Crafting a Compelling Brand Voice


Photograph of a man and a woman standing in front of a graphic of a speech bubble with quotes around it
Solving for B°
Crafting a Compelling Brand Voice

Your brand voice is more than just the words you use. It's how your brand communicates and resonates with your audience. In this podcast, Chris, Cynthia and Jonathan Fisher delve into what a brand voice is and break down the process for creating one. Explore how your brand's positioning influences your brand voice, how your brand voice impacts customer loyalty and what you need to do to keep your brand's voice consistent.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.

Table of Contents

What is Brand Voice and Why is it Important?

Jonathan Fisher: I think of a brand voice as the sort of characteristics and the style, the phrasing, the personality, if you will, of the brand that is curated through its communications. So, if we think of a brand as a person, their voice includes their language, their vocabulary, their tenor and their mannerisms.

Cynthia Stipeche: The brand voice has to be used consistently so that every time you engage with the brand, you know exactly who you're talking to. And brands have personalities. So that voice and the tone of the voice is very tied into that brand personality.

The Importance of Consistency

Cynthia: All organizations have a target audience. But beyond that, they have very specific types of buyers that are out there, or people that they engage with no matter what their business is. Consistency matters because you want to meet your clients' expectations of their relationship with your brand.

So, why would you want that? It's all about building trust with your brand. And like we say at BrandExtract, our goal is always to inspire belief in brands. Part of the formula to inspire belief is that trust, the consistency of the voice being authentic and really having these deeper conversations with who you're engaging with.

Jonathan: That consistency will build differentiation in the marketplace so that you're not sounding like your competition. Brand voice consistency will also allow you to optimize that voice over time through testing so you can see what performs better or worse through your communications.

When your brand voice is fully aligned with what customers are looking for, that will build and increase the following around the brand. If you're inconsistent and it's erratic, then your customers don't really know what to expect. And you're not managing their expectations along the way.

Cynthia: Having that consistent voice no matter the channel, no matter where you're speaking, needs to make sense so that it's a unified communication message. And like Jonathan said, it's kind of like a stable personality. If you think about a lot of brand voices, sometimes brands are very loud and humorous while others are a bit more serious and introspective and they kind of bring you along.

So you have to think about who your organization is, how you’re going to communicate, and then how you keep it consistent and authentic across all channels and platforms.

Where Brand Voice Matters

Jonathan: Your voice can be both proactive and reactive in nature. It includes handling customer issues, for example, but also in speaking to the media and not just the existing consumer base. What is your press conference going to sound like and is it going to be consistent with the brand's integrity and values?

If you're promising one thing in the recruiting process, your employees get hired and they find a different culture with a different attitude and a different tone and a different voice and its behavior, they’re not going to stick around as long. And there's a huge cost to that replacement and turnover in an organization.

Chris Wilks: Having a consistent voice and a consistent attitude reinforces who you are and what you stand for to your target audience, and it starts to build this comfort, this familiarity where there’s an expectation: “I know what I'm going to get from this brand.”

How Does a Brand’s Position Influence Its Voice?

Cynthia: I would say that the positioning statement plays a major role. It's more than just telling a great story, it's really digging into who the organization is, who they're engaging with, what their business goals are, objectives, everything, what they're selling.

Jonathan: Take United Airlines versus Southwest Airlines: Two companies with very different strategic positions in the marketplace. United is not trying to be the cheapest short-haul flyer in the market, but Southwest started their market based on that. United has got business class and first class and Southwest has none of that.

As a result, it’s hard to imagine Southwest taking on the personality and the voice of United, or vice versa. Can you imagine United taking on the humor and that relaxed atmosphere and standing in line and having no assigned positions? 

That strategic brand position heavily influences the characteristics and the voice and the attitude of those brands in the marketplace based on one they've come out with.

