Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when CMI published it a couple years ago. Interestingly, brand voice remains a critical need and this guide can help you create a helpful one.
If your logo didn’t appear with your content, could your audience identify the content as coming from your brand? Would someone viewing your content on different channels know it all came from the same brand?
If you’re not careful, you can end up with a random assortment of voices and tones in the content produced across your marketing ecosystem that doesn’t provide a consistent picture of your brand, or even use the same language consistently.
This inconsistent brand experience is more common as an organization grows and is often exacerbated as external entities such as freelancers and agencies get thrown into the brand’s content creation mix.
You may be asking why a brand voice matters – isn’t it more important to work hard to make your brand sound more human? A brand voice, though, isn’t about the creation of a non-human voice. It’s about being consistent with the voice you are creating – positioning yourself as an easily identified and authoritative source for your area of expertise. Similarly, a consistent brand voice and vocabulary is essential to implementing localized content and intelligent content strategies effectively.
Luckily, you can create a brand voice chart to help address the issue. I’ve outlined the five steps to establish, create, and maintain a desired brand voice to drive consistency in your content creation efforts.
1. Gather a representative sample of your content
You want to cast a wide net – gather everything from videos to web pages, e-books to your social media calendar. Now, cast a critical eye on the content. Which of these examples could have come from any of your competitors? Set those aside. Your goal is to whittle your examples to a small group of pieces unique to your brand – examples of the brand voice you want to embody. Print these examples and put them up on a whiteboard, grouping together pieces with a similar feel.
2. Describe your brand voice in three words
In the same room as the whiteboard (or with the board visible to all in a virtual environment) work with your key content creators and owners of the brand identity. Again, cast a wide net and invite content creators throughout your organization including teams from PR, sales enablement, customer success, etc. Review the selected content as the best examples of the brand voice you want to embody. Discuss common themes across all of those pieces. Group the examples into three thematic buckets.
If your brand was a person, how would you describe its personality to someone? At this point, talk about how you would describe your competitors as people, too. Is one of your competitors the class bully? Is another the head cheerleader? How do your brand’s personality traits make you different?
Let’s create an example using these three broad traits:
Define each one further. How do these characteristics show up in how you communicate with your audience? How do they come across in the kind of content you’re creating? How do they appear in your focused topics? Let’s continue this example:
- Passionate – expressive, enthusiastic, heartfelt, action-oriented
- Quirky – irreverent, unexpected, contrarian
- Authentic – genuine, trustworthy, engaging, direct
3. Create a brand voice chart
With your brand’s voice defined, illustrate how it turns up more concretely in your content with a brand voice chart. It will be an essential reference tool to ensure that your content (text and visuals) is consistently using the same voice.
Include three rows for each of the primary characteristics accompanied by three columns – brief description, do’s, and don’ts. If necessary, add a row for secondary characteristics that need a little extra explanation. In this example, “irreverent” is a related word and should be fleshed out so the team is clear on how it is defined (i.e., to challenge the status quo or to be snarky?)
4. Ensure that your writers understand how to put your brand voice into action
You’ve defined your voice and tone and shown it in an easy-to-understand chart. How do you get everyone onboard with using it? Meet with the team – anyone who creates content or communications – and walk them through the chart.
Go through some examples of content that hits the mark. Show in real time how you would revise some existing content that isn’t reflective of the defined voice. If possible, provide team members with a laminated or card-stock copy of the brand voice chart to keep at their desk for reference. Make sure an electronic version also is available.
5. Revisit and revise the brand voice chart as the company changes over time
A brand voice chart is not meant to be a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it tool. As your brand messaging evolves or new competitors come into your market, it’s good to take a look at the chart and refresh it with new examples.
Quarterly, convene your key content creators and communicators to find out if any voice attributes haven’t worked well or are more aspirational than possible for whatever reason. For instance, many brands initially include “irreverence,” but find their writers are uncomfortable flexing that muscle or key approvers consistently delete the copy. If that’s the case, it may be time for a voice refresh, or some new do’s and don’ts.
Use your voice to make the case for your content marketing team to participate in Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. Use code BLOG100 to save $100. Register today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute