7 Exercises to Help You Develop Your Brand Voice
If your brand voice feels confusing or undefined, use these exercises to develop a consistent, recognizable voice for your company.
Sprout Social asked consumers why some brands stood out more than others on social media. Some of the top responses were memorable content, a distinct personality, and compelling storytelling – and your brand voice plays a significant role in all of these.
But your brand voice will only positively impact consumer perception of your company if it’s consistent, unique, clear, and strong.
To have a consistent tone of voice carry across all company content, you first need to define your brand voice. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve never had a specific company voice before. These exercises will help you articulate the style and characteristics that align with your brand, to help you define and document your company’s voice and tone.
1. Existing Content Review
Your first exercise should be reviewing all your existing content because even if you’ve never defined your company voice before, the company will have one that’s developed organically. This is because a company’s voice is tied to its brand identity – it’s how you express your company’s personality in your content, whether you mean to or not. So, reviewing your existing content will help you understand the current voice and tone your company uses.
Put together a sample of all the different types of content your company produces. You should include content from multiple departments:
- Marketing content from your website, social media, and email newsletter
- Sales decks and sales enablement material
- Support content such as knowledge-base articles and ticket responses
- Content published by your leadership team, like press releases, company-wide memos, and investor updates
Look for the common characteristics across your existing content so you can describe your current brand voice. When you review content across different channels (such as social media and your website), pay attention to what stays the same and how your voice adapts to each channel. This will help you understand the different tones of voice your brand has. Your brand tone should adapt to the context – just like you’d speak differently to your best friend, at a job interview, or to your grandparents.
Once you understand your existing brand voice, you can use other exercises to refine or redevelop it to ensure it is an authentic expression of your brand identity.
2. This or That
This exercise aims to define your brand voice by choosing between two opposing characteristics. While your brand voice is more nuanced than each word, this exercise helps you understand the main attributes that make up your brand identity.
Use this brand personality spectrum as your starting point. It lists several pairs of opposing traits, and you then need to plot where your brand voice falls between the two extremes.
Once you’ve worked through those pairs of brand characteristics, you can consider other pairs to refine your brand voice further, such as:
- Formal or informal
- Peer or authority figure
- Friend or colleague
- Chatty or matter of fact
To get the most value out of this exercise, you need to avoid placing your brand directly in the middle of the spectrum – equally fun and serious. Your brand voice can’t be everything all at once. In this example, you need to decide whether fun or serious best aligns with your brand identity and voice.
3. This, but Not That
This exercise is a follow-on to ‘This or That.’ When you’ve chosen a trait that best describes your brand voice, you can refine it by defining a related personality trait that doesn’t align with your brand – for example: smart, but not academic.
Slack’s brand voice guidelines are a great example of how to do this:
This exercise helps you develop your brand voice by exploring the limits of each brand characteristic and identifying when that characteristic stops aligning with your brand. The easiest way to get started is to look up your brand voice characteristic in a thesaurus. That’ll show you lots of synonyms and related terms, so you can identify words that don’t feel like an authentic expression of your brand.
4. Describe Your Brand’s Voice as a Person
If it’s too difficult to describe your brand voice in abstract terms, try picturing them as a person instead. Some team members and stakeholders will find it easier to imagine your brand’s voice as a person’s voice rather than describing its characteristics in abstract terms. If that is true for your team, imagining your brand voice as a person will make it easier for you to define and describe that voice.
Some teams like to use celebrities or film or TV characters as examples. This will be more difficult in international teams where people will have different cultural references, but you may still be able to find a celebrity that everyone knows, whose voice feels like a good fit for your brand.
Alternatively, you may prefer to imagine someone as the voice of your brand. Try and describe how they would speak and identify unique quirks that make them sound like them. You can also explore their communication style and how it varies across different mediums – for example, over email and social media.
5. Describe the Opposite of Your Brand Voice
If you’re finding it hard to define your brand voice clearly, you can get closer to it by ruling out everything that it’s not. It might feel hard to sit there and say, “Yes, these words accurately describe our brand voice.” Instead, you may find it easier to develop your brand voice by the process of elimination.
To do this, start with a long list of brand characteristics. These are words you’d use to describe your brand voice. For inspiration, you can look at the brand personality spectrum or simply brainstorm some ideas yourself. You could review competitors’ content and see how you’d describe their brand voice – and then add those to your list.
Once you’ve got a long list of brand voice characteristics, discard those that don’t align with your brand. As you go, you’ll get more specific about which words and phrases describe your brand voice by getting more precise about what your brand doesn’t sound like.
6. Develop a Brand Style Checklist
Once you’ve worked out the overarching characteristics of your voice, you can get more granular about your brand tone and communication style. Put together a list of different communication elements that contribute to your company’s unique brand voice.
To do this, look at different written and verbal communication elements for this exercise and consider whether each one aligns with your brand voice. Some examples include:
- First-person: When writing for your company, should employees say, ‘I recommend’ or ‘we recommend,’ or should they always refer to the company, for example, ‘Frontify recommends'?
- Humor: Are you comfortable using humor when representing the brand? If so, what style of humor?
- Jargon: Industries and companies all have particular words and phrases they use that are difficult for people outside to understand. For example, Buffer’s style guide states that its team should “avoid idioms, jargons, and acronyms” to make their content more inclusive. But using some jargon can help demonstrate your expertise in your field. Consider your stance on using jargon in your content.
- Yes words and no words: Put together a list of words and phrases that employees should use in your content and a list of words to avoid. Your ‘yes words’ could be product- or industry-related terms or everyday words and phrases that feel like they align with your brand voice. Mailchimp’s style guide includes a word list that contains words to avoid, words to use carefully, and standardized spellings of common words.
These are elements that become the building blocks of your brand voice. When you make decisions about each element, write them down in your style guide or by creating brand voice guidelines.
You develop a more specific brand voice as you get more granular and add more elements to your brand style checklist. The more details you add, the easier it is for your employees and content creators to adopt a consistent brand voice, as they can see what makes your brand sound like you.
7. Customer Expectations Match-Up
For this exercise, you need to review your customers’ communication style and check that your brand voice builds a rapport with customers instead of alienating them. You can do this by adopting similar words and phrases, tones, or communication styles to your customers – for example, using similar levels of jargon or adopting a conversational tone that matches your customers’ approach when they engage with your sales reps.
Your sales team can help you complete this exercise. Listen to live or recorded customer calls and review customers’ or target customers’ posts on LinkedIn or Twitter. Identify common words and phrases they use and add them to your brand style checklist. This will help you emulate your customers’ language and style in your own content, which will help build rapport with prospects.
This exercise helps to make sure your brand voice aligns with your target audience. You want to ensure your voice aligns with what customers expect from a company like yours.
For example, if you’re serving a highly technical audience, they would expect a lot of jargon and technical terms in your content. On the other hand, suppose your brand exclusively uses plain language in its comms. In that case, your customers may doubt that you have experience in their field and will likely turn to competitors that sound more like technical experts.
Document Your Brand Voice Guidelines to Achieve a Consistent Voice & Tone
These exercises will help you identify and describe your brand voice so that you can properly document and define it.
Once you’ve identified the traits, characteristics, and elements that are the building blocks of your brand voice, you should add them to your style guide or Brand Guidelines. Documenting your brand voice is important because it helps your team recognize and understand how to adopt your voice and messaging.
Brand voice guidelines will help everyone who creates content for your business – employees, freelancers, and partners – adopt that voice in their content. This will help you achieve a consistent brand voice across all your marketing channels (and other company communications), which helps to build brand recognition for your business.