A Complete Guide to Brand Voice for Your Company (& Why You Need One)
Your brand voice is a big part of your brand identity and image. Set yourself apart from competitors by making your voice as strong as possible.
Whether you need to define or refine your brand voice, in this guide, we go over each step to take in order to establish a strong one. Remember: a strong brand voice already lives in your brand, your people, and your values; you just have to uncover and document it.
Your Brand Voice Is One Element of Your Brand Identity
Your brand voice is a big part of your brand identity, which is made up of what your brand says, does, and looks like. Brand identity is expressed through the visual elements of your brand and the content you create on every channel. It can even be represented in the products you offer.
Within your brand identity lives your brand voice. While your brand voice does include the words and language that you use to speak with your audience, more importantly, it embodies your brand’s “unique perspective, and the values you stand for.” Through your brand voice, you can communicate your perspective and values.
Brand voice encompasses your brand tone and brand personality. Your brand tone is the attitude with which you convey your values and beliefs; it's the way you speak. Your brand personality is your brand's traits and characteristics. Tone and personality help to reinforce messaging and the language brands use, creating a more distinct and defined voice.
Why You Need a Strong Brand Voice
A strong brand voice can reinforce a strong brand identity by helping it remain consistent across all channels. The digital landscape has long been overcrowded, so now it’s especially important to have a clear and recognizable brand voice.
Differentiate Your Brand from Competitors
When your brand voice is distinct and recognizable, it can set you apart from other brands in your niche. It’s important to create a strategy for your brand voice that differentiates you from the competition, and your messaging can help you do this. Let’s look at FedEx and UPS as an example. Both companies have a goal to ship packages globally with speed and reliability. But they communicate this with different messages.
FedEx promises overnight delivery in its slogan: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Whereas UPS focuses more on the logistics with its tagline: “Customer first, people led, innovation driven.” Both FedEx and UPS ultimately keep the customer in mind but have different approaches that are communicated through their brand voices.
Build Authority with Your Audience
Your brand voice can help you build authority over time when it’s consistent and well-developed. When your brand has authority, it means that you have built a sense of trustworthiness and credibility within your niche, and your customers feel confident spending their money with you. Brand authority can be achieved with strong messaging and high quality content.
Form Connections with Your Target Market
Humanizing your brand can help your target market develop a connection with you. When you build connections, customers are more likely to stay loyal and continue purchasing from you. According to a report by Sprout Social, 57% of consumers will increase their spending with a brand they feel connected to.
Increase Consistency Across All Platforms
Consistency in your brand voice can help you develop a communication style that is unique and exclusive to your brand. When you develop a strong brand voice, you should be able to plug content into any channel and remain recognizable to your target audience. With consistency across all channels, your customers can get to know you better and connect with you when they interact with your brand on any platform.
How to Define (or Refine) Your Brand Voice
Your company already has a brand voice that is naturally embodied in your values and people. But you need to either define it for the first time or refine it to make it stronger. There are a few things you can do internally to define or refine your brand voice so that it aligns with who you are as a brand.
Start with an Internal Assessment of Your Brand & Customers
First, you should identify what your brand voice currently looks like.
Identify Your Unique Brand Characteristics
Most companies already have a brand voice but have never defined it properly. You can start to define your voice by answering these questions.
- What makes your brand unique?
- If your brand was a person, how would you describe them?
- What are your primary values as a brand?
Ask yourself these questions to help identify characteristics of your brand that you can use as you work to define your brand voice. As you answer these questions, look for common adjectives and characteristics that come up to clarify which traits make up your brand voice. Make note of the ones that align with your brand and keep them in mind as you develop your brand voice, discarding the ones that don’t align.
Conduct an Audit of Your Current Content
Review all your current content and give it a ranking based on how well it communicates the characteristics of your brand identity and how authentic it feels to your brand. Reviewing your existing content will help you understand the voice and tone your brand already has as it has developed organically (but has never been refined or defined). You’ll want to review:
- Content from multiple channels – your website, social media, newsletters, and press releases
- Content produced by each department – sales, product, engineering, marketing, support, and leadership
- Content in different formats – long-form, short, video, audio, and written
- Customer-facing and internal content
If some of your content does not embody or communicate the main characteristics of your brand, make note of why it doesn’t work. Any notes you take will help you better understand the different elements of your brand voice, which will help you define it for everyone on your team.
Listen to Your Customers
To define a brand voice, tone, and personality that’s familiar and resonates with your customers, listen to what they’re saying. Listen to sales & support calls and read customer emails & notes to answer these questions:
- How do customers talk about your product/service?
- How do customers describe the problem(s) you’re solving for them?
Make a note of any key words or phrases they use frequently – this can help you build familiarity by speaking their language and adopting a brand voice that feels familiar to them. Avoid using any industry-related jargon that they wouldn’t understand.
Look to Exceptional Brand Voice Examples for Inspiration
Once you’ve reviewed your brand internally, you should check out some strong brands for inspiration. Each of the three examples we’ve included below exemplifies the value of having a strong and recognizable brand voice.
Apple Is Confident & Simple
Apple is a globally recognized brand with millions of loyal users. Its brand voice embodies the confidence that comes along with being one of the top tech companies in the world. Apple’s brand voice is characterized by short sentences and bold statements, statements that are straight to the point with no fluff. These make the company appear confident but not arrogant.
