What’s this ‘brand voice’ everyone keeps banging on about?
Do you need one? Do you already have one? Is this just a fancy phrase for how you write? In short, yes. Lock it in. D: All of the above.
Of course, it’s much more than that too. Alongside your logo, palette and imagery, voice is an integral element of your brand personality. If it’s all over the place, you risk coming across like you have no idea what you’re doing. Harness it, and and you can establish authority, relationships, and lift your brand to compete with the big dogs. So how do we go about cracking this elusive code? Read on, dear reader.
Speak in truths, not in tongues.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that brands encounter when writing copy is trying to be too clever. Writing for a blog or a website is not akin to writing a D.H Lawrence novel. Put down the thesaurus and take out those four syllable monstrosities that you thought made you sound tertiary educated. Repeat after us: not every noun needs a preceding adjective. If a word doesn’t have a purpose, cull it.
Preaching about your amazing brand is about as transparent as cling wrap. The goal is to show rather than tell. What makes your brand what it is? Perhaps you’re bold, innovative, or a little bit cheeky. Learn to capture this essence and infuse your writing with these individual traits. Write who you are.
And don’t even begin to complain that your brand isn’t one of those cool creative agencies, so none of this applies to you. You can only blame dull copy on an unimaginative writer. Banking, insurance, trades—these brands actually have the most to gain by standing tall in a sea of atrocious writing.
If you don’t have a clue about how to describe your brand, then it’s time to go back a step. Check out your competitors, sum up their traits and cross those out—they’re taken. A voice too similar to others' risks either being completely overshadowed, or worse, it looks like you’re just copycatting. Not a good look.
Ask around and listen to your clients, both current and those in your ideal market. How do they speak? What do they like about you? What turns them off? Speaking on their level with relatable content will work wonders.
Speak one-on-one, not en masse.
Have you ever noticed how you form a unique, seemingly inexplicable attachment to radio presenters, columnists and bloggers, despite never having met? It ain’t no accident. It’s because instead of standing on a podium and giving a speech, they’re sitting down and having a conversation. They’re creating the illusion of a two-way dialogue, human to human.
So, how exactly do you find this one special person to speak to? A customer avatar is a collection of traits, hobbies, demographics and tendencies, which together forms your ideal client. You might be speaking to Harold, a 53 year old retiree from the upper middle class, who is looking to spend more time seeing the world and travelling with his grandkids after 30 years in the same law firm. Is it best to chat over a beer in a bar, or would he prefer a scheduled office appointment? What would he want with your business? In what forms would he engage with your brand? Behind Harold is plenty of research, analysis and a few inferences, but his character will humanise the writing experience, ultimately making your copy relatable and honest.
Consider these three writing pieces:
- A social media post designed to entertain and engage with a current following
- A long-form blog article designed to inform readers and build authority
- A website landing page designed to convert visitors into customers
Your brand voice must be intimately acquainted with not only your audience, but also your purpose, and consequently, your medium. What do you want to tell Harold? Why are you connecting with him in this way?
Speak as one, not one hundred.
Now that you’ve got a good idea of how to kick off building your brand voice, you’ll likely be keen to hit the ground running and start posting like a madman. But hold the reins for a minute, and let’s delve into the important business of maintaining consistency.
First and foremost, edit, for God’s sake. There’s nothing like an incorrect apostrophe or a spelling error to boost your bounce rate.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move on to building a style guide. This document is the behind-the-scenes bible of your brand. In theory, it should allow anyone to produce content on your behalf, without your reader being able to tell the difference.
It is not a lengthy tome explaining the ins and outs of the English language. It is a concise document (ideally under four pages) which explains your brand stance on could-be ambiguous writing situations. In the situations where there is no right or wrong, there should always be a right and wrong for your brand. It’s quite incredible how many brands have inconsistencies across capitalisation, spacing and punctuation in something so simple as their business name.
Though by all means not an exhaustive list, here’s a little head start to get the cogs turning:
- Do you use the singular or plural?
- Do you use we or The Business Name?
- Are headings capitalised?
- Do they use full stops?
- Do you use subheadings?
- Do you use Australian English?
- Do you use slang or colloquialisms?
- Do you use contractions?
- How do you feel about foreign phrases?
- How do you feel about metaphors?
- Do you ever use the passive voice?
In the early days, a style guide is a work in progress. Add to it at any time when something is unclear, and remember that it is never finished. Finding your voice is the first step. Next up is to nurture, build, project and refine.