We talk about consistency and alignment repeatedly because the thing that builds a brand is consistency and the repetition of that consistency being consistent. So, if you have a positive experience at your car dealership and you go back each time and it's even more positive, you’ll know what to expect: If they say it's a two-hour job, it's a two-hour job. If they say it's 500 bucks, it's 500 bucks.

But if you were to go back each time and it was like a completely different service, and they weren't expecting you and the bill was a surprise, that inconsistency of that delivery is going to affect the voice. 

When you pick a strategic brand position and you determine how you're going to execute against it, that voice should align with it because without it, you're just eroding and breaking the brand promises of that consistency.

The repetition of quality over and over again builds brands and the inconsistency of that repetition of quality (or lack thereof) erodes brands. And so, you're either moving up or moving down in the marketplace based on this concept of consistency. 

Cynthia: That goes back to the brands having personalities and people having relationships with the brand. Sometimes your friend is 15 minutes late to dinner and you're like, “it's okay man,” because you know them. But you probably shouldn't do that all the time, right, but it's a consistent behavior. They know you, they've come to trust you. The whole aspect of trust is important.

Chris: The brand voice plays a critical role in that voice. The positioning is going to kind of dictate who you are, how you speak and the words you use. Are you very formal? Are you informal? The sense of humor, are you very indirect? 

Jonathan: Another point to make about the importance of the voice is, where did that consistency create efficiency? If I know what I'm writing for and how I'm supposed to sound, I don't have to think about it as much. If I have a solid guide for brand standards, defining my voice and my tone is easier and faster and it will be leveraged between them more often.

Cynthia: When we're developing the brand and the tone of the voice and everything else, we provide guidelines to our clients that they can follow, detailing how it's supposed to sound, providing guidelines that they can share with their vendors that they use for whatever they're producing outside of the brand. Because we want for that voice to be consistent across the board in and out of the organization.

Because for example, you might have a writer on staff in-house that maybe writes a little bit more technical. But if someone's writing actual marketing copy and it doesn't sound like the voice, then they should probably go back and review the brand standards and look at the style guide for writing and then say, oh, in the style guide it says that we're friendly and approachable.

That always has to be reviewed and that's why we provide those standards so that you get that unity across the board.

How Do You Develop a Brand Voice?

Jonathan: For a lot of companies, developing a brand voice starts by assessing their current mission, vision, values, which is where most of the core of the company's strategy starts from. How consistent is that? And often, we find that people don't have those things fully aligned or fully consistent to begin with. 

Many companies will confuse values with things they value versus behavior drivers, which are reasons to hire and fire and decision-making tools within a corporate culture. Start with getting those  mission, vision, values aligned with the operations of your company so that you can truly deliver on those promises that you're making.

Then, you start looking at the competitive differentiation that's in the marketplace. What positions are already taken out there? What voices are already being used out there? Do you want to be a copycat? Do you want to be a me-too? Or do you want a unique voice that stands out?

Finally, you have the market: the customer relevance perspective. So, you have to identify the target audiences, build those customer personas, look at those customer journey maps and determine what they're going to experience so that you're writing to fit the models of the delivery.

After you have that three-legged stool, analyze the content you already have. It involves analyzing that personality of the existing voice and deciding how you're going to modify or adjust or change or enhance or correct that. And then pulling that all together so that you can create and articulate that and implement the new voice throughout the institution as you start to execute it.

That lifecycle then constantly resets as you start to learn and adjust or the markets reset or a new competitor comes into the market or your product or services get disrupted.

We like to say you manage your brand, you don't own your brand. Because if you set it and forget it, that value can erode without you even realizing it. And so, we work with clients a lot on predicting and managing the trends in the markets and staying competitive and evolving the brand so that it constantly stays where it needs to be.

Cynthia: When you develop that voice, you're developing a voice not to speak to your customers, but speak with them and understand empathetically what it is that they need. What are you solving for them? What are you providing for them?

