Your brand voice is a crucial part of your brand story and its development should be treated with the same respect as your mission statement or logo.
The tone may change, depending on the type of communication i.e blog post or sales proposal, but there should be one voice (or style of language) used across all content, no matter the author.
An inconsistent voice can lead to confusion around your brand, as well as distrust, inauthenticity and suspicion about the motives of your marketing.
Bad news for business growth.
But delivering your copy in a recognisable and consistent brand voice can add $$$ to your brand equity. Good news for business growth as this study into the connection between brand equity and financial performance for retail banks, explains.
An inconsistent brand voice usually falls in one of two camps:
1. A mixture of ‘friendly’ on-brand and PHD-level academic language
This usually happens because a manager had to ‘get something out quickly’ or ‘didn’t think the brand voice was right for this email’. So all brand strategy goes out the window.
We’re talking words with unnecessarily long syllables. Using fancy synonyms (rule #11 if you’re going to click through — you’re welcome) when there’s a simpler choice. FYI the rule in copywriting is writing to an 11 year old’s reading level. And zapping all trace of a personality.
The result? Half the content resonates with your audience, the other half reads like their mobile phone contract.
2. Split personality disorder
On paper the manager(s) is all for a ‘quirky, eccentric, cheeky’ brand voice. But whenever he/she reads content written in this style, a wave of nervousness descends and the writer is asked to ‘tone it down’. Before you know it, there isn’t a thread of quirky eccentricity left.
The result? Your brand sounds like it’s got split personality disorder and comes across as inauthentic. Like that girl at school who changed depending on who she was hanging out with. You know who I mean.
Whatever the underlying issue, the way around correcting an inconsistent brand voice involves taking a step back to look at your brand strategy.
Who do you think you’re talking to?
That wasn’t meant to sound so aggressive.
If you didn’t carry out extensive customer research before you developed your brand strategy, hold everything and DO IT NOW. Still too aggressive?
This involves reading customer emails, reviews, social media comments, notes from phone calls, sales meetings, surveys…basically anything your customers says about your business. It’s all brand voice gold.
Take the words they use, the phrases, the slogans, even the cliches and get to know them. Once your customer feels like that old friend whose sentences you can finish, then you’re halfway there.
Now you need to create a target audience persona from your customer research and make it real. Not just demographics, you need to know what their favourite ice-cream flavour is? Who they’d invite to their ultimate dinner party? What would their epitaph read? (Not literally, these are just suggestions, of course).
Lo and behold you have a ‘real’ person, someone that your whole team can visualise (and some organisations do actually have a real-photo) and, importantly, someone they can imagine they’re talking to everytime they write.
This makes it a lot easier to stick to one tone of voice. Write how you would speak to that person that you know, not a faceless mass of ‘customers’.
Think like that and suddenly making your email marketing sound like an academic white paper seems really, well, wrong.
A case of mistaken identity
When you read copy by Apple, you can envisage Steve Jobs saying it. Likewise with Virgin, or Amazon, or Ben and Jerry’s.
The brand personality should reflect the values of the person and people behind it. It should encapsulate their spirit. But that doesn’t mean it’s a carbon cut out; you’ll need to take your target audience into account too.
What we’re saying is this — a strong and authentic brand comes from the top and works it’s way down through the ranks and out to the customers. And if the brand personality is totally different to the top management it ain’t gonna work.
Look at the mission statement. The company values. The culture. These are the foundations from which the visionary founder build the business. Your brand personality and voice should be a beautiful blend of all these things.
Don’t try to be all things to all people, don’t try to be someone you’re not. That way when manager(s) read copy in the brand voice it won’t jar or feel uncomfortable and all will be well with the world (well your marketing-world anyway).
The wise words
Brand tone of voice shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise, or something only the marketing team ‘own’ (which basically means no-one else wants to deal with), nor should it be so generic that it’s boring, or so out-there that it’s uncomfortable to read and write.
Use the voice as a tangible extension of your business mission. Make it bold. Make it exciting. Make it something that everyone in the business wants to get behind. And before you know it you’ll have a brand worth talking (and writing) about.
Side note: Having a reference point to check copy and content against will help. This could be a simple checklist, a two-person sense-check process. Or (and, might I say, this is the best way), use a professional copywriter who knows your brand. Trust me it’s worth it. But then again, I would say that.
By Elena Clarke, copywriter with a BIG passion for all things brand strategy and personal development.
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