How to discover your brand voice
Right after I graduated college, I did the one thing I said I’d never do with my English degree: I became a teacher. High School English Language Arts. Wild, I know. As a student, I loved whole group discussions, so I made them a priority when lesson planning. Ahead of every class discussion, I would try to instill confidence in my nervous freshman by reminding them of a simple sentiment.
“Your voice is your superpower,” I would tell them.
I wanted them to feel empowered to speak up and share their opinion on the topic or novel we were discussing – even if it went against the grain of what their peers thought. The magic of class discussions wasn’t always found in what was said, though you’d be amazed at how deeply poetic some teenagers can be. The moments that tended to be the most profound occurred when a quiet student, typically one who barely spoke at all, raised their hand and offered their insight. Watching somebody find their voice and be brave enough to share it with others is one of the most captivating moments to witness.
The same idea applies to brands. When a brand finds a voice that is specific and authentic to them, the audience takes note. No two humans sound the same, nor should two brands. At their core, brands may have similar values or missions, but the way they articulate those ideas to their respective audiences should be specific to them.
If your company has ever undergone a formal branding process, you likely were led through various strategic exercises to help you discover your tone. These exercises are meant to be thought-provoking, honest, and, most important, accurate. If you’re reading this and thinking, “I have no idea what my brand voice is,” or “my company has never done formal branding,” or “great, the company is going under because I don’t know what my brand’s voice is,” take a breath. Inhale. Exhale. Okay, let’s talk about how to get you there.
At AOU Creative, one of the first meetings we have is a brand workshop. These can last anywhere from two to four hours and are designed to lay the foundation for what will become your brand guidelines. Within this block of time, we have dedicated activities for narrowing down and ultimately selecting how you want to present yourself from a messaging standpoint. If you’re curious about what working together could look like, let’s talk.
If hiring a branding agency doesn’t align with your budget at this time, don’t sweat it. There are three questions you can ask yourself/your team to do some discovery work on your own.
Who is our target audience?
There’s an old sales quote that has withstood the test of time. “If you’re speaking to everybody, you’re not speaking to anybody.” It is crucial to know your demographic because that informs the way you message and market your brand. If your target demographic is Gen Z, your brand voice is going to have the opportunity to be playful, witty, and informal. A brand that targets an older generation, regardless of gender, is going to sound completely different. Take a look at how some of the most loved brands by generation sound. What do you notice in the different tones and messaging? How does a brand that targets young adults differ in voice from a brand that targets older adults?
How do we want people to feel when they interact with our brand?
Brand loyalty is built by creating a positive emotional experience with the consumer. According to Katy French, Content Marketing Director at Column Five, brand voice should be indicative of how the brand contributes to the consumer's life. “Think of what your product or service does for people. How does it solve people’s problems or enhance their lives? Your voice should reflect and reinforce that. For example, if you’re a security company that wants to be perceived as a trusted protector, you’d want your voice to be confident and reassuring.” Create a detailed description of how you want someone to feel when they see your brand, use your product, interact with you online, etc. Then, work to cultivate that experience.
What do we want to avoid?
Knowing who you aren’t is just as important as knowing who you are. Creating guardrails for messaging allows you to stay consistent with your voice and gives your team a chance to gut-check any copy collateral before hitting send. Create a list of buzzwords you can’t stand, and phrases that are overused in your industry, and make note of any brands that you don’t particularly like.
We know that crafting the perfect brand voice takes time – and lots of revisions! But understanding who you are, who you speak to, and how you want to sound (or the opposite!) are all fantastic first steps towards communicating effectively and understanding your brand identity.