5 steps to developing your distinctive brand voice

Content might be king, but inconsistency in conveying the essence of your organization’s persona and mission will confuse consumers, undermining your marketing efforts overall.

Your brand voice reflects your core values and communicates your organization’s personality.

It’s also incredibly important in building a relationship with your audience.

A study by Forbes revealed that 43 percent of millennials rank authenticity over content when consuming news. They have to trust an organization/brand before they’ll bother to read the content it produces. A human, relatable, authentic brand voice is the key to getting your foot in the door with consumers.

Yet too often, brands fail to develop or define a solid brand voice. Instead of crafting a unique voice, brands often mimic their competitors’ word choice and tone and fail to stand out as truly individual and innovative in their industry.

Below is a guide outlining how to craft a brand voice and use it to create content that your readers will read and, more important, trust:

Finding your brand voice

You must pin down exactly what kind of voice you want for your organization. Using the same voice across all platforms and content creates a unified brand experience.

It’s difficult to build a relationship with someone whose personality shifts day to day; the same logic applies to a brand. Consumers are looking for authenticity, and a shifting brand voice can come across as disingenuous.

Experts recommend taking a series of steps to hone your unique brand voice:

1. Think about how you want to be perceived by your audience. Imagine your brand as a living, breathing person. Do you want to be authoritative? Fun? Straightforward? Reliable? Helpful? Quirky? Relatable? Brainstorm until you build a personality that feels right for your brand. These values will set the foundation and underscore all of your writing.

2. Pull copies of existing content that hits the mark. For each piece of content, determine what you like about it and why it works. Think about how you can hone that voice through word choice, tone, style and format.

3. Narrow your list to a specific set of qualities (we suggest three to five) that encompass the voice you’d like to convey. Create a chart that outlines what kind of content you can create to put this voice into practice. Should you use more visual content? Develop a mascot? Switch to active voice?

4. Write it down. Your content and product marketing team can’t implement the brand voice if they don’t have a clear, authoritative guide to follow. This is also important when working with freelancers or guest writers. Make sure the document has solid examples of how to write (and how not to write) in your brand voice. Content Marketing Institute recommends creating a brand voice chart like the following example:

You might consider writing a guide outlining how to apply the brand voice to blog posts, social media posts, emails, landing pages or newsletters. Offering sample content can help people get a feel for the voice, learn how to use it and start creating on-brand content with confidence.

5. Start experimenting with your brand voice across your channels. Remember that voice and tone aren’t the same thing. Your voice will remain consistent, but your tone might change depending on what channel you’re targeting.

6. Review your content every quarter to see how well the team is adhering to the brand voice guidelines and to determine whether your voice is working. Are new team members clear on how to use the brand voice guide? Does it need tweaking?

The web’s best style guides

To get you started on the right path, it’s helpful to look at organizations that have developed a brand voice to create amazing content.

MailChimp has one of the industry’s best style guides, including a section on voice and tone, which should be required reading for anyone building a brand voice (or as a refresher).

Start by looking at its Writing Goals and Principles. This can help you conceptualize how to craft the foundation of your own brand voice guide.

Look at the comparative statements, which give the reader a deeper understanding of its chosen qualities.

Finally, read through its Content Types, and use its examples of short, medium and long-form content guides as a jumping-off point for your own brand voice content guides.

The Economist also has a clear brand voice guide, which begins with important advice from George Orwell:

Orwell’s six elements keep The Economist’s brand voice original (don’t overuse metaphors), clear (never use jargon or a long word where a short one will do), and authoritative (never use the passive where you can use the active voice).

The Economist has many contributors from around the world. So, instead of listing a set of qualities, the Economist defines its voice through a series of “do not” statements. This allows the publication’s overall voice to remain consistent, while allowing journalists’ individual voices to come through.

Finally, 18F (an office inside the General Service Administration in Washington, D.C.) has a thorough Voice, Tone and Style Guide. Its guide was developed to reduce reader frustration with the sterile and jargon-riddled writing often found on government websites, and to create understandable content that prompts action. By incorporating user feedback into the creation of its content, 18F hopes to “engender trust by communicating in a consistent manner.”

Its voice guide is simple and to the point:

Its brand voice is intended to feel human and help readers find the information they need without friction.

18F’s voice and style guide also reminds us that “written communication is a conversation.” This gets to the heart of the purpose of a brand voice-to engage the audience and start a dialogue.

As content marketers, we’re always looking for ways to start a conversation and develop a relationship with prospects. A solid and human brand voice is the foundation of this process.

A version of this article first appeared on ScribbleLive.

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