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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

4 Steps to Finding Your Brand's Voice

Ready to start marketing your new company, product, or brand?

Great! But before you create your blog, draft content for your brand-spanking-new website, or tweet your first tweet, you’re going to need to define your “brand voice.”

In a nutshell, this is the heart and soul of your communications. More than specific words and phrases, your brand voice is the tone in which you speak to and connect with your audience.

Your voice can be authoritative, informative, fun, or just plain witty, but whatever it is, it needs to be one very important thing: authentic. As one blogger wisely wrote, “trying to fake your voice is like putting lipstick on a pig.” In other words, your audience will be able to tell if it’s not genuine. And, as studies have shown throughout the years, consumers buy products from brands that they connect to on an emotional level—and stay away from brands that they don’t.

If you already know exactly what your voice will sound like, you can skip this step! But if not, we’ve outlined four exercises to get you closer to finding your secret sauce.

1. Build Archetypes

As you work on nailing down your voice, it’s helpful to know who you’re talking to—beyond your audiences’ basic demographics. Pick one person from each of your target audiences (e.g., working parents, college students, or urban hipsters) and answer the following questions:

  • What does he or she look like?
  • What does he or she care about?
  • Where does he or she work?
  • What does he or she do for fun?
  • And, most importantly, what does he or she want from your brand?
  • Getting into the heads of the people you’re ultimately trying to woo is a great way to get started thinking about your brand voice.


    2. Fill in the Blank

    Now, spend a bit of time answering the following questions:

    • I want my brand to make people feel _______.
    • _______ makes me feel this way.
    • I want people to _______ when they come into contact with my brand.
    • Three words that describe my brand are _______ , _______ , and _______.
    • I want to mimic the brand voice of _______.
    • I dislike brand voices that sound _______.
    • Interacting with my clients and potential clients makes me feel _______.
    • Because you want your brand voice to be genuine and natural, it will likely be inspired by your own voice. So, pay attention to the tone you use when you’re filling in these blanks. Is it funny? Laugh-out-loud funny or wink-and-a nod funny? Is it authoritative? Scholarly authoritative, or like an older brother explaining something really cool to his younger brother authoritative?

      3. Create a Test Group

      In life, our friends and family can often reflect back the things we sometimes miss about ourselves. And you can use the same approach when looking for your brand voice.

      Get a bunch of your closest people together—ideally, ones that represent your target community—and ask what excites them most about your brand. What’s unique about it? What words or phrases do they associate with it? Then ask them to answer the same questions about you—the person who will be crafting that brand’s messages.

      Based on their feedback, write a 1-2 sentence mission statement in a few different brand voices. Which one feels the most natural to you? Which one do you think is the most exciting? Don’t be afraid to combine parts of them and to keep working on your final product. Finding your brand voice is often like cooking: Sometimes you need a little splash of this and a little pinch of that to make it perfect.

      Once you have a couple options you love, send them around to the group and see which resonates the most.

      4. Find Your Muse

      Once you have an idea of what you’re going for, it can be helpful to find other brands who have similar voices. Need a little inspiration? Check out these industry-spanning brands—both old and new. Some have witty brand voices, others have informative brand voices, but all of them are approachable and genuine.

      • Manhattan Mini Storage: These guys and gals got right into the heads of their target audience—New Yorkers!—and built their voice around the shared issues and experiences this community can understand, laugh at, and relate to.
      • Frank’s Red Hot: This hot sauce brand's tagline is “We Put That Sh*t On Everything.” Need I say more? 
      • Nike: The company that coined “Just Do It” has built its brand voice around inspiring people both on and off the field.
      • Whole Foods: Whole Foods is the holy grail of all things healthy living, thanks to its authoritative—yet approachable—voice.
      • Charmin: The Charmin team has built its voice around giggle-worthy bathroom humor—without being over-the-top gross. For a laugh, check out the hashtag campaign #tweetfromtheseat.
      • GE: GE’s brand voice is like a mole sauce—it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s inspiring, it’s informative, it’s witty, it’s fun. And because it’s been so successful in connecting with its audience, it’s trusted.
      • PopchipsReading Popchips' Twitter feed is like hanging out with my super fun, life-of-the-party friend. Take the brand's sixth anniversary campaign: “Let’s talk about six, baby.”
      • Once you’ve got your brand voice down, keep it consistent. You want people who follow you on Tumblr, visit your website, and interact with your customer service department to have the same (memorable!) experience. In order to do so, build a style guide describing your brand and its voice and distribute it to your team. Or, host an event to introduce the brand voice, answer any questions people have, and create a plan to implement it across your platforms.

        And then? Time to start talking.

        Photo of woman and computer courtesy of Shutterstock.

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