Brand Voice Matters. Here’s How to Make Yours Great

A lot of small businesses are running around out there with multiple personalities – or no personality at all.

In marketing, a business’s personality is known as its brand voice. Done right, brand voice tells audiences everything they need to know. It establishes the company in customers’ minds as a friend they want to engage with.

A business that ignores its brand voice flings unintentional messages into the wind like confetti. Audiences have no idea what the business is all about – or worse, they have the wrong idea.

Brand voice is not optional. It exists with or without your input. Your business is sending messages by its very existence, and audiences are interpreting those messages as they will.

And if your solution to that is to clamp down and make sure all your messaging is as neutral and vanilla as possible, you’ll be about as memorable as a water cracker in a five-star buffet.

Brand voice is not optional. It exists with or without your input. Your business is sending messages by its very existence, and audiences are interpreting those messages as they will.

KNOW YOURSELF, KNOW YOUR BRAND

To start, it helps to think of your business like a person. Not just an extension of yourself, but its own person separate from you.

Some companies personify their brand as a character or spokesperson – like Flo from Progressive Insurance, the Trix Rabbit, or Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. You can create a character if it helps you, even if you never make it public.

With your person in mind, ask yourself these questions. Write down your answers.

  • How old are they?
  • How do they dress?
  • What kind of music do they like? Favorite song?
  • What kind of movies and TV shows do they watch?
  • Do they read? What?
  • How do they spend their free time? Hobbies?
  • How educated are they?
  • What is important to them?
  • What feeling or idea do they love?
  • What feeling or idea do they hate?
  • How do their friends describe them?
  • What are five words they use all the time?
  • What are five words they would never use?
  • What is the best gift they could ever receive?
  • What celebrity or historical person do they admire?

Give your character goals and values that mirror the goals and values of your business. For example, Flo is obsessed with being helpful and with saving money. These reflect Progressive’s positioning as a high-value, low-cost insurance provider.

Ask yourself why your business exists. (It’s not just to make money.) What is its purpose in the world? And what drives it to pursue that goal?

brand voice template

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

To create a brand voice your customers relate to, sound like someone they trust. Think about your customer personas. How do they talk? What do they talk about? What is important to them?

Use words your customers use in their everyday speech. If they say, “grab a bite” and you say “dine,” you create a disconnect. Colloquialisms, slang, even profanity can fit the way some brands talk to their customers. It’s about matching the voice you created in step one with the way your audience is comfortable being addressed.

Don’t try too hard to sound just like your customer, though. They have to see enough value in your expertise to buy what you are selling. Speak to them in a way that makes them feel comfortable and understood, but instead of sounding like their buddy, try to sound like someone they respect and listen to.

Ask yourself why your business exists. (It’s not just to make money.) What is its purpose in the world? And what drives it to pursue that goal?

DON’T BE A ROBOT 🤖

Just because you have a brand voice does not mean your messages all sound exactly the same.

Think of your own voice. You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You use a different tone when you’re excited than when you’re sad. Your tone when you’re making your friends laugh is different from your tone when you’re giving them advice.

Your brand voice has a variety of tones as well. Tone can change based on the situation, the subject, and the goal of the communication. But it still rings true to the way your personified business would speak.

Having a well-developed brand voice makes creating content infinitely easier. From blogs to ads to social media, you have a clear sense of the topics to address and the language to use.

Carefully document all of your insights and guidelines for how your brand communicates so everyone who creates content for your company can speak in a consistent voice.

Need help figuring all this out? Never fear. I’m here to be Obi-Wan to your Luke. Reach out to start building a content strategy or finding your voice.

Marvel Makes Better Movies Than DC. Here’s What Marketers Can Learn From That

As superhero film geeks (myself included) psych up for the Christmas Day release of “Wonder Woman: 1984,” I had to ponder once again why the comic empire that owns my favorite superhero characters – Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman – does not make my favorite superhero movies.

