What is a brand voice? Plus, 7 tips to develop one

Whitney Vige headshotWhitney VigeOctober 31st, 20229 min read
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Summary

Your brand’s voice is its personality. And just like your personality makes you unique and attracts like-minded friends, your brand’s personality can help it stand out and build a strong customer base. Here’s how. 

When you think about how your favorite brand communicates, what comes to mind? Is the brand funny? Inspirational? Relatable? Does the brand’s content make you feel empowered or uplifted? Does it surprise you or challenge you? 

How a brand communicates—what the brand says and the way the brand says it—is all part of a brand’s voice. A clear, defined brand voice can help grow brand recognition and foster customer loyalty. In fact, 88% of marketers believe that brand language helps their brand connect with customers—which in turn means better customer engagement, increased retention, and increased sales. 

What is a brand?

A brand is the character of a company. It’s a company’s identity and public face, often portrayed through elements such as the brand’s logo, color palette, imagery, and, of course, brand voice.    

What is a brand voice?

Brand voice is the distinct way your brand communicates and presents itself. Your brand’s voice should complement your overall company values and speak to your target audience in a way that aligns with and engages them. 

A well-crafted brand voice is distinct; it’s recognizable as belonging to the specific brand. Because of this, developing a consistent, compelling brand voice can help your brand cut through marketplace noise—and stand out among competitors. 

What’s the difference between a brand’s voice and a brand’s tone?

Brand voice and brand tone might sound the same, but they’re actually two distinct elements that make up a brand—and you have to account for both when developing your brand messaging.

Brand tone is the specific phrasing and attitude your brand uses to communicate. Unlike brand voice, which never changes, brand tone shifts depending on context and what’s suitable for the message, medium, or situation. Brand tone adds nuance to your messaging—ensuring it’s appropriate for the situation and the audience.

Think of it this way: How you act depends on the situation you’re in. When you’re chatting with your peers and colleagues about a project, you’re probably pretty casual and open. When you’re presenting that same project to a client, you’ll likely conduct yourself more formally. You’re still you—nothing about your personality has changed. Instead, you’ve changed how you present yourself to be more appropriate for the situation. 

That’s how brand tone works. By adjusting your brand’s tone to match the situation, you can ensure you’re always communicating in a way that’s on-brand (aka, in your brand’s voice) while also providing needed nuance. A few reasons you might use a different tone of voice in your messaging include:

  • You’re speaking to different audiences, such as consumers versus c-level executives, or internal stakeholders versus external customers.

  • You're creating messaging for different mediums, such as content for social media posts versus for a newsletter.

  • You need to adjust your tone to match the context of the messaging—for example, when you’re announcing a product launch versus a hiring freeze.

Why is brand voice important?

You can probably rattle off traits that make up your personality—after all, your personality defines who you are and is what makes you unique. Your brand’s personality—showcased by your brand’s voice—does the same thing. 

Brand voice helps your brand stand out in a crowded landscape, as well as build and retain your audience base. Your brand’s voice helps you: 

  • Stand out from your competitors. Thirty-three percent of consumers say a distinct personality is the main reason a brand stands out from others. In today’s crowded marketplace—where consumers are busy and brands struggle to get noticed—that can mean the difference between gaining or losing a customer. 

  • Connect with your customers. Customers crave connection—in fact, 86% of consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support. Crafting a brand voice that aligns with your brand’s values and resonates with your audience in an honest, authentic way helps foster trust and connection. 

  • Create a consistent brand identity. We’re in the omnichannel age; the days of having one touchpoint per customer are over. Now, consumers are likely to start searching for something on their phone, finish researching on a computer, and buy at a brick-and-mortar store. And a hefty 90% of customers say they expect their interactions with brands to be consistent across all channels. The bottom line? Creating and maintaining a consistent brand voice across all your channels creates a better customer experience for your audience, increasing the likelihood that they’ll convert.

  • Build brand recognition and loyalty. Want your customers to keep coming back? Brand voice is a big part of that. A strong brand voice is the foundation of a memorable brand—and research shows that brand recognition is directly linked to brand loyalty. The takeaway? A defined brand voice helps cultivate customer loyalty and build brand trust—which means a stronger consumer base and, ultimately, higher conversion rates. 

