Brand voice is your brand's distinct personality – it's the unique way it communicates your purpose and what you stand for. Having a clear and differentiated brand voice helps you stand out from the crowd and enables your customers to connect to your brand in a more personal way. Creating your brand voice is a core part of your overall brand strategy, and we have laid out five key insights to help you set the right direction.
What is a Brand Voice?
When developing or improving a brand, an often overlooked component is the brand voice, and yet, brand voice is a crucial aspect of the brand story and experience. Nevertheless, you should not conflate the brand voice with two of its elements — its tone of voice and its personality.
Brand voice is simply an overall distinct personality that is conveyed through the brand’s communications and helps your brand distinguish itself from its competitors, as well as makes it stand out in a crowded marketplace. Your brand voice manifests mainly in the way it uses written, oral, and visual language via the flow of words, the stories narrated, and the imagery employed, rendering your brand memorable through the way it feels to the consumer. How you communicate your brand voice is the brand’s tone of voice. And your brand’s personality is a combination of characteristics or qualities — traits — that form an individual. For example, Apple’s personality exudes elegance but is also playful and creative.
The brand voice answers essential questions, such as:
• If your brand were a person, what type of person would it be?
• What are your brand’s personality traits?
• What is your brand’s stance on certain topics, for example, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues?
• What does your brand avoid?
• What are your brand’s “go-to” phrases and stylistic choices?
All of the above comprise your brand voice, but consistency is the key to a strong one. For instance, Nike’s brand voice communicates attitude, energy, and the confidence to dare to do something. You connect with the emotion in Nike’s brand voice that pervades its action-filled advertisements that pop with energy, suggesting the models will leap off the chosen medium and land in front of you. The brand’s motivating words and concise statements compel you to action, such as “it’s only a crazy dream until you do it” and “rise through”.
Why is Brand Voice Important?
Besides brand differentiation, having a logo and unique product features is not enough, because your competitors have the same elements. For example, consider how insurance companies, such as AXA and Prudential, are almost copycats of each other — they offer the same type of products and services. Barring visual design and their individual brand voices, there is little to distinguish one from the other. They melt into the marketplace noise.
According to the Sprout Social Index, 33% of consumers stated that a distinct personality differentiates a brand from its competitors.
Infusing your brand with a unique voice distinguishes it from its closest competitors and helps you create a dialogue, relationship, and connection with your consumer tribe. For instance, Coca-Cola’s studies found that 94% of the global population recognises their brand. Not only is Coca-Cola’s logo and colour immediately recognisable, its brand voice has remained consistent throughout the years —positive, friendly, and down-to-earth. The brand’s promotions always feature the concept of a happy life accompanied by positivity, and its single purpose is to evoke happiness.
Apple’s brand voice differentiates it from its competitors by establishing itself as a brand to look up to whilst, at the same time, making everyone feel welcome, with many of its customers being proud to identify with the brand and owning its products. Its brand voice is confidence, quality, elegance, playfulness, and personable and intuitive. This reflects Apple’s design principles.
One of the clearest ways to demonstrate brand voice is through the type and use of vocabulary. As with all aspects of branding, attention and consistency must be applied to the brand’s words and maintained across all platforms.
For example, Nike’s vocabulary and phrasing are powerful and motivational, such as “Have a Nike day” and “Find your greatness”. Its tone challenges yet encourages you in statements such as “You can’t stop sport us”. Nike’s brand voice conveys inspiration, positivity, empowerment, motivation, and encouragement, and it inspires its target audience to “Just do it”.
At the other end of the scale, you have The North Face, whose brand voice is insightful, confident, and, where appropriate, humorous. It’s also calmer than Nike’s, which fits its target audience.
Nonetheless, when you analyse the world’s best-known brands, you find that the common element linking their branding success is consistency — achieved through an effective brand strategy, of which brand voice is a pivotal component.
Forbes reports that presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23%. PR Newswire quotes Salsify’s 2021 Consumer Research Survey’s findings that 90% of consumers are “willing to pay more for something when it comes from a brand they trust”.
Five Tips for Creating your Brand Voice
1. Document your brand voice
A brand voice document is a reference that contains the brand’s core values and mission. It sets out the style guidelines for presenting the brand in different situations, such as formal media statements and casual social responses. It lays out the brand’s personality, traits, lingo, visuals, and messaging examples, as well as providing information on what to do and what not to do. This document should also briefly profile your target audience, including their behavioural motivations, emotional touchpoints, and mindset.