Looking at that customer journey map allows us to adjust our messaging still within our voice, but in a way that's really going to resonate with our target audience or buyer personas

Chris: You're going to have to deliver bad news sometimes. You're going to have to deliver good news. You're going to have to deliver very technical things. But if you're saying it all from the same voice, from the same tone, if you're saying the same way like that, it goes back to that consistency piece we were talking about. And that's what makes it so critical.

How Brand Voice Impacts Customer Loyalty

Jonathan: A compelling voice humanizes the brand, and that humanization facilitates a connection. If you are comfortable with it, it's going to make it resonate more strongly with you. I think there's memorability in having a good strong brand voice, and recognizability for that matter.

Even if I only hear an ad from Nike, for example, very shortly in hearing the language and hearing the audio, the way the person is speaking, or if I hear Michael Jordan's voice on an ad, I'm assuming it's Nike. So there's this familiarity, consistency, and it goes back to that impact of those brand touches that we have. 

So I think that can also impact your customer loyalty because you have that brand touch. You know what to expect. You're not in for any surprises.

Cynthia: Certain brands, for example, Harley-Davidson, know their audience. They know exactly who they're talking to. It's probably got a bit more bravado in it, and it's out on the road, a little bit of danger and pushing the edge out there. So, the voice and the tone is aligned to the audience so that they get it. It's an authentic real exchange between a brand and that buyer audience. They know who they're talking to.

Jonathan: That customer satisfaction, that reputation management is all going to be connected to the brand's personality and that customer's willingness to buy more or recommend more or to pay a higher price point or to buy with more frequency.

Those factors have compounding effects on the ROI of the process because if the customer is willing to pay 10% more or buy 10% more often, or if 10% tell their friends about you, all those little incremental additions have huge financial impacts because they're all cumulative to each other.

Keeping Voice Consistent in Evolving Markets

Cynthia: Sometimes social changes happen, where maybe a brand attitude and a brand voice just eventually gets a little out of date, right? I think in the end, ultimately, it requires looking at mission, vision, values, who you are, and thinking about your positioning for the company. 

Brands are like individuals. We evolve, we change, we develop, we mature. And I think that's some of the parts that you take into account with just as time passes, how do you evolve your brand?

Chris: It's also about understanding your brand, right? Having your finger on the pulse of the brand and how its position has evolved. How it has stayed the same? What headwinds face it? 

I would advise against being reactionary to constant changes, because your brand voice should be enduring. However, always staying aware and consistently or regularly taking a fresh look at those factors is important: How are people perceiving us? Are we out of date? Are we out of touch? Does this still have legs?

Jonathan: If you're managing a brand properly, you are actively listening to your customers on a regular basis through a variety of feedback methods and channels.

But you're also keeping tabs on the market itself and the trends that are going on out there, looking at the data, looking at the analysis, the keywords that are being searched, or the financial trends that are evolving with the market. 

You're putting all of those pieces on the table and you are predicting, not reacting, and you are managing the brand moving forward so that you have the clarity, the consistency, and the constancy that's going on in the marketplace to keep the brand fresh, to keep the brand relevant.

A lot of companies are a little too inward-facing. Generally, they get caught up and think that what they're doing is fantastic or working perfectly and they're not listening. They're not keeping up with the competition. They're going to get out innovated and surprised or disrupted in the marketplace.

Can we predict every event that's out there? No. But can we be prepared for them? Yes. Can we have contingency plans? Yes. Can we have training around it? Yes. Can we know ahead of time what we need to do if our product is suddenly leapfrog? Yes. 

A lot of it comes down to just the management strategies that you're putting in place for the brand and the monitoring systems that you're putting in place. A lot of time people track and measure low level tactics that don't have a lot of impact, but it's the easiest thing for them to monitor and record. At the end of the day, it's not producing the ROI that they're looking for.

And so, knowing when to pull back on channels or to go all in on particular channels and spends or offers is important. A lot of what we do is pilot and test and measure and monitor. We don't set it and forget it.