We won’t bore you with a statistic, but our credo is: a consistent and memorable tone of voice is good for your brand. It’s why you follow Steak’Umm on Twitter or associate Duolingo with passive-aggression. But it’s also how relative newcomers like Slack are blazing a trail against some of the incumb-iest incumbents ever — with a compelling and cohesive brand identity.
At Manual Labor we do a lot of work building brands and helping them think about (or rethink) what their brand’s communications will sound like. And we’ve seen it only takes four simple questions to start you on the path to a well-defined brand tone of voice.
Question 1: How do you want your brand to be seen?
To start, picture the brand as a character from your typical fantasy novel or sci-fi film. It could be:
- The wise sage, guiding calmly with deep knowledge and experience.
- The brave adventurer, leading the way towards more exciting possibilities.
- The can-do-anything sidekick who’s always there to help (with a bit of moxie)
There are whole libraries on brand identity, but a rough idea of this characterization is foundational in establishing a brand’s voice. The simple thematic guidance: your brand talks the way this character would talk. Feel free to choose tropes from outside of The Lord of The Rings or Star Wars. Sophisticated tech sommelier? Productivity maven? Characterize your brand in a way as you see fit.
Question 2: How do you want your brand to be talked about?
A brand’s reputation is built on word of mouth. A brand that seeks to be known as a true innovator speaks in a voice that’s ambitious, but not bombastic—lining up moonshots with receipts to show they did, indeed, shoot the moon. Brands that want buzz (even if their product is mundane, like Old Spice or Dollar Shave Club) might choose a tone that is tongue-in-cheekily grandiose.
More established brands probably already know how they are talked about. And if they’re paying attention, they can use that context while refining or redesigning their own tone of voice.
Question 3: How will your tone of voice reflect the brand’s mission and values?
Your brand’s tone of voice should reflect the above (how you want to be seen and talked about) and account for the brand’s deeper mission and values, and be designed with introspection and intention. Charitable brands speak with compassion and understanding. Ambitious brands push the consumer to “Just Do It.”
Remember that the guidelines set for tone of voice should inform every communication your brand makes. It’s an important foundation but means critical work requiring deep attention, collaboration, and intention. When your team is really able to feel and understand a brand’s tone of voice, it goes from becoming a “guideline” to a living, breathing part of the brand — a true marketing asset.
Question 4: How can I turn our brand tone of voice into a marketing asset?
Channel your inner finger-painting toddler and get this tone of voice everywhere. The way to establish a brand’s tone of voice is to get out there and use it. With well-thought-out guidance on your brand’s voice, all communications become more consistent and contribute to building a cohesive brand. And in places where it’s not working, exploit that feedback to improve or revise where needed.
Once consumers learn (and they learn fast) your brand’s personality and quirks, you can go from being just another brand to a brand they think about, care about, and are excited to do business with.
This is the quick and dirty start for tone of voice—stay tuned for more details. But for now, asking yourself the first two questions is the start you’re looking for to consolidate your brand’s sound and begin building brand communication into a marketing asset and not just more copywriting.