-year history, we’ve managed to remain true to our brand’s long-standing mission of championing entrepreneurial capitalism while reinventing our medium, technology and platform for the modern day audience.” Since Forbes is aimed at other entrepreneurs, this style works great for defining their voice.
A lot of style has to do with word choice, but can also involve phrases, such as using slang or other colloquialisms.
Speaking of word choice…
Since different words can invoke different feelings, it’s important to be specific about what words you’re choosing.
Let’s take these two sentences: “This seems like the right course of action” versus “This appears to be the correct course of action.” The first one invokes something a little more casual, while the latter feels much more formal.
It’s important to note that words have different connotations, or feelings and images typically associated with a specific word. The word might not mean these things, but it evokes them all the same.
A simple example is the word “snake.” It doesn’t mean something frightening or bad, but it still creates those feelings because of pre-existing associations.
When working on your voice, you’ll want to be aware of a word’s connotations, and how they could potentially affect your audience.
Coca-Cola provides a great example of this right on their front page. “The refreshing taste of Coca-Cola and delicious food, it’s a match made in Heaven.” – The words “delicious” and “heaven” automatically create a sense of happiness, while “refreshing” makes us think of something cool.
Many aspects of your brand, of course, aren’t limited to the written word. Websites, in particular, use a lot of images and colors, and it’s important to include choices that match your voice, rather than contrast with it.
Apple is one example. They use a more formal style, and the pictures filling their pages match. For example, the images on their “About” page are professional photographs of people actively using their product. This complements their serious but helpful bent.
Colors, similarly, can evoke different emotions—for example, yellow tends to evoke warmth and friendliness, while blue is much calmer. Combining the right colors can work wonders for enhancing your brand’s voice, but using the wrong colors can be rather detrimental.
Dick’s Sporting Goods uses this to its advantage with its green, black, and white color scheme. The green not only helps emphasize the earthiness of its sports goods, but helps back up the down-to-earth voice and style of the writing, plus emphasizing the modest background the store sprung from.
Similarly, knowing where to place colors and images is important. Having a clean, organized page really aids a serious voice, while being a bit more spontaneous can help more humorous brands. Play with this and see what matches best.
With these tips in mind, you can now begin. Write a few sample sentences and see what sounds the most authentic—and, while you’re at it, run them by everyone else. Figure out the colors and types of images you want to use, and start putting them together. It won’t be long before visitors will be able to pick your voice out from a crowd.
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