How to build a brand voiceMike Reed
Building a focused, consistent brand voice is tricky at the best of times. And we can all agree these are not the best of times.
Even so, the fundamentals don’t change. In our latest Better Words webinar, we tried to distill those fundamentals into three steps for building your own brand voice.
You can watch the full session below. Or read on for our advice on how to build clearer, more effective brand voices.
1. Be genuine
“Can you add some tone of voice to this?”
Brand voice is often seen as a sort of ‘finishing touch’ to make a piece of communication friendlier and more engaging.
But remember: your voice isn’t just a sprinkling of magic glitter. If you treat your voice as superficial, it’ll probably come across that way.
Critically, it won’t sound like you. And your voice should always be yours. You might like the way Apple sounds, for example, but you can’t just transplant their voice (and success) into your own brand. What’s right for them won’t be right for you.
Instead, your voice should come from a clear sense of who you are, what you want to say, and who you’re talking to.
So before you start, you need to think about questions like:
- Why do you exist?
- What do you stand for?
- What’s your personality?
- Who are you talking to?
After all, you can’t have a strong voice without a strong brand.
2. Bring everyone in
Your voice isn’t just a bit of fun for your advertising. It’s the words you use, everywhere — from promotions to recruitment, customer services to internal comms.
Your audience won’t make a distinction between the language you use on a poster, or in your payment process. Neither should you.
Think about every part of your brand — including areas that are often seen as off-limits to branding, like terms and conditions.
When digital bank Revolut announced a clearer voice, they knew it had to apply to everything they wrote — including their Ts & Cs. So they waved goodbye to fusty financial jargon, and developed a simpler way to talk about money.
And don’t just look for input from the marketers and comms experts in your brand.
Everyone in your organisation is a writer, even if they don’t see themselves that way. How your HR team writes job descriptions says as much about your brand as your ads or social posts.
Making those teams part of the process means you can develop a voice that works for everyone.
3. Make it usable
Many voice guidelines still comprise little more than some abstract principles, like ‘we sound human’ or ‘we communicate with passion’.
The problem? These don’t give the writer much to go on, and often leave more questions than answers:
- How can I make my writing ‘sound human’?
- What does ‘communicating with passion’ mean for responding to a customer complaint?
Strategic principles are important: they give the writer an idea of what a voice should sound like. But unless they’re supported by practical tools and examples, a writer might struggle to bring them to life.
Take Uber’s voice guidelines. As usual, they start with strategic principles, like ‘considerate’ and ‘simple & direct’.
But these are followed up with writing tips like these:
It’s easy to imagine the furrowed brows. What’s a modifier? How do I confirm a homonym? And what does this have to do with a considerate voice?
Instead of treating your guidelines as a strategic document, think of them as a recipe book. Like Monzo, give your writers the tools and examples they need to recreate the voice.
And like any good recipe book, try to make your guidelines easy to follow. That way, you can start to move your voice beyond abstract principles — and into every part of your brand.
Watch season one of our Better Words webinars