During a conference sponsored by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), one of the speakers posed this question: “If your logo didn’t appear with your content (brochures, website copy, blog, product information), could your audience identify the content as coming from your brand? In other words, are you sending a recognizable, consistent brand message across all channels?
Judging by the answers from the audience, along with survey results, many companies use a random assortment of voices in their marketing materials. They aren’t using the same tone, language, images or even product descriptions in their content.
“Brand voice is the purposeful, consistent expression of a brand through words and prose styles that engage and motivate. The personality of your brand is determined, in large measure, by the words you use and the sentences you write.”
In some cases, this lack of consistency is due to a non-existent marketing strategy. Sometimes it’s caused by content being created by diverse sources, both internally and externally, without communication between creators.
Why a Brand Voice Matters
This lack of a “brand voice” creates an inconsistent message. While a chorus of different voices can make beautiful music (when singing in harmony), it does nothing to strengthen your brand, create an identity, position you as an industry expert or resonate with your audience.
Don’t confuse consistency with rigidity, however. A brand voice should sound human and conversational, not formulaic or robotic. It’s more about using a consistent language and tone. When done right, it makes your content work harder.
How to Create a Consistent Brand Voice
1. Start with an overall strategy.
Your brand’s voice is just one part of an overall marketing strategy, which includes your brand’s identity. It should work with all aspects of your marketing efforts, including your website, social media, product packaging, events, videos, sales presentations, blogs and more. If you haven’t outlined a marketing strategy, stop here and do that first! (Start by reading “Successful Marketing Starts with a Strategy.”)
2. Review Your Content.
Start the process by gathering samples of your content. Include web pages, blogs, social posts, videos, slide presentations, brochures, catalogs, etc. Decide which pieces of content are too generic (i.e., they could have come from anyone, including your competitors). Toss these aside. Now, pick out those that have the look, feel and sound of the brand image you want to portray. Pin these up and list all the reasons why they work. Including employees from sales and marketing in this exercise is an obvious choice, but don’t stop there. Invite representatives from manufacturing, HR, IT, accounting and other areas to weigh in. How does each piece of content make them feel about the company? Does it sound like you’re stuck in the past or staying current? Does your voice sound “low tech,” when you’re really state-of-the-art? Does your content sound approachable or formidable? Do you sound fun and creative or solid and trustworthy? Both of those are fine – it just depends on what you want to be!
This can be especially applicable to B2B companies who tend to focus less on brand image and voice. If you’re a company that has invested millions in new equipment and technology, but your brand voice hasn’t changed in the past 20 years, chances are you’re not conveying the right image. This is a lost opportunity to differentiate yourselves from competitors and attract new buyers.
3. Develop your brand’s voice.
Ask this same group of employees to begin describing your brand and list these words/phrases on a board. If you have content that fits the image you’re trying to create, use these pieces to help flesh out your description.
Another exercise that works well is to describe your brand as you would a person – how would you describe its personality to someone? How would you describe your competitors’ personalities? What personality traits make your brand different?
Once you have a list of characteristics or “personality traits,” expand on them a bit. Are these characteristics coming across loud and clear in your communications?
4. Create a brand voice chart.
A great exercise recommended by CMI contributor, Erika Heald, is to build a brand voice chart, which can help illustrate how to use your brand voice in your content by outlining the do’s and don’ts. She uses the following example:
5. Use your voice!
Once you’ve defined your voice, its important for all content creators to understand it and use it consistently across all platforms. Some companies find it helpful to create a Brand Guide or playbook that includes guidelines on all aspects of your brand, including: your brand promise, brand positioning, tagline, voice, and logo identity (colors and fonts). This offers a clear reference for anyone producing materials within your company. This guide should be introduced in a meeting, if possible, and provided in both a hard copy and electronic version for easy access.
It’s important to keep in mind that your brand voice may change over time. Acquisitions, new products and services, competitive moves, industry changes, and investments in technology can all prompt you to revise your brand voice. Sometimes, it’s a matter of refreshing your voice over time to stay current. Nothing is cast in stone. Be willing to revisit your Brand Guide and make changes as necessary – but when you do, be certain that everyone is speaking the same language!
“Creating the Right Brand Voice,” Larsen.com/insights
“5 Steps to Find Your Brand Voice,” by Erika Heald, CMI, April 17, 2018.