For instance, on the webpage for its new iPhone 13, Apple says that the new phone has “Our most advanced dual-camera system ever” – a simple yet confident statement.
Any content that Apple produces is recognizable. Follow Apple’s lead and make sure your brand voice is evident and consistent in all your company’s content – including everything from demo videos and product descriptions on your website and any other written or spoken touchpoint.
Mailchimp Is Conversational & Compassionate
Mailchimp is supportive of its customers and more like a collaborative partner, not just a marketing tool. The language it uses is very conversational, as if it’s just chatting with friends. Look at its Twitter profile as a clear example of its conversational and compassionate voice. It says, “Helping you build your thing is our thing.”
Mailchimp has a clear understanding of how its brand voice comes across to its customers. It wants to be seen as a helpful and supportive brand, so it defined a voice that is conversational and compassionate. Make sure that your brand’s vision and how you want to be perceived by customers are aligned with your voice and messaging.
Slack Is Clear, Concise, & Human
Slack is another great example of a brand that has nailed its voice and tone. In its brand guidelines, it says, “We are humans, speaking to humans.” But it doesn’t just say that; it also shows that by speaking directly to the user throughout all its content. As you can see in the visual below, they’re speaking clearly, concisely, and directly to the end user.
Speaking directly to the user is a natural brand voice to develop for a communications software platform. By following our guide, you can find a natural brand voice that resonates with your customers, too.
Try Brand Exercises to Further Define (or Refine) Your Voice
As you develop your brand voice, you may find it helpful to use exercises that are designed to help you define it. Use these exercises to help you articulate the style and characteristics that make up your voice.
This or That
This is an exercise that brands use to define their voice. Start by choosing between two opposing characteristics to nail down the distinct traits of your brand. Use this brand personality spectrum as a starting point.
Then think of other word pairs to further refine your voice, such as:
- Formal or informal
- Peer or authority figure
- Friend or colleague
- Chatty or matter of fact
Remember, your brand can’t be everything at once. To get the most value out of this exercise, avoid placing your brand directly in the middle of the spectrum (i.e., equally fun and serious). This exercise is meant to help you decide whether fun or serious best aligns with your brand identity and voice.
This But Not That
This exercise aims to hone each adjective that you defined in your “This or That” exercise by adding some additional context. When you’ve chosen a characteristic that accurately describes your brand voice, you can refine it by adding a related personality trait that does not align with your brand – for example, smart but not academic.
See Slack’s guidelines below for more examples of how this exercise can help you define your brand voice.
Try using a thesaurus as you make your way through this exercise. Once you’ve settled on traits from your “This or That” exercise, use the thesaurus to find similar words that do and do not align with your brand.
Brand Style Checklist
Once you have defined the overarching characteristics of your brand voice, you can start getting more specific with your voice, tone, and communication style. Things to consider include:
- Use of humor (if yes, also get specific about your style of humor)
- First/third person
- Preferred words and phrases
- Words and phrases to avoid
The more specific you can get, the better. For example, if you’re okay with using slang, get specific about what terms are okay to use.
Document Your Brand Voice in Your Brand Guidelines for Consistency
Brand voice guidelines are a record of your company voice, tone, and personality and are essential for building brand recognition. Brand voice guidelines are a way for everyone who creates content for your brand – employees, freelancers, and other partners – to get aligned and adopt your voice in their content.
Here are eight elements you should include in your brand voice guidelines:
- Introduction to your brand voice and tone: An overview of your brand voice and tone that describes your characteristics and traits, it should give readers a clear idea of what defines your brand voice.
- Guidelines for everyday words and phrases: Include everything from greeting usage to how to write out dates.
- Guidelines for different types of content: If you have slightly different tones or language that you use in different types of content (such as email vs. social), be sure to document that in your brand voice guidelines.
- Guidelines for different types of channels: Your voice is bound to change slightly depending on the platform you’re writing on. For example, if your Instagram content is a bit less formal than on LinkedIn, be sure to include that in your guidelines.
- Company-specific words and phrases: It’s important that content creators get these right every time. This includes how to write your company name (i.e., Mailchimp, not MailChimp) and any taglines or slogans.
- Glossary of common terms: Include industry terms you use a lot and any technical terms.
- Do’s and don’ts of your brand voice and tone: This type of guidance can help everyone on your team further understand what your brand voice is and how to use the visual elements of your brand.
- Real-life examples: Practical, real-life examples that your teams can use as they start to get familiar with your voice and tone are the best way to implement your voice across all channels.
Guidelines that contain all these elements will help all your content creators have a solid understanding of your brand voice. This will help you achieve a consistent voice across all your marketing channels (and other company communications), which helps to build brand recognition for your business.
Frontify Can Help Your Teams Get Aligned on Your Brand Voice
A brand management platform is essential in making sure your brand voice is understood and embodied by your entire company. With a brand management platform, you can easily share assets and collaborate on any brand projects. And instead of creating tons of PDFs housed within your network, you can use a platform like Frontify to:
- House all brand guidelines, templates, logos, fonts, and other design elements
- Integrate with all your other marketing tools for improved consistency across any platforms
- Break down departmental silos
- Improve marketing project workflows