8 Elements Your Brand Voice Guidelines Should Include
Turn your brand voice guidelines from a dull document into a valuable resource for your whole company by including eight important elements.
Brand voice guidelines are essential for maintaining a consistent tone and style across different types of content, no matter who’s creating it. They help new hires, freelancers, and external partners get up to speed with your brand voice. So everything your company produces sounds like you – no matter who writes it.
Brand voice guidelines are where you document your company voice, tone, and personality. They help your team build trust with your audience by achieving a consistent written and verbal style when representing the brand.
Your brand voice guidelines need to be practical and full of relevant examples if you expect your team to successfully adopt your company voice. No one wants to feel like they’re reading the dictionary. Here are eight elements to include in your brand voice guidelines. These will help your employees achieve your company’s unique tone and style.
1. Introduction to Your Brand Voice & Tone
You should include an overview of your brand voice and tone in your brand voice guidelines. Your brand voice is how you show your brand personality and core values in written and spoken communication. Your voice shouldn’t change, but your brand tone will shift depending on the audience or type of content.
Starting your brand voice guidelines with an introduction to your voice and tone will familiarize your team with your company’s written and verbal personality. When you describe your brand voice and tone, you explain how your team should talk to customers across all your brand communications. This empowers your team to create written, video, and audio content in your brand tone of voice.
LinkedIn’s brand voice is a great example. Its brand voice is the first thing in its brand guidelines – it comes before its color palette, illustration style, and logo.
LinkedIn describes its voice in concrete terms. Anyone reading the guidelines can imagine one specific colleague they’d keep in mind when they write for the brand.
2. Guidelines for Everyday Words & Phrases
Your team will use many words and phrases most days, such as times, dates, greetings, and company descriptions. These can all be expressed slightly differently, for example:
- Our meeting will be on Monday, 12 June at 14:30; or
- Our meeting will be on 12 June at 2:30 PM.
You want to achieve a consistent brand voice and style across all types of content you produce – from multichannel marketing campaigns to individual, two-line emails. Help your team communicate consistently by creating a company style for these phrases and including them in your brand voice guidelines. This guidance may feel a bit granular or ‘in the weeds,’ but little things add up and contribute to your overall brand consistency.
For example, the BBC has an extensive style guide that allows its journalists to “demonstrate the highest standards of English” and ensure “accuracy, fairness and impartiality”:
Providing guidelines for using everyday words and phrases helps to develop your company’s own style. It enables employees to communicate confidently, without worrying about whether they’re describing something in the right way.
3. Guidelines for Different Types of Content
Your employees create many types of content, with different people and teams responsible for each piece. If your brand voice guidelines include guidance tailored to different types of content, it will help your employees achieve consistency across content types and departments.
The University of Dundee includes guidelines for different types of writing in its brand style guide.
This example clearly explains who the target audience is for each type of content and the appropriate tone of voice to use. It also includes a practical example to demonstrate how to use different tones for the content types.
These guidelines show how to adapt your tone of voice to different types of content. They turn your brand voice and tone from something abstract into something tangible.
4. Guidelines for Different Channels
Your team creates content for lots of different channels, like email and social media. The content format and tone will be very different in a blog post, an email newsletter, a 280-character message on Twitter, or an image caption on Instagram.
Your brand voice guidelines should help your team create content that’s recognizably ‘you,’ even across different channels. So you should include specific guidelines for creating content for different marketing channels. For example, Mailchimp’s content style guide has a section on content for social media.
Mailchimp’s style guide provides examples of what to publish on its social channels. It also has guidelines to help its content creators write social media posts.
5. Company-Specific Words & Phrases
Words relating to your company – like your company name or tagline – are the most important ones to communicate consistently. You should include a list of them in your brand voice guidelines so that everyone on your team knows how to use the words and phrases that are most important to your company.
Other examples include brand messaging, the name of your products or features, and the names of high-profile team members who represent your brand, such as your CEO.
These company-specific words are essential for building brand and name recognition in the market. But if your employees are inconsistent with how they write your product names or company tagline, it looks unprofessional and creates a negative impression of your brand.
Greenpeace’s style guide contains a section on how to describe Greenpeace and its work.
It includes different variations of the company’s tagline so employees can choose the version that best fits their needs based on space or character constraints. In your brand voice guidelines, you could include similar guidance on product names and descriptions.
6. Glossary of Common Terms
There are lots of other words that aren’t specific to your company but that you might use a lot in brand communications, such as content marketing materials and press releases. These frequently used terms relate to your industry, technology, or field of expertise rather than everyday phrases.
For example, we have a common words section in our brand guidelines. The section includes a short definition and how to pronounce each word.
You should include a section like this in your brand voice guidelines to ensure all your employees understand the industry-specific or technical terms you use a lot and can confidently use them in their own messages. This glossary can also become a cheat sheet that you can share with new employees during onboarding. This will help them get up to speed on your industry and familiarize themselves with your company’s internal language.
7. Dos & Don’ts
Companies often have dos and don’ts to show you how to use the visual elements of their brand, like logos and design assets. You can do the same with your brand voice to show examples of on-brand and off-brand voice and tone.
Sunrun provides do and don’t guidance in its Brand Guidelines to help its team understand how to communicate its brand values in its content.
Including dos and don’ts in your brand voice guidelines will help employees see the difference between on-brand and off-brand content. It will give them the confidence to spot when their content is drifting off-brand. The don’ts – examples of what not to do when creating content in your brand voice – are particularly useful because they provide specific examples and guidance about what isn’t in keeping with your brand voice and tone.
8. Practical Examples
Practical examples help turn your brand voice from something abstract into something real. So your brand voice guidelines should include real examples of your brand voice in lots of different types of content. Providing your employees with a point of reference will give them the confidence to create similar content in your brand voice.
Monzo includes real examples in its tone of voice guidelines.
To make your brand voice guidelines as helpful as possible, you should include examples of different types of content. But don’t include multiple examples for each type. You want to give your employees some inspiration but not overwhelm them with ideas.
When you launch new channels or try new content types, you may not immediately have a great example. Treat your brand voice guidelines as living documents and add in examples over time. You can also update your guidelines every few months with new examples to give your team new sources of inspiration (and as a way to showcase some of the great work your team produces.)
Swap PDF Docs for Cloud-Based Brand Voice Guidelines
Most importantly, you need to make it easy for your team to find and use your guidelines. Because even if your brand voice guidelines are full of useful guidance and examples, you’ll never achieve a consistent brand voice if no one ever looks at them.
Many companies still circulate their brand voice guidelines as static PDF documents. These either get saved on your desktop and looked at once or printed off and lost in a desk drawer. And as your company voice develops over time, those PDFs quickly become outdated. So even when someone does reference them, they’re no longer an accurate reflection of your brand voice.
Swap your PDF docs for cloud-based Brand Guidelines on a platform like Frontify, which provides a centralized home for everything related to your brand and its tone of voice.
A centralized, cloud-based platform makes it easy to keep your tone of voice guidelines up to date. And it’s easy to search, so teams can easily find the examples and guidance most relevant to their departments.