You, my human reader, possess a unique set of traits.
You say things in a certain way. You have characteristics that people remember you for. Your tone, your language, your delivery – all of it comes together to give you a unique voice.
Same for brands and marketers.
Or, at least, it should be.
Since people are the ones vouching for and buying from brands… brands, like people, should be known for unique characteristics, and most of all, a unique voice.
When it’s an organization’s voice, we typically refer to it as a brand voice. It’s extremely valuable for making you memorable enough to stand out from competitors, and recognizable in a crowded market.
Despite the advantages of having a specific brand tone of voice, it’s surprising how many companies don’t take time to fully develop their own. Only 6 out of 10 marketers believe their brand is aligned with the direction of their company.
So, why are some brands skipping over this step? It could be because the brand itself needs some work, or, marketers simply don’t know how to develop their brand’s voice.
That’s why I’m here with today’s guide on how to build brand voice guidelines. I’ll expand on the benefits, and share with you how some of the leading companies in unique industries have crafted individual brand voices customers can recognize. Ready? Let’s get into it.
7 Steps to Building Brand Voice Guidelines
1. Understand WHY It’s So Valuable for Your Organization
2. Analyze Your Content & Audience for Inspiration
3. Start with a Concise Description (Then Flesh it Out)
4. Build Examples, Outlines, & Templates
5. Ensure Your Brand Voice Guidelines Translate Well into Content
6. Refine & Refocus in Small Increments
7. Add the Supplementary TouchesOnly 6 out of 10 marketers believe their brand is aligned with the direction of their company. Are you on the right track? Read @JuliaEMcCoy's 7-step guide on building brand voice guidelines 🎤 Click To Tweet
Why Should You Invest Time into Building a Brand Tone of Voice?
You’re busy. You’ve got products to sell, subscribers to gain, and numerous other goals to meet. Why should you invest time in creating a brand voice? Because it can help you meet those goals.
The bottom line is you want growth. Growth in subscribers, growth in exposure, growth in sales. According to a report from Lucidpress, brand consistency can improve revenue growth by 23% on average.
Marketers were also asked about the percentage of growth attributable to brand consistency, with the results heavily skewed upwards.
Many of the qualities people want in their company can only come from a well-developed brand voice. If you want to really stand out, maintain a connection with your audience, and achieve reach across multiple channels, consistent brand voice guidelines are the answer. They can offer:
- Differentiation: Your content differentiation factor is what sets you apart from the competition. This is what will make your brand memorable, especially compared to the competition. Remember, your brand voice is about how you say things, not just what you say. I’ll cover more about how to develop this in sections two and three.
- Recognizability: Being different isn’t the same as being recognizable, but the two go together. If customers find your brand memorable, they can recognize it quickly. From a catchphrase, a symbol, and even from a single sentence in some cases. Your brand voice is about how you come off to your audience, and being consistent with this presentation helps you stay fresh in their minds.
- Reach: Once you’ve got a consistent brand voice, creating content actually becomes easier. Whether you’re doing it in-house or hiring specialists, your brand voice gives you a head start. You’ll automatically have an idea of what format, style, and outline to use whether you’re creating content for a blog, mailing list, app, social profile, or eBook. Your brand will be able to reach viewers no matter where they are or how they prefer to digest information.
Your brand voice guidelines help you build a better connection with your audience and serve as a way to streamline content creation.
When your ideal audience member falls in love with your brand voice. “YES!”
Instantly, your company becomes more efficient and your contact more impactful.
'Why invest in creating your brand's tone of voice? According to a report from Lucidpress, brand consistency can improve revenue growth by 23% on average.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on building brand voice guidelines. Click To Tweet
Gather Content Samples & Audience Insights for Inspiration
Now that you know why to build a brand voice, the next step is understanding how. Before you can set out a detailed group of guidelines, you need a good starting point.
To begin, gather samples of your content and see where you stand at the start. Do any of your content choices make you cringe, and decide you could really use some work? Or, do any of your pieces (or even individual parts of them) make you sit up straight and think “That is what I want the brand to be about”?
Source: Content Marketing Institute
Also known as a content audit or content inventory, this checklist can be altered based on what data you have available. As you can see, a big part of getting insights about your brand and content also involves having insights on your audience.
You can obtain this in a number of ways. If you’re using platforms like Facebook or Google to post ads, you can use their built-in insights feature for analytics. You could also take the manual approach and send out surveys to see exactly what your audience is looking for and how they feel about your brand.