Distinct brand voice examples

Still not quite sure what a defined, unique brand voice sounds like? We’ve got you. Here are a few examples of brands that have perfected their personality.

Apple: Confident, direct

Apple’s brand messaging is confident, assured, and direct. No matter where consumers engage with the brand—on their website, on social media, or in store—their messaging is clean, simple, and clear. Apple uses short, punchy verbiage to convey a sense of confidence and quality, demonstrating that they’re a leader in the space without coming off as arrogant.

Examples: 

  • Privacy. That’s iPhone.

  • No wonder your selfies look so good.

Skittles: Humorous, mischievous

Skittles uses irreverent humor to engage with their audience. From their cheeky Twitter account, where the brand often exchanges barbs with or makes fun of their followers, to wacky TV ads and tongue-in-cheek website copy, Skittles has built rapport with their audience and cemented themselves as a brand that consumers can have fun with. 

Examples:

  • The official candy of pogchamps. Sorry mom, you can’t pause it!

  • People who are quarantining without Skittles... What are you trying to prove?

Dove: Empowering, kind 

Dove is all about promoting real, authentic beauty—and it shows in the brand’s messaging. The brand’s website copy, social accounts, and ads use empowering, inclusive language to empathize and connect with consumers. The result? The brand has become recognizable for its emphasis on confidence and self-esteem at all ages and in all stages of life—which has attracted customers and built a loyal brand base. 

Examples:

  • We see beauty all around us.

  • Let’s change beauty.

Harley-Davidson: Strong, rebellious

Harley-Davidson is a brand that knows their audience: riders who value freedom, independence, and individuality. To create a connection, the brand uses a voice that’s daring, aspirational, and often rebellious. By using bold language that connects to how Harley-Davidson consumers see themselves, the brand is able to showcase how their products complement and facilitate that lifestyle, spurring customer loyalty. 

Examples:

  • All for freedom. Freedom for all.

  • United we will ride.

  • Grab life by the bars.

7 tips for developing your company’s brand voice 

Not sure where to start? Try these seven strategies for developing a brand voice that will connect with your audience and help your brand stand out. 

1. Audit your current messaging 

A big part of developing your brand voice is understanding what you’re starting with, so you can build on what’s working and scrap what isn’t. To start, look at the different channels you use for brand messaging—like your website, your social media accounts, in-store messaging, and out-of-home advertising. Then, ask yourself:

  • How is the brand coming across?

  • Is your messaging in line with your product and your brand’s values?

  • Has the messaging changed as the brand has evolved? 

  • Where is there room for improvement or realignment? 

  • Are there any inconsistencies (especially across channels)? 

If you can, pull together a report to determine what brand messaging is performing well (and what isn’t). What are your most trafficked pages or your most liked posts? Where—and how—are customers engaging with the brand? This will give you a good idea of the type of content your audience likes—and what might not resonate with them. 

2. Review your company’s mission statement

Your company’s mission statement describes your company’s main purpose and collective goals, so it’s a great starting point for developing your brand voice. After all, what your company aims to accomplish is directly linked to how it should communicate with customers. 

Let’s say you run a fitness company with the goal of educating consumers on healthy habits and empowering them to meet their fitness goals. Based on the company’s mission statement alone, you already have two key pieces about your company’s personality figured out—it’s educational and empowering. From there, you can build out your brand voice to connect to those brand attributes—likely settling on a brand voice that’s helpful, inclusive, and welcoming. 

3. Review your company’s core values

Like your company’s mission statement, core values set the foundation for your company’s voice by helping you determine characteristics that make up your company’s personality (aka your company’s brand). If clarity and authenticity are core values for your company, you’ll want your brand voice to reflect that—for example, by crafting a voice that’s straightforward, honest, and reliable. 

Let’s look at a real-world example. Starbucks’ core company values include creating an inclusive, warm culture; connecting with transparency; and being present. You can see those values represented in the company’s expressive brand voice that’s designed to spark joy and facilitate connection through casual, fun, and welcoming language. 

