Every successful brand has a voice. Irrespective of industry or overall size, it’s crucial for businesses to establish a distinct identity. From the social media irreverence of Australian lager companies to the quirkiness of price comparison advertising, certain brands – and industries – have a recognisable tone permeating their public-facing content and communications. We might not explicitly notice it, but we subliminally recognise that website design and content correlates to press releases and billboard advertising.
Humour is perhaps the most obvious example of consistency in building a brand voice. Although it’s subjective and occasionally risky, humour adds personality and warmth to an otherwise faceless corporation. Greggs has developed a knowingly self-congratulatory tone across its advertising and social media platforms, even trolling celebrities and being cheeky to its rivals. But because it’s done in a clearly irreverent way, people engage with it. And in this age of social media, humour is arguably the best way to ensure that advertising or PR campaigns optimise audience engagement and brand awareness.
One voice to rule them all
Some companies spend months defining customer personas and considering how to solve each one’s pain points. They determine how to portray their brand through auditing existing documentation, brainstorming flowcharts and word-association diagrams. Market research often plays a role, as does A-B testing. If eighty per cent of focus group respondents prefer the word ‘integrity’ to the word ‘value’, then integrity ought to appear in all subsequent slogans and bylines. Brand beliefs help to shape the focus of a brand’s voice – honest, helpful, politically correct, etc. They also differentiate a company from its competitors through the use of strong verbs, allegories, and examples.
Other firms take a simpler approach. They place their best writer in charge of all corporate correspondence, from sales letters and marketing brochures to conference speeches and website text. The writer is given (or develops) a basic series of rules – one comma per sentence, no exclamation marks and a self-deprecating sense of humour. Anything subsequently seen by the public will then come across as coherent and unified. Professional writers have unique editorial styles as distinctive as their handwriting or accents, and unless all content is at least edited by the same individual, multiple contributors may lead to mixed messages and brand confusion.
Is building a brand voice really important?
The cynic might ask why any of this matters, but people are surprisingly adept at picking up on tones and sentiments in written content. And building a brand voice is a great way of unifying disparate communications while reinforcing certain connotations. A manufacturer of high-end goods might choose to use the word ‘luxury’ in every product description and advertising strapline, constantly reinforcing connotations of class and exclusivity. Audiences will subconsciously begin to connect advertising straplines with brochure text, potentially thinking of this brand when the word ‘luxury’ comes up in unrelated conversations. Readers and listeners may be able to identify the brand purely by its tone of voice.
Brand voices are also affected by how words are used. If your industry is laden with jargon and acronyms, should each term be explained in brackets the first time it’s used in every brochure or web page? Or should familiarity with these terms be taken as read? Don’t assume that social media users will embrace emojis and abbreviations if desktop website audiences are spared these linguistic shortcuts. Four in ten social media followers contact companies regarding specific questions, and they won’t appreciate the sudden introduction of mocking humour if their previous business experiences involved a sober and considered tone. Consistency is always key when building a brand voice.