Ever started a new book and then just found that you couldn’t go on and abandoned it?
The cover may have been beautifully designed, the genre is exactly what you’re into and the advertising has sold you a tale of intrigue and excitement? Yet, when it came to the actual story, it just felt flat. It didn’t captivate and was hard work to get past the first chapter. It’s a pretty disappointing experience — and one that doesn’t apply exclusively to literature.
Many brands suffer this exact syndrome. They have a stunning visual identity, they sit well in their sector and market themselves as the best choice for you. But when you get into the deeper experience —whether on or offline — the story falls into an abyss of corporate, disengaged language that fails to inspire audiences to engage.
Media and technology are in a state of perpetual evolution; contemporary audiences are exposed to a myriad of brand messages through a multitude of channels. This exposure is driving a change in consumer perspective — with people becoming more discerning about what they engage with. Which inevitably means that brand language must become more sophisticated in the way that it connects with audiences.
While many sectors are riding this wave of communication with great skill and agility, many still fall foul of inherent bad habits. Most commonly we experience the worst kind of brand voice in B2B brands where messaging is often influenced from the internal corporate voice — rather than the audience perspective. This is short sighted indeed, as the old guard of B2B marketing and communications are being left behind by more progressive thinking; one that rejects a ‘business to business’ communication strategy in favour of a more meaningful ‘business to human’ approach. After all, even if your brand is aiming to sell its benefits and capabilities to another business, it will inevitably need to first capture the attention of a human.
Embracing a more authentic and meaningful brand voice — particularly if your brand is communicating in a sector that is rather complacent in its messaging strategy — can swiftly carve a distinct territory that leaps ahead of the competition and builds stronger brand narratives with audiences.
To help you create brand language that shines out from the drab chatter, we’ve compiled 5 tips to get you started on your journey.
1. Ask your brand some tough questions
Self reflection is essential to start this journey. Brands need to look inwards to truly understand who they are — and why they matter to their audiences. Start by looking at the current personality your messaging expresses. Does it reflect the essence of your product or service?
Think about how you feel when you read an excerpt of marketing language or the about section of your website. Do you feel confident or enthusiastic? If not, then unpack what your are feeling and use it as a springboard to improve the language. Does your brand voice speak consistently across all your communications? Naturally, some aspects of the brand language will use a different cadence depending on the context of its use — but the overall tone of voice should remain consistent.
Think about your clients’ experience. Is your copy written for them, or for you? Do you start all your statements with ‘We’? Setting the scene and demonstrating that you are genuinely aligned with your clients can make a seismic difference to your brand’s audience perception. So, think about using the client lens to validate your brand communications and ensure that they resonate sincerely.
2. Do the research
Explore your competitor landscape to see how other brands in your sector speak. Look for commonalities, traits that merge into a homogenous voice across the competitor communications. See who’s doing it differently and better. Ask why are you more engaged with some over others. Think about where you can set a different standard and tone among all the noise.
Go out of sector. Just because you operate in an industrial sector doesn’t mean you can’t improve your brand voice by casting your observational net wider — and examine how leading technology brands use language to engage their audiences. It’s important to think beyond the confines of your brand’s experience if you are to achieve success and shake the cage of competitors so that they have to play catch up.
Reach out to your audience. If you want to know what resonates — what inspires them, what repels them — simply ask those who you intend to speak to. Build an online survey that can be extended to a wide range of participants. Craft questions sets that will provide the evidence to make significant change in the way your brand communicates. Conduct forums and workshops with clients and suppliers. Find out what they want to hear and what they best respond to. Use these sessions to pilot new language — and test the effects and responses on your audience.
3. Build a foundation
Without this your house will surely fall down, so make sure you have integrity and fortitude to the structure of your brand voice. Establish a clear personality to guide your brand voice. Develop clear traits that help guide the overall personality and think of your brand as a human being. Qualify this with audience personas that will regularly engage with it.
Create an authentic tone of voice that all messaging will adhere to. Naturally, this will be informed by the research. So if your results determine that your tone of voice is clever, friendly and inspiring rather than professional, authoritative and succinct, then so be it. As long as your tone of voice is genuine and verified by those who engage with your brand, it’ll do just fine.
Above all, be authentic. Your audience will see right through a pretentious and disingenuous brand voice so be true to your research and your client’s objective guidance. A genuinely client first brand voice that delivers on its brand promise should demonstrate a sincere brand purpose that naturally resonates and builds trust.
4. Put it into context
Look at where your brand voice will live. Think about the different situations and scenarios that it must address to effectively connect with audiences. Understand that it’s not a case of one size fits all and make the language flex and expand to resonate through numerous channels.
Consider your communication hierarchy. From internal communications in emails and memos to external facing messaging in social media, digital advertising, website and through to printed collateral. Brand voice must be refined to such a degree that it seamlessly addresses content and context in more ‘functional’ communications as well as more seemingly dynamic ‘promotional’ communications while always remaining resonant with the specific audience.
Your brand voice needs to perform with nuance depending on where and when it speaks — but must always maintain an overall consistency in tone and sentiment.
5. Keep fit
The effort around brand voice is an ongoing process of maintenance and guidance. To best manage the consistent and authentic expression of your brand voice its essential to build guidance around it. In the same way a brand’s visual standards guideline will make sure the visual identity is kept in check, a brand voice guideline will help maintain standards in brand language and messaging — throughout all communication touch points.
A comprehensive brand voice guideline will help those writing to craft copy consistently and effectively according to the various channels. They should contain instruction on all aspects of the brand voice — from personality and tone of voice to internal and operational communications. The best writing guides don’t just tell you how you should write but show you in examples, bring the brand voice to life in a number of different forms. However, they shouldn’t just be thought of as instruction manuals but rather as inspiration pieces — ones that engage writers in the mindset that drives the brand voice and allows them to contribute to its expression.
The engagement piece should extend beyond a hefty PDF guideline. Induction sessions and brand language workshops can be excellent methods of both inspiration and education, for both new starters to an organisation as well as creative partners. They can also be beneficial in the ongoing measurement and evolution of a brand voice, which in the same way as the market, should never sit still.
Investing in brand voice will inevitably pay dividends to a business. Building stronger connections with audiences to ensure it is still relevant — and most importantly, resonates.
If you’d like to know more, let’s talk.