Sound effects, theme tunes, big booming announcers; a ‘brand voice’ can sound a lot more daunting than it actually is. The truth is that your brand already has a voice, whether you realise it or not – but is it the best it can be?
What kind of voice are we talking about anyway?
Your brand voice cuts through all of your communication and content. It’s your brand’s expression of its personality and it can be felt through the words you write and the content you create. If we’re going to get cheesy (permission granted) then let’s say it’s the heart and soul of your brand.
How else will your audience determine your brand’s vibe – your words are a vehicle for your brand voice.
Why are you awesome?
And your voice is just one component, but it’s a vital cog in the marketing machine and it can influence the rest of your strategy. Your visual design, your social medial presence – just two of the things that are heavily influenced by your core brand voice.
So, how can you find your bold, unique brand voice?
Who are you?
This is where you need to get all philosophical. Don a pipe and look majestically out of a window if you like. But basically, you need to do some soul searching and think about who your brand is and what it stands for.
I’m sure you can remember someone, at some point, probably your Mum, saying ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ and that couldn’t be more spot on when crafting your voice.
Your values are what make you unique and the same goes for your brand. So, what is it you want your audience to think about you and gain from your service/products?
A great way to get some new perspectives is to get your colleagues together to have an ideas session and pick out some common themes everyone agrees on. Try the tried and tested ‘use 3 words to describe us…’ But think about questions like:
- How did your brand journey begin and why were you set up?
- What value do you offer to customers?
- What makes you different from everyone else?
- Which character from a book or film represents your brand (a fun one, but it gets people thinking)
Now you need to don your disguise and do some snooping on your competition. This isn’t so you can copy their brand voice or become a replica, it’s so you can see what your competitors aren’t doing and saying.
That’s not to say that because they’re not doing something, it means you have to – you must always be authentic. But it gives you food for thought, especially if your competitor’s brand voices are dry, corporate and disengaging.
If you’re writing like everyone else in your field then you’re basically saying to your audience that you’re exactly the same and it doesn’t matter which one of us you pick. Which you know is wrong and you know that you can offer a much better service.
You’ve got to stand out from the crowd, but not distance yourself from your audience.
This means that you have to use your words and personality to differentiate yourself positively and wave a big metaphorical (optional) flag saying ‘hey, look over here, we’re not like them.’
People are more interested when they see something new that challenges them.
Just be real
Again, the cheese-o-meter is building, but honestly – if your brand voice is real, authentic and relaxed, it’ll shine through. If you’re trying super hard to be something you’re not then it’ll probably be impossible to ever be satisfied with your voice and content. You must use a voice that comes naturally to you as the foundation for your brand voice.
Let your hair down and be conversational. A great tip for this is writing how you speak – obviously you can tweak it, but have a read through your content or copy and if it sounds like you’d say it to your mates – you’ve nailed it.
Use some of your sparkling wit and humour to engage with your audience. If you can use your brand voice to make someone laugh or elicit emotion, then you’re making a meaningful connection. You probably won’t get married but they might buy something from you. All you need to do is look at the brand voice champion, Innocent, who really paved the way for personality-driven content.
When your brand voice is consistent and confident, you can inspire your audience to take action. Which is ultimately what you want, but obviously it has to be the right action – encouraging someone to throw their smartphone in frustration isn’t good. Good copy and a strong brand voice is one of the most effective conversion tools you can have in your arsenal.
Use direct, actionable language to urge people to take the next step. Short, snappy sentence structure a get people to where you want them to be quickly, with the information they need.
What’s your Audience saying?
A great way to craft an authentic, appropriate brand voice is to listen to your audience. You can use your customer service interactions, focus groups or your social media presence to get a feel for the type of language and personality types of the people engaging with your brand.
Your writing and content needs to appeal to your audience, so listen and learn about the type of language and sentence structure they use. If your voice mirrors theirs or complements their style of writing then their relationship to your brand can improve.
Is your audience more formal or informal? It might depend on the context or platform, so think about that. You can still be a bold brand voice that uses formal language but you can make it more relaxed in certain situations.
There’s a preconception that successful brand voices need to be in-your-face, crazy and zany, but that’s not true and it won’t work for all products. Look at The Economist, their audience wants serious analysis and ‘upmarket clickbait’ and they’ve created an authoritative voice that’s still witty and tongue-in-cheek.
You need to be reflexive with your voice and shape it accordingly in certain contexts.
This is an ominous sub-title, but by this we mean that you’ll never quite have the perfect brand voice and it must evolve and grow with your business. It’s a fluid concept and there’s always room for change.
It’s OK if you don’t have your brand voice nailed yet.
Keep experimenting and testing out new styles and voices with your different audiences to see what does and doesn’t work. Continue to take a peek at what your competitors’ are doing and roll with the punches.
To quote M People ‘you gotta search for the brand voice inside yourself’…okay, some of that has been tweaked, but it’s true. Write copy in a way that communicates the best values and facets of your brand’s personality.
Think about what will work for your brand, but have a relaxed approach, so you can develop the most authentic brand voice possible. Sometimes it’s good to throw the rulebook out the window and just go with what feels right. Whatever your voice becomes, if it’s honest and truthful then your customers will appreciate it.