Don’t have access to any analytics platforms? Don’t have a mailing list to send out a survey to? If all else fails, you can always gain insights by analyzing your competitors. One tool I like using is Mangools.
By searching your main area of focus along with location and platform, you can see how your competitors are doing. You can also find out what keywords they’re ranking for, and get a better idea of how their brand voice is helping their goals.
By this point, you should be getting an idea built up about your brand and the voice you want it to have. An idea is all you need to get started building your full voice guidelines.
'How do you start building your brand voice guidelines? To begin, gather samples of your content... what makes you sit up straight and think 'That is what I want the brand to be about'?' - @JuliaEMcCoy on building brand voice guidelines Click To Tweet
Start Simple Then Grow Your Guidelines
If you look at a lot of brands, they’ll have pages upon pages about their brand voice. Like all great things of considerable size or volume, these were grown out of a simple starting point. Let’s use my own agency for reference.
As far as our tone of voice, it could be summed up in a few words – simple, direct, informative, and authoritative. If you look at this excerpt from our brand book, you’ll see how each section is fleshed out a little more.
Source: Express Writers
Is your brand focused on being trendy, with your finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest in your industry? Then you could be called the modern, brave, trendy brand.
Are you a formal, intellectual thought-leader who spearheads your chosen space with your approach to professionalism? You could be going for the professional, insightful, educator brand.
The two samples above could conceivably cover the same topic in some cases. The way they would do it would differ. Let’s say, for example, a breakthrough medical technology for cosmetics is developed, giving people the ability to look years younger for a fraction of the cost of modern procedures. How would each brand write this blog’s headline? It could look something like:
Brand #1: Turn Back the Clock & Look Years Younger with This Crazy Cool Breakthrough
Brand #2: New Cosmetic Technology Offers Low-Cost Options for Anti-Aging Treatment
See the difference? I’ll cover more about how to develop your voice for content purposes later in this piece.
Once you learn how to articulate your brand guidelines in a couple of sentences, or even a few words, you’re on track.
What kind of a brand are you? Modern, brave, trendy? Or professional, insightful, educative? Know how you can stand out with your own voice by building your brand voice guidelines. Click To Tweet
Expand Your Ideas to Create Detailed Guides & Templates
When you’ve got an idea in mind for your brand voice, expanding on it gives you a great opportunity. That opportunity is to build guides and templates you can go off of for future content.
If you’re like a lot of brands, you’ll be creating lots of content. 60% of marketers say they create at least one piece per day. Imagine having a ready-made template. That would speed things up immensely. Even better, it gives you the ability to be consistent.
How exactly can you expand your ideas to build these detailed guides? Let’s look at another successful brand – MailChimp. Like my agency, they have voice and tone guidelines for their content.
If I told you copy was plainspoken, what would you think that meant? It could mean talking about a simple topic – or talking about a variety of topics with simple language.
What about humor? That could mean everything from making knock-knock jokes to adding a touch of sly sarcasm to catch your reader off guard. Here’s a glimpse at how they define their tone goals.
They go on to offer some specific writing tips. These include using active voice over passive, avoiding slang or jargon, and keeping a positive tone throughout.
They also have detailed instructions depending on the type of content they’re creating or having created. Whether it’s a blog, a technical article, or an email, their voice will be consistent. However, their style may be tailored slightly for the piece in question.
A brand like this one may be publishing dozens of blogs per week or sending out hundreds of thousands of emails per day. Since they have the style guide set up ahead of time, they can ensure their content is streamlined while remaining consistent throughout.
So when you’re creating guidelines for your own brand voice, consider:
- Tone: Make sure your style of speaking is understood by the writer ahead of time, so your content always sounds familiar in your readers’ heads.
- Content Type: Remember there are different content types for a reason. A blog may not have the same audience or intent as a technical article, so create separate guidelines depending on the type of content you’re creating or having created.
- Examples/Templates: When you’re looking to make sure your tone is really understood, make examples. You can also create templates for things like text layout, visual goals, and more.
Why should you go through all this effort, especially if you don’t have the means to create a high volume of content yourself? Because you may have someone else do it for you, and you can help them help you.