4. Conduct a competitor analysis

How your competitors communicate with their audience can spark inspiration for how you might want to communicate—or avoid communicating—with your own. Take a look at your main competitors and note how they speak and engage with their consumers. What type of language do they use? How would you describe their overall communication style? Do you see overlap, or do competitors use different communication styles and strategies? Make note of what you feel is working and where you see room for improvement. This can serve as a jumping-off point for crafting your own brand voice. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating your competitors’ communication styles: 

  • What type of language are they using? Is their verbiage straightforward or flowery? Are they acting as a friend or an authority? 

  • What type of emotions does the copy generate? Does it make you feel surprised, empowered, happy, or nostalgic? 

  • How does each competitor’s mission statement and core values play a role in their brand voice? Can you see a connection between each company’s purpose and how they communicate with their audience? 

  • What common themes do you see with your competitors’ brand voices? How can you differentiate your brand from what they’re already doing?

5. Research your audience 

How you speak to your audience will depend on who you’re speaking to. After all, demographics—such as age, sex, or occupation—influence the type of content and language the audience will be receptive to. 

Let’s consider a real-world example. Think about the last time you were at a family gathering. Did you speak to your grandmother the same way you chatted with your Gen Z niece? Probably not. That’s because what connects with them is likely different. Crafting your brand voice based on your audience is the same concept. 

A strong understanding of your audience’s communication preferences—including the type of media they consume and the kind of language they’re drawn to—will help you craft a brand voice that resonates with your target consumers, building trust and engagement. 

Start by creating a buyer persona—a fictional profile that represents your target customer. Answer basic demographic questions about their age, sex, and occupation—plus more in-depth queries about their personality, motivations, and frustrations. You should also consider how your target audience consumes information, and how they communicate. Are they digital natives? Do they prefer in-person communication? Are they formal or informal; funny or strict? The answers to these questions will help you craft a brand voice tailored to your consumers.

[inline illustration] Buyer persona (example)

6. Decide what your brand voice isn’t

Another step in determining what your brand voice is? Figuring out what it isn’t. This can help you gain clarity around the type of language you’ll use in your brand voice—as well as what to avoid. 

To start, make a list of adjectives or descriptors you don’t want associated with your brand’s voice. If you’re not sure where to start, hold a creative brainstorm or take another look at your brand’s mission and values. Your list might look something like this:

  • Our brand voice is not stuffy.

  • Our brand voice is not alienating. 

  • Our brand voice is not self-important.

  • Our brand voice is not strict.

Then, consider how you can use this list as a jumping off point for what your brand voice should be. To round out this example, your brand voice statement might look something like this:

  • Our brand voice is transparent, inclusive, and authentic. It’s friendly, conversational, and connects with consumers on a human level.

7. Develop brand voice guidelines 

Once you have a good idea of what your brand voice sounds like, flesh it out further by creating official brand voice guidelines. Often called a brand voice chart or a brand voice template, your guidelines should describe your brand voice and serve as direction for writing for your brand.

Here’s what to include in your brand voice guidelines:

  • A statement describing your brand voice. For example: Our brand voice is transparent, inclusive, and authentic. It’s friendly, conversational, and connects with consumers on a human level.

  • Between three and five characteristics describing your brand. For example: Authentic, inclusive, friendly.

  • A description of what each characteristic might sound like in brand messaging. For example: Inclusive: we’re welcoming and warm to our audience. We’re approachable and understanding. We use empathetic language and celebrate diversity.

  • Actionable tips on how to specifically demonstrate the characteristic. For example: Do: Use inclusive language. Be respectful. Acknowledge differences. Don’t: Be exclusionary. Overuse jargon. 

Once you’ve defined your brand’s voice, create a document that outlines best practices to ensure everyone is aligned on how the brand should communicate and present itself. Similar to a style guide, this document should provide specific examples of how to use both the brand voice and brand tone, depending on the medium and context. 

Stand out with a defined brand voice  

Developing a strong, defined brand voice showcases your brand’s unique personality and helps build brand recognition and customer loyalty. And that’s something every brand needs.    

Brand voice is an important part of creating a memorable brand—but it’s just the start. To really get noticed, you have to get your brand messaging out there. Luckily, work management software can help your marketing team coordinate and execute projects, so you can launch the campaigns that will help your brand stand out. 

Try Asana for marketing teams

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