You are your brand’s best ambassador, so make sure you’re able to clearly tell people how great you are.
5 Businesses that have nailed their Brand Voice
So much space is taken up by brands and it’s amazing to think anyone can come up with truly original, attention-grabbing ideas anymore. But lo and behold, marketers are worth their buck – there are plenty of brands with wry and witty brand voices out there, subtly persuading you to choose their goods and part with your cash.
With an ever crowded marketplace, brands must work their socks off to raise an eyebrow or a chuckle. And there are some brilliant examples of brands doing this, so let’s get forensic and focus on a few.
Some might say that a Swedish oat-based milk alternative is a hard-sell, but Oatly have one of the most likeable voices out there. Their Creative Director, John Schoolcraft, is responsible for turning a plain product into a tongue-in-cheek, fearless challenger to the dairy industry.
‘It tastes like shit’ might be a customer comment that would cause an existential crisis in some companies, but Oatly used this on their packaging and in an ad to great comic effect.
Their environmental credentials and plant-based benefits are the core of their brand, so they’ve created a voice that is brave and confident about pushing alternatives to milk. Their packaging is fierce, funny and taps into customer curiosity – it’s interesting enough to make customers pick it up and keep on reading. The legal information on the packaging is affectionately labelled as the ‘boring side’. Oatly’s website is also a treasure trove of personality-driven copy that has nailed the ‘conversational’ style.
Oatly are also open about their political beliefs and brand lifestyles, with ‘be human, not a logo’ as the drive behind their brand voice. Their voice is a lesson in being fearless and forging your own direction.
The Economist magazine is what you have sitting on your coffee table when you want to convince someone you have your crap together…. “hey, I know who Angela Merkel is, ok?”. And it’s a brand that naturally oozes authority and it has a trusted relationship with its readers.
It’s a 172 year magazine, so you’d be forgiven for thinking its digital strategy might be a tad behind, but quite the contrary – The Economist does digital really well with engaging taster content and creative advertising. Their reputation as a more serious, lofty brand over their long-history has been softened over the last few years and they’ve used characteristic wit and provocative humour to make their brand voice more accessible and appeal to a younger, more progressive demographic.
Their magazine covers are insightful and funny and they do a really good job of marrying intelligence and wit, like your favourite, eccentric History teacher at school.
First thing’s first – Brewdog are an exceptionally fun brand. They’ve pulled some mad stunts* in their infancy, like celebrating their record-breaking crowd-funding effort by flying a helicopter across London and dropping taxidermy ‘fat cats’. Totally normal, nothing to see here.
*And there’s plenty more to look at.
They’ve grown up a bit over the last few years, but their core brand voice still muscles its way into all of their communications. Their commitment to ‘brew hardcore beers for punks’ has shaken up the craft beer industry and done more to bring it to the mass market than any other brand. James Watt, the CEO, has himself said that “humour is the best way to make anyone fall in love with a brand” and you can see examples of this everywhere.
Brewdog’s brand personality and voice helps to reduce the distance between the brand and its customers – their Equity for Punks scheme requires customers to actively want to get involved in the business. It’s not a stuffy, patronising craft beer range that requires you to know everything about each ingredient before you drink it. They’re more like the naughty, rebellious jesters on the side…getting drunk and having the most laughs.
Now conversational copy is all well and good, but there’s been a bit of a shift towards more artisanal-style copywriting recently too. A brand voice that’s honest and thoughtful can also be really effective and build trust in your brand. Obviously, it depends on the context – for food based products, a more authentic tone can really work.
Teapigs are a tea company (don’t think there’s any pigs involved, unfortunately) and they combine a lovely, easy-going attitude with honest copy.
The mood-o-meter on their website is a lovely touch, but they also go into great detail about the quality and ethical considerations behind their products, which is important for consumers. There’s a real focus on the ingredients and authentic produce.
Stick with me on this one. So, I know no-one’s supposed to actually like banks anymore, but first direct has a really effective brand voice. Banks always have a lot of work to do, because they have really bad reputations with their customers for a myriad of reasons. People assume the worst, so banks don’t come from a level playing field with their marketing efforts.
In the banking sector – the wacky, in your face brand voice just doesn’t work. You don’t want to be your bank’s best mate, you just want them to treat you like an intelligent adult and look after your dosh properly. first direct are good at doing this and they were 2016’s leading customer brand in KPMG’S UK Customer Experience Excellence analysis. first direct achieve a warm, respectful tone of voice and deliver messages in clear, simple terms.
Empathy is important in the banking world and first direct manages to make their brand voice reassuring and confident. In banking, it’s about achieving the ‘we won’t let you down’ look. Their employees are on board with their brand culture and they always push the ‘people’ aspect to the fore in their digital advertising.
There’s 101 things (and then some), that are complex about banking, but take a look through the site and you’ll find clear, concise copy that takes big subjects and makes them easy and enjoyable to read.
So there you have it – a whole bundle of different brands with completely different brand voices, but they’re all effective. What all of them share is the confidence to try something new, use customer-centric copy and develop a brand personality that reflects their customer base.