A "brand voice" helps you to find an individual voice for your content. This is relevant for both agencies and freelancers to stand out from the crowd. I'll explain how to develop a brand voice - including examples, guidelines and templates.
What is a Brand Voice?
A brand voice determines which personality and which characteristics your texts convey. Ideally, it is recognizable and speaks literally to the intended target group. Content tonality plays an important role, but so does the level of language.
Content Marketing Basics
To find your brand voice, you should know the most important basics about content marketing and content strategy. Give a read to our e-book onContent Marketing for Agencies and Freelancers.
You should ask yourself various questions that are sometimes more, and sometimes less obvious, to develop your personal brand voice.
- The more obvious question is, for example, how you address visitors to your website. This is a fundamental decision that already has considerable consequences.
- The impression you want your brand to convey is also important - is it a young, cheeky and non-conformist or, on the contrary, a sedate, reserved and conservative impression?
- It gets more subtle when it comes to the question of language level. Is simple language the order of the day in order to reach as broad a public as possible? Or rather a more subject-specific language so that a clearly defined target group feels at home?
Colleen Jones of Content Science puts the goal of Brand Voice this way - imagine the ideal personality to represent your brand and bring it to life in your content.
"I find a handy way to define voice is this: the personality of your content. Is it smart? Kind? Authoritative? Personable? Inclusive? Quirky? Something else? Imagine the ideal personality you want to represent your brand, and make that personality come alive in your content."Colleen Jones, Content Science
What is a Brand Voice good for?
The brand voice is ultimately a part of your brand identity, just like the company name, the logo, an advertising claim or the chosen colors. It is not always as obvious as the chosen font. But you shouldn't underestimate it, either. With the wrong choice of words, even the most beautiful corporate identity is of little use.
It is important to understand that brand voice is not only used for longer text content, such as guidebook articles, white papers or corporate e-books. Rather, it applies to all elements that use language in some form and therefore also influences how you name navigation points, or how an error message is formulated.
These mini- and micro-texts are referred to in professional circles as "user experience writing" or "UX writing". Such inconspicuous elements can be decisive for a successful user experience and thus contribute to your success or that of your company.
Besides, we're not just talking about your own website here. Think about your social media profiles or your advertising campaigns, for example. Here, too, you want to present a consistent, comprehensible image. After all, it's highly confusing if someone is sent from a loose and fluffy social account to an extremely dull website. That doesn't fit together. There can be exceptions, but they should be well considered.
If you want to make yourself interesting for new employees ("employer branding"), for example, you can adapt the rules and guidelines a bit. Nevertheless, your appearance should not suddenly show a completely different character.
And last but not least, a brand voice is helpful when many different people, departments or even external service providers work on your content. Sometimes, texts are written by people who are not responsible for content - for example in the case of error messages contributed by an external agency. This quickly comes across as inconsistent and unprofessional.
At the same time, such a brand voice is not only worthwhile and important for larger companies or agencies, but also for freelancers. After all, it is your chance to stand out positively and to convey exactly those qualities that your future clients are looking for. You can even influence who associates with them, therefore who contacts you and who does not.
In summary, a defined brand voice helps you in three ways:
- It can make you stand out from the competition and become more recognizable
- It appeals to your intended target group so that they perceive you (even more) positive
- It provides guidelines for content that you can share with colleagues, external partners and others. Or simply to remind yourself of what you have set out to do
What should you align your brand voice with?
If you want to develop your brand voice, ideally you already know how you want your brand to appear. Maybe there is a so-called mission statement and other basic definitions that you can refer to.
To achieve this, you need to know who belongs to the target group and their expectations. Used correctly, brand voice helps you build a relationship with these people, supported by your content marketing. It is also helpful to look around your field. How do others perform? What do you like? What is rather boring and interchangeable? How can you stand out in a positive way?
