Brand voice is the magic thread that pulls together a company’s content, ads, promotions, packaging and more into a singular experience with which customers can relate and engage. A brand’s tone creates recognition and a place from which to communicate. It’s what sets a solid brand apart from the competition. Brands with a loyal following and wide customer base often have a well-developed voice driving that engagement.
Finding one’s voice in the social media era can be a challenge. It requires a brand to engage more deeply with its customers than was expected or possible before Facebook. Marketing communication has historically been a one-way experience: A brand sends a message, the audience receives it, and it ends there. Thanks to technology and countless communication platforms, brands are now expected to not only talk, but to listen to feedback, comment on issues, create content and engage as a real person would.
The demand for a human experience is why a brand voice is so critical to marketing success. Without a position or perspective that is predetermined and consistent, a brand has no place from which to communicate meaningfully with the audience. Without a consistent position, marketing appears random and reveals a company that isn’t ready for primetime.
These four tips will help you start to build a brand voice that is relatable, meaningful and effective.
1. Define and Communicate Your Values
In working with my clients in the early days of social media (2005 to 2007), I realized we needed to find a way to make their brands relatable and their communication consistent to meet the high demand for engagement on social platforms. That forced much experimentation with content and tone. It was not easy to find consistent ways to solicit reactions. Funny quips and “Questions of the Day” were effective for only a few months. When the novelty wore off, it was back to the drawing board.
I was perplexed by how to create a consistent way to communicate with an audience that could be replicated over the course of years, not just weeks or months. I decided to examine the elements of lasting relationships: What made people like and trust one another?
I researched what psychologists, marketers and sociologists said was the foundation of successful relationships, both intimate and professional. I found they are all, to some degree, based on people sharing similar values. We see it in politics, religion and sports: We are drawn to those who share our interests, beliefs, likes and dislikes. It creates a trust and familiarity because there is agreement in our worldviews.
This same approach works wonders with customers. Brands have values, and those values—from diversity in hiring to sustainable growing practices—can be powerful tools in developing loyal relationships with customers. Whatever your values, they should be front-and-center in your brand voice. People are willing to invest in a company to which they feel connected.
Despite its challenges, social media is the most effective way to communicate your values. For instance, a medical dispensary could post a blog sharing the company’s story, why it’s a medical dispensary and what its main goals are for serving the community. This blog post can be re-purposed into quote cards and shared on Instagram and Twitter. Retweeting or sharing articles that align with these goals or starting conversations in medical patient communities about how to better help them are all great ways to talk values with your audience.
It is important that all employees are trained on the company’s values. Empower them to live up to those values and share them with customers. At every point of contact with customers, a brand should find ways to share who it is and what it intends to accomplish.
2. Be Authentic
When it comes to finding your brand voice, the most common advice is “be authentic.” It’s vague advice that can be difficult to decipher: How does a brand actually be authentic when it isn’t a real person? Being authentic means that you are being true to the brand’s values and goals in how you promote and advertise your products and services. I often see brands make the mistake of trying to conform who they are to who they think their audience wants them to be.
For example, if you’re trying to promote a calming product, don’t run an advertising campaign showing people performing high-energy activities. Instead, cater to experiences, environments and color schemes that are more soothing and relaxing. A confusing message in your ads can create confusion about the product and what can be expected of the brand. When brand authenticity is overlooked or poorly developed, it creates an inconsistent, and thereby confusing, voice that does not best represent the brand. This, in turn, creates distrust and disinterest from the audience.
3. Be Human(ish)
We all know that a brand is a concept and not an actual human; therefore, to create a human feeling of engagement from a set of concepts is challenging.
Basing a brand voice on company values and focusing on authenticity is a good start toward developing a human-like feeling. Values provide context for perspectives the brand shares and a guideline on how and what the brand communicates.
In feeling human, a brand must find the right ways to express empathy, compassion, excitement and joy. Not all situations will be the right fit for a brand’s voice. For instance, a product that is made for athletes might choose to show compassion for big-headline sports injuries, lost games and the like. However, that same brand showing empathy for a dress store going out of business is off base and makes the brand feel inauthentic, robotic and unable to determine how to appropriately engage in the world around it.
Using the correct emotional expression, from the perspective of a brand’s authentic values, is a winning combination in a brand voice. It ensures that all communication coming from the brand is aligned with its central messaging and directed to the appropriate target audience.
To discover your brand’s true values, ask yourself questions such as: ‘Why did we start this company?’ and ‘how do we want our customers to talk about our company?’
4. Question Yourself
It requires real digging to discover a brand’s true values. Follow this list of questions to get started:
Why did we start this company? The motivation or passion that drove you to start your company can be a major factor in your value set. Are you trying to disrupt, create a new vertical or save the world? This is all meaningful to your audience.
What do we value about our product/services? This shows that you can stand behind what you do and tells your audience why they should as well.
How do we choose who we want to work with (employees and vendors)? What makes someone a good fit for your company? The answer will reveal your underlying company culture, another point of trust building when you communicate it to your customers. It also helps to attract the right employees.
What is different about how we make or sell our products/services? A great way to stand out from your competition is to share what makes you special and worth choosing over others.
How do we want our customers to talk about our company? Your answer sums it all up. This is the goal in all of your communication, to have won the hearts and minds of your customers.