As your content marketing grows, more voices will join the ranks of your marketing, speaking and writing on behalf of your brand. Without a consistent brand voice, there’s no way to guide all of those different people into sounding like one unified brand.
The stakes are high because your brand voice affects how people perceive you. How you sound to the world will attract the right buyer personas, build loyalty and speak to your biggest fans in only the way you can.
Have Clear Intentions
The difference between a brand voice and everything else is that a brand voice is specific and intentional in its tone and style. It’s a planned personality with distinct traits you should be able to recognize in a crowd of advertisements.
Just like your own personality, your brand voice should be influenced by lots of individual factors. Thoroughly consider everything about your brand voice, from the big picture to the smallest detail. It’s best to do this with a group of people who are very familiar and invested in your marketing.
Use the following considerations to create intentional guidelines for your brand voice:
Length and Wordiness
Think about the pace and style of a conversation with two very different people. Even if they’re essentially saying the same thing, they’re saying it very differently. There are a million ways they’re subtly inserting their own personality into the message, whether it’s written or spoken.
Is your brand short and to the point? Or do you want to paint a detailed picture and tell a story? The latter would mean longer words, sentences, and content, with lots of adjectives.
Consider the reading level of your brand and buyer persona. Would they speak simply or use more complex words? What about slang, metaphors, text acronyms, colloquialisms, curse words or edgy language?
Don’t focus on sounding exactly like your buyer. Instead, work on sounding like someone they would respect and listen to in the context of your industry. Big considerations here include age, income level, education level, occupation gender, family and subcultures.
Technical Copy Rules
Every little technical detail you can define will add to the consistency of your brand voice. This section, more than almost any other, will be expanded upon frequently. Each time you made a decision on when to hyphenate, capitalize, contract or break the rules of traditional grammar, create a brand rule.
The easiest way to make most of these decisions is by choosing a style guide to references, such as the Associated Press Style Book or the Chicago Manual of Style. Using one of those, your writers can quickly reference any grammar point they might be questioning and know what to do.
But this is the internet, not a college term paper. A style manual isn’t always required. If you don’t have a style guide, this section is less about being right or wrong and more about your whole team is on the same page.
Some other ongoing considerations for this section include:
Point of View
First, second or third person?
Will you capitalize every word or just major words?
Use of Acronyms
How will you treat industry acronyms? Spell them out on the first mention?
Will you allow text-based acronyms like LOL or JK?
Decide how you feel about exclamation points, ellipses, em dashes, etc.
Oxford or Serial Comma
Never has there ever been such passionate debate about something so dumb.
Do you want people to use underlines, bold text or bulleted lists?
Do’s and Don’ts
This section should be as unique as your business is. Include wording quirks, pet peeves, if your business name should be shortened or not, words to stick with and words to avoid as well as what you can and can’t say from a legal standpoint. For instance, many businesses can’t legally call themselves “experts” and avoid phrasing that overpromises what they can actually deliver.
Jargon, Industry Terms and Brand Word Usage
Most businesses and industries have “inside baseball” vocab, terms you’d only understand if you’ve already heard them. Consider your buyer persona and whether heavy use of industry terms will be detrimental to your message or establish your brand as knowledgeable.
Lots of words and terms can be confusing to anyone outside of your business who’s writing on behalf of your brand. Make a note on how to use those troublesome words and phrases here, to clear up any confusion.
Don’t forget to include approved taglines, along with company words and phrases. Especially note any words or phrases that you’ve registered, trademarked or own the copyrights of. These require special characters to denote their own, legal status and you may risk infringing upon their status.
The Style of Your Tone of Voice
Think about the most appropriate and effective mood for what you’re saying or selling. Humor, urgency, sentiment, absurdity and authority all say something important about your brand. For most businesses, the right style is simple, professional and approachable.
Think about how your brand sounds now and what your buyer personas respond to, as you consider the best style for your tone of voice going forward. One of the easiest ways to discover your most natural brand voice direction is by imagining your brand as a person. Complete this short questionnaire to get a better picture of your brand as a person. Knowing what your brand really looks like, in terms of a real person with a real voice, will make imagining their tone of voice much easier.
Your Brand Personified
A sense of Humor:
Social Groups and Subcultures:
Favorite Phrases or Words:
General brand guidelines such as your mission, vision, values and the “why” behind your brand all provide important context for staying consistent. Not everyone writing on your behalf will be intimately familiar with your company. It’s important to provide marketers with the context they’ll need to walk in your shoes. You don’t need to provide a complete history lesson or personal manifesto, just enough to clearly communicate what makes you special.
Choose three or four words or very short phrases that describe the core of your brand and what you want your team aspiring to. Provide a sentence or two to explain each. Consider what you want to be known for amongst your customer base and in your industry, from honesty to innovation.
Once you can really understand and describe your brand voice, try to describe or condense it using just a few adjectives. Try to capture what makes you authentic in this short checklist of words that anyone can use as a filter for staying on brand with the content they’re creating. Then, your marketers can know they’re on brand with the sort of style guide that’s simple enough to fit on a post-it note.
The hardest part of creating a brand voice is making sure it’s being used and updated. The best way to do that is by compiling it all into an editorial style guide as part of your official brand guidelines. Whatever form this takes, it should be accessible by everyone who needs it, in the form of a real-time, live document such as a Google Doc. Make it part of your onboarding process for new employees or outside vendors.