A lot of us have done it before: We change the way we talk depending on our audience. Very few people will greet their boss, their grandmother and their friends the same way. Weirdly enough, it’s a skill that is sometimes overlooked but incredibly helpful when you have to develop a brand’s identity.
So how do you figure out what your brand should sound like? Here are some tips that I have found helpful in my career as a copywriter while developing brand tone and voice:
Stand out from your competitors
The great thing about living in the Digital Age is that everyone has a platform and innovators can reach a wide audience. This is also its downside. You have to cut through a lot of noise to get noticed. If you sound just like your competitors, what really sets you apart? What incentive does a customer have to choose you over someone else? You need to find your voice and use it to attract the right customers. And this is a two-way street! Just like developing your voice helps customers find you, it also gives you the ability to find the customers you want to work with and build the brand you were meant to become.
Consider a full cast of characters in a given industry
When you watch your favorite movie, you’d get bored pretty quickly if every single character sounded the same. Instead, we enjoy characters with their own voices and their own stories. Think of your brand as a character: What do they sound like? Who do they hang out with and who do they aim to impress? When you start to think of your brand this way, it allows for growth and the chance to separate your brand from your competitors.
Let’s start asking some questions
Now that you’ve thought about your brand as a character, it’s time to dig deeper. Being a content creator isn’t a single job: You’re a writer, a researcher and a psychologist. You have to ask questions not just so that you can learn about your brand, but to discover things you may not have known before. And, while it’s important to have some standard questions, now is your chance to get creative! (That’s the fun part anyway, right?)
Here are some questions you can use to get started:
- If you could have any famous person represent your brand, who would it be and why? If you say Reese Witherspoon, I can tell your brand is down-to-earth and approachable, whereas if you say Katharine Hepburn, I know your brand is a bit more serious and sophisticated.
- If your brand had a playlist, what would be some of the tracks that best represent it? Every brand has their own vibe. Some brands are young and vibrant; others are classic. From Childish Gambino to Billie Eilish, Stevie Nicks to Whitney Houston, Zeppelin to Run the Jewels… the artists you list off can give you a glimpse into how you see your brand.
- Tell me about your brand or company’s beginnings or a moment that really stands out to you. Every brand has a history and a story. Do you remember the manager who talks about their company’s humble beginnings? Or maybe it’s a program director who recalls her first big win? Maybe you have a similar story of nostalgia or of victories. Use that. People connect with stories and here is how you humanize your brand while developing its tone.
So now that you’ve considered your brand’s voice and asked some questions to determine the tone, it’s time to find even more inspiration. And not just from your own industry. Look towards media, search Pinterest boards and see how other industries pull together their messaging. You can create an inspiration board with things that really represent your brand. Not only is this going to give you insight, but it makes it easier for anyone else joining your team or working with you to understand your brand.
Learn the rules… then bend them
I understand that you shouldn’t be experimenting with abstract art as part of your marketing strategy. But you should take the tried-and-true rules and bend them to create innovative content and set yourself apart. When it comes to copy, I consider this rule: Forget what you learned in your high school English class. You aren’t writing an essay, so forget the formality. Let your authentic voice come through.
Brand tone is more than writing though; it comes through in every piece of communication. By creating a foundation for your brand and really understanding how you want to be perceived, you can develop a strong brand tone and set yourself apart while cutting through all of the noise.
After figuring out your brand’s tone and voice, it’s important to remain consistent. Determine your writing style and figure out how this tone translates to email, LinkedIn, blog posts, social media, video, or any other communication your team regularly uses. Note what your brand is and is not—using statements that could sound like, “Our brand is simple but not basic; empowering but not pushy; empathetic but not patronizing.”
Keep in mind that your writing may change a bit depending on the platform. Your writing may need to be adjusted for the web, community management, print collateral, video, and for accessibility.
Once all of this is done and you have a solid understanding of your tone and voice, be sure to create a document with all of your rules and guidelines. Share it in a space where all of your writers or content creators could access it for reference, and you’ll be one step closer to guaranteeing a consistent voice for your brand.