Because brand voice also involves a lot of written content, you should examine your existing text across all platforms and record the words’ tones, the message they communicate, and whether or not they correspond to the buying persona you’re targeting. In addition, you should apply the same process to your visual assets, which include product images, team photos, and promotional videos.
2. Identify your brand’s personality and traits
When identifying your brand’s personality and traits, it’s helpful to ask, if your brand were a person, who would it be? For example, Samsung’s brand personality could be seen as an innovative, trendy, and masculine person with social status or class. In contrast, The North Face’s brand traits are ruggedness and competence, which resonate with its target audience. Chanel takes a different approach. Its characteristics are “honest, real, and original”, which can be summed up as “authentic”. Chanel is also commonly known as a “pure” brand, meaning that it is true to itself and, thus, remains relevant all the time.
Is your brand personality fun and lively, professional but playful, or compassionate and commanding? Which brand traits connect with your audience beyond the surface? Which characteristics would your customers bond with?
Included in personality and traits is your brand’s attitude towards certain topics, such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Does your brand stand for sustainability in a similar way to Patagonia, which uses recycled materials in its clothing line? Maybe your brand focuses on ethics, like Starbucks, named one of the world’s “most ethical companies” in 2018.
While concentrating on positive brand traits, it’s also important to know what your brand avoids, for example, inadvertently body-shaming, LGBTQIA+ discrimination, unscrupulous suppliers, or simply not being personable enough.
3. Define your brand’s tone of voice
What impression and message must your brand convey? How you write and present your message will dictate how your target audience views your brand. Is your brand tone commanding like a brisk order, or is it soft but relentless like the waves of an ocean?
Does one vibrant colour rule your brand’s visuals, like the soft yet energetic orange of Amazon, or do multiple colours create a kaleidoscope as for Pantone? Perhaps your brand’s tone is relaxing but classy, akin to the muted hues in BMW advertisements.
From words to music to visuals, your brand’s tone of voice helps your brand reach your customer’s emotional core, from which they make many decisions, even though those decisions are tempered by rationale.
Take Samsung, for example. The launch of its brand sound, “The Voyage”, was a presentation that dominated CES 2021. This new melody aligns with the company’s existing sounds (most distinctive of which is its smartphone ringtone “Over the Horizon”) and consists of four simple notes with “Do” representing Samsung’s reliability and stability. Inflections in the middle symbolise the keenness with which Samsung meets challenges and continues onwards. The last note is about hope and optimism. Altogether, the jingle epitomises the brand’s “diligent pioneer” persona.
Each word, image, and (musical) note needs to be crafted in such a way as to invite your customer in and retain them. Consider the difference between “tone” and “sound”. The former is precise and more personable, while the latter is broader and more distant. However, avoid formal and corporate tones, as both will turn off your audience. You want to be friendly, creative, authentic.
4. Create a brand language
Brand voice and tone of voice are created using brand language. This includes the type of “go-to” phrases and stylistic choices the brand would typically use, such as punctuation. For example, Apple provides expressions that its affiliates are encouraged to use, like “use your points to shop at” and “Save with Apple education pricing”. It also shows, perhaps more importantly, which words and phrases to avoid, specifically, “discount(s)”, “voucher(s)”, and “Apple cash back”. It also cautions to “not use exclamation marks to represent Apple offers (e.g. Hot!!)”.
The words and phrases your brand uses need to resonate with its target, such as “I will not sit at home”, “go forth”, and “look good on your way to what’s next” from Levi’s. These statements call to its physically active audience’s psyche.
5. Use a brand voice summary
A brand voice summary distils your brand’s characteristics and how to convey those aspects to their essentials. The overview also serves as a quick reference for creating brand content. It lists approximately five adjectives that describe your brand’s traits, such as contemporary, bold, romantic, sophisticated, and high-class (some of Gucci’s brand attributes). Each feature should have a one-sentence description and accompanying vital Do’s and Don’ts. Once completed, the summary should answer the questions initially presented in this article.
All-in-all, your brand voice is created over time, forms the anchor for your brand, and pervades all aspects of your business. Its consistent representation is fundamental to evolving your brand’s relationship with your consumer tribe and catapulting your business growth. Your brand voice’s success is most evident when your target audience engages with, and believes in, what you do.