'60% of marketers say they create at least one piece (of content) per day. Imagine having a ready-made template. That would speed things up immensely. Even better, it gives you the ability to be consistent.' - @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
See How Your Brand Tone of Voice Translates in Practice
When my agency interacts with new clients, it is an exciting opportunity. We aren’t just looking to help them get great content – we’re looking to help them promote their brand. In fact, it’s one of our main values.
Source: Express Writers
When we ask a client about their brand tone of voice, some are less sure than others. It’s admittedly a big question if you haven’t taken a lot of time to develop yours.
When you outsource the creation of blogs, web pages, or even content strategy, you’ll get better results if the creators know what voice you’re looking for.
When you have these guidelines in place before writing or ordering content, you will be able to get a better result. If you’re outsourcing content, you’ll make sure the writers can translate your brand properly in whatever piece you’re ordering.
Your checklist for defining your brand doesn’t have to be verbatim to the graphic above, but these are some good things to consider when sending over your brand voice summary.
Good brand voice guidelines will ensure you are connecting with your audience in a way that resonates with them. It will also ensure you stick to the same voice when ordering multiple pieces of content, providing uniformity and consistency to your readers.
Don’t forget, there’s nothing that says your brand voice can’t change a little over time. Once you create a guide, the next step is tweaking your approaches where necessary for better results.
'Good brand voice guidelines ensures you connect with your audience in a way that resonates with them. It ensures you stick to the same voice when ordering multiple pieces of content, providing uniformity and consistency to readers.' -… Click To Tweet
Make Small Changes to Refine Your Brand Voice
Once you’ve got brand guidelines written out, you want your content to stick to them. However, you can always make changes where necessary.
Forbes has an excellent piece on how seven executives made one simple change to great results. Here are some of the more brand-focused inclusions:
- Personalization Over Automation: Ann Handley of Marketing Profs. began using her email newsletter as a way to connect personally to her audience. As you would imagine, this necessitated a specific tone of voice to make the desired connection.
- Conversation-Worthy Content: Ed Breault of Aprimo talked about how his brand had shifted their content to conversational over product-centric. The goal was to give readers something to talk about, so conversational tone took priority over promotional language.
- Creating Engaging Environments: Shacher Orren of Playbuzz talked about how their brand put a greater focus on meaningful, two-way dialogues. It helped users feel more engaged and made the brand more user-focused.
Your changes could be even more minor than that, but just as impactful. Maybe you want your writing to sound a little less formal? Could your content benefit from a touch of humor here or there?
If sales are the priority, promotional language could take priority. If you want readers to opt into your mailing list, try being a bit more conversational and casual when speaking to them.
Your brand may evolve over time, and that’s a good thing – it means you’re being responsive to your industry, your goals, and most importantly, your audience.
Personalization, conversation-worthy content, and creating engaging environments are some of the tweaks you can add to your brand voice. Know how to apply these in @JuliaEMcCoy's 7-step guide in creating brand voice guidelines Click To Tweet
Incorporate Your Brand Tone of Voice into Other Areas
Your brand tone of voice is how your content sounds to your reader. However, brand guidelines can also encompass other areas. Take a look at how thorough Skype is just with their logo.
You’ll find their brand, along with many others, have guidelines for everything. The colors they use, their font choices – the list could go on and on.
While this isn’t necessarily connected to the tone of voice in the immediate sense, your choices about your tone could provide inspiration for these other areas as well.
For example, a formal tone would necessitate the use of similar font styles. If your brand is going for a flashy, trendy feel, you may experiment with creative color schemes to complement it.
Building your brand is a concentrated effort that requires collaboration from all sides. Your copywriting, logo design, web layouts, and social presence will all play a role.
'Building your brand is a concentrated effort that requires collaboration from all sides. Your copywriting, logo design, web layouts, and social presence will all play a role.' - @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Giving Your Company Its Own Sense of Personality
We know companies aren’t individuals, but a brand tone of voice could be thought of as the business equivalent of an individual’s personality.
Your brand voice guidelines provide you with a go-to guide for how your company should sound. When people read your copy, view your ads, and consider your pitches, how do you really sound in their head?
Do you appeal to them in a way they can relate to? Are you memorable? Do you connect with them in a way that other brands in the same industry don’t?
Your brand tone of voice is your language choice. It’s your writing style. It’s your way of saying the same thing someone else may say, but in a way that is unique to you.
It’s also your key to consistent content, better reach, and a more distinct connection with your audience. With a consistent brand voice, you improve more than your content – you improve your connection with your customers.