Find Your Brand Voice

How to Get Into Character and Develop Standards to Stay There

The purpose of building a strong brand is to create a distinct impression on your target audience so that you earn their attention and affection and drive them to make a purchase. To get there, you need to consider branding at every turn, and that includes your brand voice.

Brand voice is shorthand for “how your brand talks,” and it’s on display in all your non-visual communications, including website copy, social media posts, marketing emails, sales decks, conference presentations, product instructions, advertisements, press releases, and more. Voice plays a major role in how your brand is regarded, so it’s important to be strategic about it. Ensuring your voice reflects the personality and perceptions you want your audience to associate with your brand takes work and planning. This article will walk you through the process of determining your brand’s voice and developing standards so that everyone on your team is equipped to use your brand voice correctly.

Identify Your Brand Personality

You can’t know how you should communicate until you know who you are, which is why the first step to determining brand voice is identifying your brand’s personality. A well-defined personality will help you connect with your target audience on a deeper, more personal level. The opposite—trying to be all things for all consumers—often has the effect of falling flat or generic and appealing to no one.

One way to identify your brand personality is to start with your brand archetype. Brand archetypes are based on psychologist Carl Jung’s theory that there are 12 universal characters that help us organize and understand the spectrum of human personalities. At some point, marketing-minded people applied those archetypes to branding. Here they are in no particular order:

  • The Innocent
    • Brands that want to spread happiness. They can be joyful, virtuous, and sometimes naïve.
  • The Hero
    • Brands that want to change the world for the better or help others effectuate change. They are often confident, inspirational, and honorable.
  • The Outlaw
    • Brands that buck the rules, question the status quo, and inspire others to do the same. They are non-conformist, change-hungry, and maybe a little wild.
  • The Everyman
    • Brands that want to connect with consumers and provide a sense of belonging. They are often approachable, friendly, and folksy.
  • The Explorer
    • Brands that revel in discovery and adventure and help people have new experiences. They can be trailblazing, self-determined, and sometimes thrill-seeking.
  • The Creator
    • Brands that are driven to make things of enduring importance that empower people to achieve their goals. They are typically ambitious, entrepreneurial, and inventive.
  • The Ruler
    • Brands that organize or bring stability and security to disorder. They are likely to be take-charge, pragmatic, and meticulous.
  • The Magician
    • Brands that want to create the unthinkable and change what people consider possible. They are often visionary, imaginative, and sometimes spiritual.
  • The Lover
    • Brands that inspire moments of intimacy, passion, and/or sensual or romantic pleasure. They can be warm, luxurious, and/or hedonistic.
  • The Caregiver
    • Brands that encourage wellness or protection. They tend to be compassionate, nurturing, and possibly empowering.
  • The Jester
    • Brands that promote fun and good humor. They are seen as joyful, lighthearted, and sometimes irreverent or sarcastic.
  • The Sage
    • Brands that help people understand the world or some aspect of it. They lean toward being informational, trusted, and analytical.

Which archetype feels most authentic to your mission and who you are as an organization? Which archetype would your audience best respond to? Which archetype would best effectuate the emotional response you want to evoke? These are the questions you should ask yourself to arrive at the right archetype for your brand.

Once you’ve selected an archetype, the work of applying it to your brand begins. Just as you would create a buyer persona for your audience, you’ll want to create a fully formed personality for your brand inspired by the traits and motivations particular to your archetype. To get there, consider the following questions as if your brand was a person:

  • What is your brand’s “backstory” (not the backstory of your company, but the backstory of your anthropomorphized, fictional brand persona)?
  • What are its fears, goals, desires, values, and motivations?
  • How does your brand feel about specific issues that are important to your audience and industry?
  • How does your brand approach life? What’s its attitude toward the everyday?
  • How does it act in scenarios relevant to your audience and industry?
  • If your brand had a motto, what would it be?

Use your answers to sketch your personality, which can even be as short as a sentence or two as long as it is specific.

Determine Your Voice

Once your brand personality is mapped out, you are ready to develop guidelines for applying that personality to your communications.

Consider how the personality you sketched would talk and comport itself if it were an actual personal. Then, with your brand personality in mind (along with other pertinent branding elements like your mission and brand position), develop a list of key perceptions you want to come across in all your communications. Key perceptions can either be descriptors (e.g., smart, curious, approachable, confident, etc.) or themes—that is, things that don’t necessarily describe your brand but represent ideas you want associated with your brand because of what your brand offers consumers (e.g., simplicity, mobility, possibility, etc.). Then, flesh out full descriptions for each key perception so that anyone trying to adhere to your voice has to guess at their meaning.

For example, if one of your key perceptions is smart, your description might read: “We are thought leaders in our industry. Our customers trust us to provide sound answers and insights.” If one of your key perceptions is simplicity, your description might read: “We reduce stress and make life easier for our customers.”

Develop Guidelines

From there, figure out how you can communicate your key perceptions through the actual conventions of writing. If your brand is confident, for example, you might standardize use of the active voice and discourage use of hedging words like seem, may, indicate, and might that soften messaging. Or, If simplicity is one of your brand’s key perceptions, you might decide to use short, everyday words whenever possible to get your message across with ease. For each key perception, you’ll want to develop a list of style and grammar dos and don’ts and capture them all in an official brand voice guide.

In your brand voice guide, it can also be useful to include a list of on-brand words and phrases that support your key perceptions. Other helpful elements include:

  • Your archetype and personality
  • A table documenting your key perceptions and their descriptors and associated dos and don’ts
  • An are/not list (e.g., “We are confident, not arrogant. We are smart, not academic,” etc.)
  • Examples of your brand voice in action—either taken from actual materials or written specifically for the guide.
  • A checklist people can use to self-evaluate their work for brand voice alignment

Once your brand voice is established and documented, you’ll be in a much better place to humanize your brand and authentically connect with (and sell to) your customers—prospective and repeat alike.

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