The last decade has been something of a golden age for superhero movies. Just as Westerns define 1950s cinema and mob movies define the 1980s, the 2010s were the superhero era. But that’s not due to DC – it’s largely due to DC rival Marvel.

When Marvel launched its Avengers franchise with “Iron Man” in 2008, arguably its most popular characters were Spider-Man and The X-Men. Unfortunately for Marvel Studios, Sony owned the rights to Spider-Man and Fox owned X-Men.

So Marvel hung its hopes on Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, SHIELD, and The Incredible Hulk. By and large, non-comic fans had little more than a passing familiarity with this group.

Today, even people who don’t watch superhero movies can recognize these characters. As of April 2020, there were 23 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has grossed a mind-boggling $22.55 billion.

DC tried to follow The Avengers’ success with a similar formula based around its iconic Justice League. Though “Wonder Woman” generated some great buzz, by and large the eight films in the DC film universe have enjoyed neither the financial nor the critical success achieved by the MCU.

There are many reasons Marvel has soared where DC has stumbled. But what lessons can we as marketers learn and apply to our content efforts?

Have a strategy.

One of the most remarkable things about the MCU is its web of connections. Each film stands on its own, but also contains references and ties to other movies in the universe.

Tony Stark’s father worked with Captain America and with Hank Pym. Bruce Banner was trying to duplicate Captain America’s super serum when he turned himself into The Hulk. The Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Vision all had Infinity Stones in different films.

Watching the MCU is like playing Six Degrees of Separation.

The marketing lesson? Don’t throw out a series of one-off pieces. Have a strategy that ties everything together, with each piece building to your own endgame. Echo themes in different pieces so they all connect back to one another.

If you understand your audience, you will choose the right voice. Use that voice consistently, and your audience will trust you.

Know your voice.

When I go see a Marvel movie, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get. Every movie in the franchise includes characters developing through inner conflict; fast-paced action; a blend of serious and lighthearted moments; and a focus on relationships.

When I go see a DC movie, I’m going in blind. Will it be bright and funny like Aquaman? Dark and gritty like The Dark Knight? Will it have a well-developed character like Wonder Woman or thinly plotted caricatures like Suicide Squad?

Your voice is more than the words you use. It’s your style, your tone, and the way your audience feels after they consume your content. Dove has a very different voice from Nike. But both have a style their fans will recognize.

If you understand your audience, you will choose the right voice. If you use it consistently, your audience will trust you. DC’s haphazard style hasn’t earned that trust.

Have a clear story arc.

Remember what I said about every movie in the MCU tying in to the next? There’s a clear story arc, from “Iron Man” in 2008 all the way up to “Endgame” in 2019.

Your customers are also on a story arc. They don’t just pop into being ready to buy from you.

Their journey begins when they discover you – or maybe even earlier, when they first become aware of the problem they need you to solve. They move through several stages before they are ready to buy. The purchase is just the midpoint of the arc; the journey continues through how they use the product and if they are satisfied by it.

Don’t leave customers at a loss for what to do next. Create content for each stage of their journey. Give each piece a clear call to action that leads them to their next phase.

Include character development.

Customers want to see your story arc, too. Now more than ever, people are hungry for a relationship with brands. They want to know who they are giving their money to and how you are using it.

DC’s characters may be iconic, but onscreen they tend to fall flat. My sons realized it was no fun to play Superman games because Superman always wins. It’s boring. Batman is flawed, but he’s generally content to remain that way. He makes no effort to grow through his experiences.

Marvel’s characters, on the other hand, are three-dimensional. They grow and change through their struggles. The Tony Stark who lay gasping in Pepper’s arms at the end of “Endgame” is not the same as the one who announced, “I am Iron Man.” And because audiences had spent a decade watching him develop, his loss was felt all the deeper.

Let down your professional façade, just a little. Show customers the people behind your brand. Tell them your origin story. Give them a glimpse into your vision for the future. Humanize your brand.

