By Erika Heald published October 15, 2015

5 Easy Steps to Define and Use Your Brand Voice

define-use-brand-voice-cover

If your logo didn’t appear with your content, could your audience identify the content as coming from your brand? Would someone viewing your content on different channels know it all came from the same brand?

If you’re not careful, you can end up with a random assortment of voices and tones in the content produced across your marketing ecosystem that doesn’t provide a consistent picture of your brand, or even use the same language consistently.

This inconsistent brand experience is more common as an organization grows, and is often exacerbated as external entities such as freelancers and agencies get thrown into the brand’s content-creation mix.

You may be asking why a brand voice matters – isn’t it more important to work hard to make your brand sound more human? A brand voice, though, isn’t about the creation of a non-human voice. It’s about being consistent with the voice you are creating – positioning yourself as an easily identified and authoritative source for your area of expertise. Similarly, a consistent brand voice and vocabulary is essential to implementing localized content and intelligent content strategies effectively.

Luckily, you can create a brand voice chart to help address the issue. I’ve outlined the five steps to establish, create, and maintain a desired brand voice to drive consistency in your content creation efforts.

1. Gather a representative sample of your content

You want to cast a wide net — gather everything from videos to web pages, e-books to your social media calendar. Now, cast a critical eye on the content. Which of these examples could have come from any of your competitors? Set those aside. Your goal is to whittle down your examples to a small group of pieces unique to your brand – examples of the brand voice you want to embody. Print these examples and put up on a whiteboard, grouping together pieces with a similar feel.

2. Describe your brand voice in three words

In the same room as the whiteboard (or with the board visible to all in a virtual environment) work with your key content creators and owners of the brand identity. Review all the selected content as the best examples of the brand voice you want to embody. Discuss common themes across all of those pieces. Group the examples into three related buckets.

If your brand was a person, how would you describe its personality to someone? At this point, also talk about how you would describe your competitors as people, too. Is one of your competitors the class bully? Is another the head cheerleader? How do your brand’s personality traits make you different?

Let’s create an example using these three broad traits:

Define each one further. How do these characteristics show up in audience communication? How do they come across in the kind of content you’re creating? How to they appear in your focused topics? Let’s continue this example:

  • Passionate – expressive, enthusiastic, heartfelt, action-oriented
  • Quirky – irreverent, unexpected, contrarian
  • Authentic – genuine, trustworthy, engaging, direct

3. Create a brand voice chart

With your brand’s voice defined, illustrate how it turns up more concretely in your content with a brand voice chart. It will be an essential reference tool to ensure your content (text and visuals) is consistently using the same voice.

Include three rows for each of the primary characteristics accompanied by three columns – a brief description, do’s, and don’ts. If necessary, add a row for any secondary characteristic that needs a little extra explanation. In this example, “irreverent” is a related word and should be fleshed out so the team is clear on how it is defined (i.e., Does irreverent mean to challenge the status quo or to be snarky?)

brand-voice-chart

4. Ensure your writers understand how to put your brand voice into action

You’ve defined your voice and tone, and shown it in an easy-to-understand chart. How do you get everyone onboard with using it? Meet with the team – anyone who creates content or communications – and walk them through the chart.

Go through some examples of content that hits the mark, and show in real time how you would revise some existing content that isn’t reflective of the defined voice to realign to it. If possible, provide the team with a laminated or card-stock copy of the brand voice chart to keep at their desk for reference. Ensure an electronic version also is available.

5. Revisit and revise the brand voice chart as the company changes over time

A brand voice chart is not meant to be a one-time-set-it-and-forget-it tool. As your brand messaging evolves or new competitors come into your market, it’s good to take a look at the chart and refresh it with new examples.

On a quarterly basis, convene your key content creators and communicators to find out if any voice attributes haven’t been working well or are more aspirational than possible for whatever reason. For instance, many brands initially include “irreverence,” but find that many of their writers are uncomfortable flexing that muscle or that copy is consistently deleted by your key approvers. If that’s the case, it may be time for a voice refresh, or some new do’s and don’ts.

Want to grow your brand’s content marketing in a cohesive manner? You and your team can expand your skills with CMI’s Online Training and Certification program – and start with two free e-courses today.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Author: Erika Heald

Erika has spent the past 15+ years helping technology startups and Fortune 500 organizations define content processes to drive lead generation and customer loyalty by leveraging compelling, shareable, targeted content. Erika led and grew high-performance content marketing teams at Anaplan and Achievers. Connect with her on twitter @sferika or her blog www.erikaheald.com.

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  • Heather Miller

    Great article Erika! I especially like your chart – this makes the brand voice very clear for writers and ensures it’s consistently understood and applied across the organization.

    • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

      Thank you, Heather! As a writer myself, having a voice chart in hand (and going through the documentation process) has definitely helped me feel a lot more confident about the writing style I’m using.

  • MsGravzdigga

    Wow is absolutely dope!

  • MsGravzdigga

    Addendum in regards to the “quirky” characteristic. I host a radio show & a large part of my audience uses slang? So when is okay to use slang ?

    • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

      I’m a firm believer your voice needs to reflect your brand and what will work for your audience. So if you are comfortable with using slang, and it’s a core part of how they communicate, I’d include it.

      • MsGravzdigga

        Thank you…now if I can get my other personalities on board, I can have a great show!

  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    Many times when you find your voice others will wish you hadn’t. You could point out their shortcomings, for instance, or make it clear that your services are better than theirs.

    I think the common characteristic that links all these voice together is confidence. If you don’t have that, why listen to you?

    • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

      I think having a well-defined brand voice can provide your writers with that confidence in writing for the brand, definitely.

  • Mike Myers

    Very cool, Erika. Tools like your chart also make sharing and institutionalizing a brand’s voice easier, even as the organization gets larger. Well done!

    • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

      Thanks, Mike! I try to create a voice chart as one of my very first to do’s when starting a new job or taking on a new client. Definitely makes life a lot easier for the content team.

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  • Maria Babchenko

    Dear Erika, thank you for sharing your awesome, concise and super useful brand voice chart! I’m sure that each of us, your peer marketers, will benefit a lot from it.

    • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you found it to be useful!

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