It is generally recommended to be "authentic" in this regard, too. What this means, is that it should fit you, the company, the products and offers. A conservative company that suddenly wants to appear young and "edgy" is otherwise quickly reminiscent of the meme "How do you do, fellow kids? Or as content strategist Lauren Pope puts it:
"Your voice needs to be authentic, which means it feels right coming from your brand. If you're a hundred-year-old global banking corporation it'll be jarring if you start to talk like a BuzzFeed listicle."
Another example is freelancers who present themselves like an agency, including an inappropriate representation. This raises false expectations and is very likely to attract unsuitable prospects. Moreover, clients will sooner or later recognise these backdrops as such - not exactly a confidence-building measure.
Copywriter Natalia Toborek sums it up as follows - a brand voice is found in the intersection between your unique voice and personality on the one hand, and how you want to present yourself to your (potential) customers on the other hand. So both combined play a role. What makes you or your company unique and what appeals to your intended target group?
Develop Brand Voice
The important question is how to develop and find your own brand voice. Content strategist Lauren Pope sees the following four factors as a foundation:
- Personality- the characteristics and qualities embodied by the Brand Voice
- Tone of voice or tonality - the feelings or moods conveyed
- Rhythm - the tempo and the structure
- Vocabulary- the words used
Let's take a closer look at these four points:
The personality should fit the values and goals of the company. This does not only mean that it should be "authentic", as described above. It also means to directly support the goals and strategy. So don't choose a voice based (solely) on what you like best or what seems to be in vogue at the moment.
Lauren Pope also recommends not just defining the personality through adjectives, but by writing a character description. This is to help everyone slip into that character when writing something. Concrete examples of how these personality traits play out are helpful.
The tonality, in turn, transforms the personality to fit the situation - just as we as humans have one voice and one character, but can sound different depending on the situation. In Brand Voice, tone of voice is meant to convey certain feelings or moods and varies them based on personality.
Therefore, it is important to know your target group well. What do these people want or need? How would they like to be addressed? What do they find, quite literally, appealing in their situation? Ideally, you should include in the guidelines who you want to address and what you want to convey with your tone. Again, examples are helpful.
The third factor, rhythm, determines the effect of a text more than you may realize. For example, concise statements need short sentences. The previous sentence is an example of this. But with short sentences alone, the text seems choppy. It sounds more like a telegram. In the long run, this becomes tiring.
This is where the structure comes into play, which provides variety now and then. With the length and structure of your sentences alone, you can influence the effect of your text - fast and loud, leisurely and quiet... So you can strengthen or weaken what you have planned in terms of personality and tonality.
Last but not least, vocabulary refers to which words you use and which not. Here, too, the target group plays a decisive role. Should the general public be addressed or people with specialist knowledge? Here, too, there can be variations depending on the application and context. You address private individuals differently than corporate clients, for example.
Here it can make sense to define a certain vocabulary and also to note which terms should not be used because they are misleading, for example. At this point, keyword research can help you to find exactly the terms that your target group uses. See the article Guide to Keyword Research.
Record in writing
With these four points, you are already well on your way. An article in the Content Science Review also recommends recording the results in writing. This applies especially to large organizations, so that everyone involved is on the same page. This also applies to freelancers, in my opinion, because such details can easily get lost in everyday life or are forgotten a few months later.
Examples and templates
- A well-known example of practice comes from MailChimp.Their specifications on "Voice and Tone" are embedded in a comprehensive content style guide. Further examples of such and similar guidelines are gathered on this site
- An additional suggestion can be the Twitter Brand Voice Worksheet. Although it refers to tweets, it can be adapted well for other use cases
- You can copy this Google Doc from HubSpot. As you can see, it is very simple - it recommends recording three to five characteristics of your brand voice and then adding a description for each. The "Do" and "Don't" columns are examples of what you should and should not do
You can also see from these examples and templates that a brand voice is not as complicated as it may sound in theory. Although you should invest time and effort in your considerations, it is sufficient if a short, clear summary emerges at the end. This is even better, because who wants to read dozens of pages just to write a social media post?