The Marvel vs. DC film rivalry is proof it’s not enough to have an iconic property like Batman or Superman. Your customers want good stories delivered in a consistent style. That’s what will elevate them from passive consumers to loyal fans.

Need help figuring this out? Never fear. I’m here to be the Professor X to your X-Men. Get in touch to start building a content strategy or developing a brand voice.

Who Are You? Why Your Business Needs a Brand Voice

red umbrella surrounded by gray umbrellas
Photo by Noah Näf on Unsplash

Who are you?

That sounds like an existential, New Age-type question, but for businesses, it’s firmly rooted in good marketing.

A strong marketing plan is planted in a brand story. It’s who your company is, deep down. It’s your brand’s personality – what it sounds like, what it looks like, what it stands for, and how it makes people feel.

Having a clear, consistent brand voice:

  • Helps create consistency in your messaging. When you start thinking of your brand like a person, you discover the way it should talk – things it would say, things it would never say; the kind of stories it would tell; the topics it would find important. A consistent message over time and across media helps your audience to recognize your brand when they see it.
  • Speaking of media, having a brand personality helps you to decide what media make the most sense for you. It helps you tailor your message to the medium while staying recognizable.
  • Ideally, your brand’s personality is something your Dream Customers can relate to. It echoes elements of their own personality – who they are or, better yet, who they aspire to be – drawing them in to form a true relationship with you. Remember, people buy with their hearts, not their heads. To market effectively, you need to make your audience feel something.

Let’s take a look at a few brands that have done a good job establishing a simple, distinct brand voice.

NIKE

I love talking about Nike because its brand personality is just so recognizable. Who is Nike? It’s simple. Straightforward. From the clean lines of its font to its direct tagline to its iconic logo, Nike is a no-frills, get-it-done brand. Its slogans are short and its ads are almost always a single, strong image, usually in black-and-white.

If Nike was a person, based on its marketing, I would describe it as determined, hard-working, serious, and disciplined.

BURGER KING

Burger King is that one really weird friend the rest of the group likes but doesn’t quite get. Its advertising is quirky, irreverent, and frankly a little bizarre. From that creepy guy in the King mask to the infamous moldy Whopper ad, Burger King is establishing itself as an expect-the-unexpected brand. This carries through offbeat ideas for product offerings (chicken in the shape of a French fry, anyone?) and location design (I love the exit door that says, “No, don’t leave!”)

If Burger King was a person, I’d say it was interesting, off-the-wall, and kind of weird, but always honest and true to itself.

PATAGONIA

Patagonia is a brand that really prides itself on walking the talk. It has firmly established itself as outdoorsy, rugged, and a defender of the environment. Patagonia is a really interesting branding study because those attributes are not just part of a campaign or brand voice developed by the marketing team – they pervade the company culture, influencing its charitable work and how it treats its employees.

If Patagonia was a person, I’d describe it as healthy, nature-loving, outdoorsy, and grassroots liberal.

AMAZON

Amazon is kind of the elephant in every room where conversations about business and branding are taking place. The behemoth can barely remember its early days as an online bookstore (can you?). Today, Amazon has fingers in so many pies it could count to a thousand with its shoes on.

But what links all those ventures together? Who is Amazon, from a brand perspective? If Amazon was a person, I would describe it as ambitious, tech-savvy, visionary, and driven.

So going back to your brand – who are you? Not you, personally, but your company (unless, of course, you are your brand, which, if you are a solopreneur, is entirely possible).

But why does your brand need a voice? Isn’t it enough to just tell people what you do?

Well, honestly, you could do that. Some companies do OK without a unique voice. But most don’t. And even those that do could probably do better if they spent some time developing their brand.

A voice allows you to be creative in your messaging without worrying about turning off your Dream Customers. As long as you remain true to yourself and what you stand for as a company, your messages will resonate.

Need help figuring this out? Never fear. I’m here to be the Gandalf to your Frodo. Get in touch to start planning your content strategy or building your brand voice.