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How to find your brand voice

by copywriter and brand voice developer Bethany Joy

Unless you’re living and working under a rock, you’ve probably heard enthusiastic marketing types throw around the term ‘brand voice’. But what does it really mean and how important is it for your business?

We’ll start with the first part of that question. If you Google ‘brand voice’ you’ll find any number of slightly different interpretations, but my choice of a good, clear, succinct definition is this:

An agreed way of writing that effectively communicates your organisational personality to your audience.

Sounds simple right? Brand voice is really just a fancy term for ‘how we talk about our business’. But let’s dig into that definition just a bit to make sure we’ve really got it nailed.

For example, that inconspicuous little word ‘way’ is actually really important. It’s highlighting that brand voice isn’t about what you say, but how you say it. It’s not content, it’s language - the words you choose and how you arrange them. After all, unless you’re literally the only company on the planet that does what you do, there will be other people who have similar things to say – but it’s how you talk about yourselves and your offering that will set you apart.

The phrase ‘organisational personality’ is pretty significant too, because your voice is something that’s got to be anchored in your identity. It’s not about randomly picking a style or, worse, just copying someone else’s – “Ooh Netflix sound pretty cool and Innocent are very personable, so let’s have a voice like them!” Your voice is supposed to express something of who your company is. It’s one of the ways people get to know you and decide whether or not to buy in, so it needs to be authentic.

We can’t forget ‘audience’ either. After all, your voice isn’t just about you – it’s about the people who are listening. You have to take into account what your audiences are like and choose language that they’ll relate to and be engaged by. You don’t necessarily need to speak exactly like they do – you still need to write in a way that expresses who you are. But you need to be sure that your voice won’t confuse them or put them off.

So now we’ve pinned down the idea, what about the second part of the question – does your business need to care about finding a brand voice? Well, hopefully by this point you’ve noticed something: you’ve actually already got one.

Yep, that’s right. If you use words to describe what your organisation does (and I’ll be keen to hear how you market yourselves if you don’t) then it’s impossible to avoid. You will have made choices about your language, albeit possibly unconscious ones, which combine to give an overall impression of what your business is like. The voice you have now might not be the right one, it might not be consistent and it might be rubbish! But it’s unavoidable. You can’t speak without a voice. So ultimately that means it’s pretty important for your organisation to pay attention to the idea, because there’s no ‘I don’t think we’ll bother with it’ option – your only choice is an effective brand voice or an ineffective one.

So, how do you go about making yours as authentic and compelling as possible? Well, there’s a number of steps in the process and you’ll need more than a quick blog to really crack it - but I’ll just highlight the key points here to get you started.

You need to begin by reminding yourselves (or perhaps properly considering for the first time) who you are and what you’re like as an organisation. What are your values, passions and goals? What’s the personality of your business? You also need to take a look at your audiences. Who are you trying to reach and why? What do you know about them and how they communicate?

Then you start figuring out what your voice needs to sound like in order to connect those two things - what linguistic choices are going to best communicate your personality to your audience. If you’re ‘quirky’, ‘conscientious’, ‘daring’, or ‘kind’, what will that mean for how you write? Should your sentences be short and punchy, or more complex? What kind of vocabulary will you use? Are you going to follow standard grammatical rules? Will you ever swear, or use colloquialisms? Will active or passive verbs serve you best? How much of the jargon of your industry will you use, if any?

There are lots of seemingly small linguistic choices to be made, but they all add up to the sound of a certain type of voice.

So, what’s yours going to be like?

This material was originally delivered as part of a talk at Oxford’s Marketing Camp, a dynamic networking group for local marketing professionals that Allen Associates is proud to sponsor. If you want to join us at the next one, find out more here. You can also learn more about Bethany’s copywriting and brand voice work at www.bethanyjoy.org

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